Some interesting tidbits about the human brain:
- It weighs about 3 pounds, roughly 2 percent of an average adult’s weight.
- The brain is an energy hog! Despite its small size, it uses 20 to 25% of the body’s total energy.
- In the process of energy consumption, it produces an inordinate amount of potentially toxic protein wastes and biological debris that must be removed daily.
- It contains approximately 100 billion neurons. Each neuron links to as many as 10,000 other neurons.
- If you could line up all the neurons in your body end to end, they would stretch almost 600 miles.
- More than 30,000 neurons can fit on the head of a pin.
In order for this marvelous organ to function optimally, its many parts need to be in top shape so they can communicate with each other. Three important functions are creativity, concentration, and quickness. Below are some suggestions to support each area of responsibility:
Creativity and insight are associated with activity in the frontal lobes of the nondominant side of the brain.
Stress hinders creativity, and, creativity is our best tool when it comes to problem-solving. Here are three ways to ease your mind and get your juices flowing:
- Take a break. People think that the longer they work, the more they accomplish – but that’s not true. To keep your creativity high, remove yourself from your assignments regularly and don’t think about them. Take a mindful walk outdoors, slowly drink a cup of your favorite beverage, receive a reflexology session.
- Timing. Tackle creative projects at the best time of day for you. For introverted people, that’s the early morning; extroverts, usually at night.
- Use objects that reinforce your intention to create. Use a specific pen, light a candle, wear the same clothes, etc. – any gesture that signals to yourself and others that you are entering a creative time and space. Do not disturb!
When delivery of neurotransmitters within the temporal lobes is impaired, memory and concentration won’t be up to speed. The hippocampus (a pair of structures central to learning and memory) likely needs some support. Here are some ways to clear the haze:
- Load up on antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which damage brain cells and contribute to memory deterioration. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially brightly colored ones. Limit refined carbohydrates and avoid processed and hydrogenated fats.
- Don’t scramble your brain. Avoid foods and beverages (most diet sodas) containing aspartame, an artificial sweetener that damages memory function and causes confusion.
Train Your Mind
- Write things down. Even if you never look at your list again, the mere process of writing (and reciting out loud) will help you remember more. (It was fun for me to discover this recommendation; this is how I automatically prepare new classes. I flush out a class lesson plan, read it out loud to myself and seldom ever refer to it once in the classroom.)
- Do brain exercises.
- Close your eyes and try to name every object on your desk or in a specific room in your house.
- When you’re waiting in line or in a doctor’s office, close your eyes and see if you can recall the features of your surroundings.
- A great little book that I love is Keep Your Brain Alive, 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D. and Manning Rubin.
- Stay realistic. The brain is not flypaper, to which everything sticks. Make the effort to study and remember things.
Take a Break
- Do some aerobic exercise before reading something you really need to remember. Aerobic exercise produces adrenaline, which acts like a photographic fixative on neural connections. It also increases circulation, which will send more oxygen to your brain.
- Relax. Deep relaxation helps protect you from the effects of excess stress hormones. Over time, stress hormones harm cells in the hippocampus. Regular meditation practices and somatic practices also give your brain a chance to convert short-term input to long-term memory. The brain is your “hard drive”; it has to back itself up, and that takes time.
Supplement Your Brain
- Some people take supplements, such as the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) that help to repair worn brain cells. Some supplements such as the herb Gingko (Ginkgo biloba) claim to improve blood circulation to the brain and increase the number of receptors for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. (Gingko is also an antioxidant). Phosphatidyl serine is a lipid present in nerve cells that helps keep cell membranes fluid and improves neurotransmitter action. Consult a professional before undertaking any supplement plan.
The ability to feel alert, react fast and think cleverly is a result of adequate levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and optimal blood and oxygen flow to the brain. The brain stem (affecting consciousness and attention) and the frontal lobes (for coordination of complex tasks such as logic, judgment, and planning) are key areas here.
Once Again – Eat Right
- Eat breakfast. Include protein, which helps build the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine, and complex carbohydrates, which fuel your brain without the highs and lows associated with refined sugars. Don’t eat too many wheat products, as they can make you sleepy.
- Drink caffeine in the morning. Eleven o’clock is the ideal time. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and boosts alertness and concentration almost immediately. Restrict consumption to one or two cups of green tea, mate or coffee. Too much caffeine – especially in the late afternoon and evening – is unadvisable.
- Eat a hearty, healthy lunch. Avoid starches and heavy sauces. There’s a great saying that I like: “Eat breakfast like a Princess, lunch like a Queen, and dinner like a pauper.”
Stretch Your Mind
- Play Sudoku or word games, such as Scrabble, crossword puzzles; name objects in the landscape that begin with a certain letter; recite as many state capitals as you can remember.
- Do visualization exercises. Imagery helps to reduce anxiety, which interferes with performance.
- Massage your shoulder blade (better still, ask your massage therapist to!). Stimulating the acupuncture point SI-13 (located at the distal attachment of the levator scapulae muscles) will open up blood flow to your brain stem.
- Breathe. Engage in breathing exercises or aerobic exercise to fuel your brain with added oxygen.
- Stimulate with oils. Essential oils, such as basil, lemon, peppermint and rosemary, stimulate the brain. Inhale deeply and/or anoint your feet’s brain reflexes with high-quality essential oils.
- Nap. Sit or lie down, close your eyes, and allow your brain to slip into slower brain wave states. A wonderful way to restore yourself in this way is to receive reflexology, which has been proven to shift the body’s autonomic nervous system into alpha and theta brain wave levels. Reflexology not only provides deep relaxation of the mind and soul, but the physical body as well.
If the above feels like too much to tackle, pick one thing that you can, and will, easily incorporate into your life today. That’s all it takes – just one baby step – to lead to more steps – and to more steps – and to…..who knows what!
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