Focus

Improve Focusing

Focus is the ability to stay in tuned with one’s intentions while ignoring distractions. We are often told to stay focused and we will achieve our best. But, it is not as easy as it sounds. We may have the good intentions to pay full attention to a specific task only to get distracted by not only noises around us, but also by the noises inside of us.

If we could only do as we told ourselves, then life would be sweeter. Imagine if we told ourselves to stay focused and we did or not to worry, and we didn’t. Our brain, as sophisticated as it is, cannot follow every command and disregard everything else that is happening around it. To achieve continued focus, it requires the orchestration of many moving pieces that take place inside our brain.

First, let’s differentiate between two brain functions: a, top-down; b, bottom-up. The top-down brain function is the one responsible for executing orders, voluntary, planner, slower, and able to, when necessary, override emotionally driven impulses. The bottom-up function is super fast, involuntary, emotionally driven and host of habitual patterns.

What we decide to pay attention to or do is often assumed to be a top-down brain function response. We get up in the morning, get ready to go to work or school, plan our way to get there and walk into the office or classroom. As effective our top-down brain function is, these movements would have been impossible to execute had the bottom-up brain function not previously provided with a “go-ahead” signal. This brain function is continually screening for any information that is coming from anywhere which might be a source of potential threat. If the bottom-up brain sees that the coast is clear, the top-down brain function then goes ahead and focus on what we want to do.

We do not realize this brain function dynamic because it happens so fast, but the information that ultimately reaches the top-down function went through a process of screening out so the top-down function can focus on only one task. For example, the squash player focuses on hitting the ball just above the tin on the opposite wall. At the same time, the bottom-up brain function is picking up the sound of the crowd, the movement of the opponent, the sweaty contact on the racquet, the velocity of the ball, the wanting to win, the expectation from coaches and parents, etc. Ideally, all this information is screened out and prevented from reaching to the top-down brain function. Consequently, the fluidity of the arm and the wrist movement will automatically proceed to make the racquet contact the ball and hit it above the tin. This moment will be interpreted as a focused experienced.

Improved focus rests on strengthening the bottom-up brain function to screen out as many threats as possible. If the squash player’s bottom-up function does not screen out the opponent’s noises, then the top-down function must deal with wanting to hit the ball above the tin AND the noises. As the famous Yankee baseball player-philosopher, Yogi Berra, used to say: “I cannot think and hit at the same time.”

One of the most effective ways to improve the bottom-up function is through meditation. This practice serves as a tool to train the brain to re-gain focus every time the mind gets distracted by running thoughts. The goal is NOT to have thoughts, but to be aware that thoughts are running through and bring the attention back to the breath. The more we practice meditation, the better the bottom-up brain function can sustain distractions and screen them out rather than sending that information to the top-down brain function.

Another way to boost bottom-up function is to practice under simulated performance. Tiger Woods conscientiously practiced this technique all the time. He knew he was going to be surrounded by large galleries, which would produce loud noises. He needed to enhance the ability to not allow those distractions interfere with his game. While practicing at the driving range, his father would purposely and unexpectedly yell at the top of Tiger’s swing. The goal was for Tiger to stay focused on his golf swing despite hearing his father’s unexpected noises. Practicing this strategy helped him to transfer that experience and enhance his focus ability when he played on the course.

To enhance focus, one needs to strengthen the bottom-up brain function to help screen out distractions. Telling the brain what not to do only reinforces the top-down function to focus on that error or mistake, hence increasing the chances it will happen again. A tennis player will not improve his serve by telling himself, “do not hit the net.” Instead, the player will be better off imagining where he wants to ball to land and fully trust the bottom-up brain function that the arm, elbow, wrist, and ball toss will be one that produces such a result.

Focus cannot be forced. It can be enhanced, improved, and strengthen. Practice will surely help, especially if done under simulated performance. Meditation will also enhance bottom-up brain function as it will help to re-gain focus when distractions come by. Practice, practice and then practice some more.

Alex Diaz, PhD
Sport Mental Edge
www.dralexdiazconsulting.com

Post Concussion Syndrome

Post Concussion Syndrome

Post Concussion SyndromeConcussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from an impact to the head or injury to the body that shakes the brain. Neurons, or nerve cells, living in the brain can be damaged causing inflammation and a disruption in brain function. Symptoms often resolve but sometimes can linger and become what is known as Post Concussion (or Concussive) Syndrome (PCS).

This condition can be debilitating, altering normal daily activities and significantly reducing quality of life. Often people suffering from PCS feel like they are not themselves anymore. Symptoms can begin within the first seven to ten days after injury and often resolve within three months. They can be stubborn, though, and last well over a year. These symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Personality changes or irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in sleep patterns or Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration an memory
  • Sensitivity to noise and light

In many cases, patients are told to simply “wait it out” and that there is not much that can be done. Conventional treatment usually consists of pharmaceutical medication to alleviate symptoms, but these treatments have side effects and often don’t address the source of the problem. Cognitive therapy can be helpful in cases involving personality, concentration and memory changes.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most headaches associated with PCS are actually tension headaches that result from neck injury that occurred along with the head trauma. This can be due to connective tissue/fascial tension, muscle tension and/or trigger points, joint dysfunction, nerve irritation in the neck and head.

A blow to the head will directly affect the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper back), TMJ, and shoulders. These regions must be evaluated and addressed as a whole functional unit instead of individual parts each doing their own thing.

In the event of a head trauma, always obtain a medical evaluation to rule out severe or dangerous conditions. These are rare, but important to be aware of and to address immediately. It is also important to note that if playing a sport and a concussion is sustained, the athlete should NOT return to play until properly cleared by a physician. The brain is very sensitive during this time and is vulnerable to more serious injury or damage.

The majority of cases that are not life-threatening nor require invasive interventions respond very well to natural therapies. The combination of treatments we’ve found to be extremely effective in treating stubborn cases of PCS is as follows:

  • Acupuncture influences the brain and can help to regulate function post injury. It has a very calming effect and has been shown to be effective in treating headaches associated with TBI.
  • Manual soft tissue techniques such as Fascial Manipulation and Active Release Techniques can help to release tension in the fascial and muscles of the head and neck. Most people typically do not consider the soft tissues of the head and face, but our skull is covered in fascia and muscle. These tissues can certainly hold a lot of tension which can cause local and radiating pain. These tension points must be released in order to resolve the condition.
  • Chiropractic manipulation can help to mobilize the joints in the cervical spine and normalize the mechanics allowing for better movement and function.
  • Nutritional supplementation to resolve inflammation and support brain and connective tissue function. Common supplements that are often helpful are magnesium, curcumin, essential fatty acids from fish oil and resveratrol. Always consult with your physician and a professional trained in the use of supplements before beginning any supplementation program to be sure it is safe and appropriate for you. It is also important to note to not take fish oil supplements if taking anticoagulant medication especially in the event of a brain injury.

If you have had a concussion or head trauma and are experiencing symptoms, seek the guidance of a professional who can properly diagnose and help you. Ask about these natural, safe options that are available and take back your life.

References:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-concussion-syndrome/basics/symptoms/con-20032705

Jonas W.B., et al. A Randomized Exploratory Study to Evaluate Two Acupuncture Methods for the Treatment of Headaches Associated with Traumatic Brain Injury. Medical Acupuncture 2016, 28 (3)

Stecco A., Gessi M., Stecco C., Stern R. Fascial components of the myofascial pain syndrome. Current Pain and Headache Reports. 2013 17 (8)

Espi-Lopez G.V., Rodriguez-Blanco C., Oliva-Pascual-Blanca A., Molina-Martinez F., Falla D., Do manual therapy techniques have a positive effect on quality of life in people with tension-type headache? A randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 2016, 52 (4)

Sen A.P., Gulati A., Use of Magnesium in traumatic brain injury. Neurotherapeutics 2010, 7 (1)

Lei E.,Vacy K., Boon W.C., Fatty acids and their therapeutic potential in neurological disorders. Neurochemistry International 2016 May; 95

Yuan J., et al. Curcumin attenuates blood-brain barrier disruption after subarachnoid hemorrhage in mice. Journal of Surgical Research 2017 Jan; 207

Feng Y., et al. Resveratrol attenuates neuronal autophagy and inflammatory injury by inhibiting the TLR4/NF -kB signaling pathway in experimental traumatic brain injury. International Journal of Molecular Medicine 2016 Apr; 37(4)

Dr. Robert Inesta

Westchester Personal Training

Why Personal Training Works

People today often consider using a personal trainer a luxury rather than a necessity. In today’s economy, we have many choices about where to use our expendable income, and many people feel that paying a trainer is not worth the expense. However, when you take into account the millions of dollars wasted on diet pills, quick fixes, and unused gym memberships every year, personal training seems like a bargain! Fifty percent of gym members stop going to the gym after three months. None of these people got any results! Statistically, when people work out on their own, only 3 out of 10 see results. On the other hand, 9 out of 10 people see results when working with a trainer.

The benefits of hiring a personal trainer far outweigh the costs. First and foremost, trainers accurately evaluate your current level of fitness and prescribe exercises and routines appropriate to your fitness level. This avoids unnecessary strains and injuries and ensures you reach your goals more efficiently. This is especially important for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and injuries. You certainly deserve to feel better and not worse after a workout!

Trainers also provide a very good orientation to working out, especially if you are a beginner. Many people aren’t sure what they should be doing in the gym and don’t know what exercises or weights they should use. There is “no one size fits all” exercise program because people have different goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Personal trainers can individually design programs so that you see quicker results and are more productive with your time. They also teach proper form and technique; doing exercises wrong increases the risk of injury. In addition, trainers add variety to workouts to focus on different muscle groups and make the workout interesting so you don’t get bored.

Athletes and those training for events can also benefit from the expertise of trainers. Personal trainers can tailor programs to ensure you are strengthening the correct muscles, keeping the best range of motion, and avoiding injury. They can help you reach your optimal level of fitness so you are better prepared for your sport.

Personal trainers are also very motivating. In our busy society, it is difficult to find the time to exercise or to push ourselves to get to the next fitness level on our own. Trainers know when to push you and when to back off. Also, people feel accountable to their trainers and having an appointment ensures they don’t skip the gym.

Lastly, trainers are results-oriented. They keep track of your progress and make changes to routines to help better achieve your weight and fitness goals. If you are going to invest in going to the gym, why not do it right? With personal training, your chances of looking and feeling your best become more of a reality than a dream.

By: Denise Groothuis

Depression

3 Uplifting Activities for Bad Mental Health Days

When you have a mental illness, you know there are good days and bad days. Your good days may allow you to forget about your illness while your bad days often feel like you’ll never enjoy your favorite activities again. It’s very difficult to overcome a bad mental health day and sometimes, you just have to accept it and look forward to the next day. However, there are some ways you can potentially battle those bad days. Here are a few activities that can uplift mood and fight your bad days.

Clean Up

When you have a bad day, it is very tempting to lie in bed all day and do nothing. However, this can actually make you feel worse about yourself and your condition. While it may not be feasible to clean your entire house, there are a few things you should do to feel better about yourself.

First of all, take care of yourself. Take a nice, long shower or bath and put clean clothes on. You can even simply don a fresh pair of pajamas. Feeling fresh and clean will offer a small mental health boost as well as shield your self-esteem from the effects of a bad mental health day.

Next, you should focus on your living space. You don’t have to get your room or home spotlessly clean but picking up your area does wonders for your mind. Even if you are only up for clearing clothes off the floor or wiping a dust bookshelf, you can feel secure in that you have accomplished something beneficial.

Eat Healthy Foods

Consuming an unreasonable amount of unhealthy comfort food is another impulse many people get on their bad days. Some will also lose their appetite and do without eating. It is crucial that you eat well not only for your physical health but also for your mental well-being.

Studies have shown that comfort foods are not actually what make you feel better but rather the act of eating. Sure, a pint of ice cream sounds better than a lettuce wrap, but a healthy choice will supply your body with essential vitamins and minerals that will give your energy levels a boost and fuel your body and mind with the nutrients they need for optimal performance.

Self-esteem can easily take a hit if you feel guilty about eating poorly or if you simply do not eat on your bad days. If you struggle with motivation to cook on these days, you might want to consider freezing healthy leftovers to defrost.

Do a Little Exercise

Exercising is one of the best ways to boost mood and feel better. However, convincing yourself to exercise on a bad mental health day can seem impossible. The best way to navigate this issue is to find an alternative form of exercising that is enjoyable to you.

Trying to force yourself to go to the gym might do more harm than good while turning on your favorite show and utilizing a TV workout can actually be fun. Even if you can only contemplate a short walk around the block, you are still helping yourself feel better.

Coping with bad mental health days can be difficult and sometimes, the bad day wins. It’s okay to have bad days every once in awhile, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to turn down days into uplifting ones.

A few simple activities might not completely erase a bad day, but they can certainly help. Try changing your clothes, picking up your clothes and other items off the floor, or going on a little stroll around the neighborhood. You might be surprised by the big effect seemingly small actions can have on your mood and energy level.

Article by:
Jane Moore
Fitwelltraveler.com
jane@fitwelltraveler.com

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