by David Delaney

His father brings nine-year-old Harold (not his real name) to my office.Neither he nor his mother is able to get him to go to sleep at night; sometimes they find him wandering around late because he cannot sleep.He gets up repeatedly when they put him back to bed.This kind of behavior is wearing on his parents!

They are really at their limits and have no solutions other than medication which they are not attracted to.Then he wants to sleep with them, and when he does, he thrashes all night long and they cannot get the rest they need; and everybody now knows that good hygiene is vital to our health and well being if you have seen any of a number of PBS specials on the brain and sleep hygiene.

Get on the Brain Train…

Because the brain (Central Nervous System, hereafter CNS) is adaptable, changeable, it is possible to literally train it to let go of the habit of causing it’s own perturbation or stress, experienced as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, inability to focus, to let go of stress states that become negative habits and prevent us from orienting toward relaxation.

The Orienting Response…

The mechanism that allows us to maintain present and a relaxed focus has been termed the Orienting Response. The Orienting response, also called orienting reflex, is the reflex that causes us to respond immediately to a change in our environment (what is different about this moment? it asked constantly) first described by Russian physiologist Sechenov in the 1850s in his book Reflexes of the Brain, and the term was coined by Ivan Pavlov, who also referred to it as the “What is it?” reflex. This Orienting Response takes us toward relaxed, present moment focus, rather than being hi-jacked by past, unresolved events that manifest as repetitive negative feelings, emotions, and thoughts that are counter to our personal survival.If we cannot remain oriented to the present, we cannot face life’s constant changes.Without a strong Orienting Response, we therefore are out of touch with what is happening moment to moment.

Why is our brain unable to remain present to what is happening?

Chronic or acute stress, overload, traumatic reactions, injuries, illness, flight-flight responses, and acquired family and cultural behaviors can all cause stress to build-up and negatively influence the function of our Central Nervous System.Stress can be seen on a brainwave electroencephalograph monitor (EEG) when there is perturbation occurring in the CNS. Perturbation (literally being ‘perturbed”) is seen not as regular wave patterns, but as irregular, highly volatile patterns, meaning inefficient, ineffective use of our personal energy causing us to behave in ways that are counter to our own best interests.

Brain upset…

When there is perturbation in the CNS, you do not feel relaxed, calm, alert, present, and in harmony with yourself and the world,but feel angry, depressed, anxious, hyper, unable to rest: perturbed.By evoking this Orienting Response through brain training, your brain is able to literally ‘drop’ these negative states and come back to the present moment.There have been thousands of people since the 1970’s who have benefited from this sort of training including Olympic athletes, NASA astronauts, business professionals, professional performing artists, people with depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury- just to name a few.

Brain Neuroplasticity…

Many people do not know that the brain can learn new ways of behaving on its own, but now with so much research over the past few decades, it is clear that our CNS is constantly learning and growing in response to what is asked of it- or shrinking if not challenged.It is now known that a blind person’s brain who utilizes their hands to read brail will develop more sophisticated nerve branches in that area of the CNS which controls that function that you or I will.People’s brains that have had a stroke are able to produce new neural pathways to help them recover functions which they lost, if appropriately directed.

A relaxed CNS allows us to let go of the past to be in the present…

After one session of brain training, Harold falls sleep right away 4 nights that week.His mother arrives for session number two clearly relieved.She wants to continue training him so that he can help him achieve a more relaxed way of being, helping him move away from his hyperactive tendency.

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(C) 2009, David Delaney.  Cannot be used without the written permission of the author.