By Susan Bianchi, MS Health & Wellness Coach
Has someone ever called you right-brain or left-brain dominant? Are you more creative or logical? Do you think in a linear or an abstract way? Are you feeling like whichever side you’ve been labeled, you are lacking something or missing out?
Despite the thousands of online tests and books touting the idea of one-sided brain dominance in our personality, the idea that we are either right-brain or left-brain dominant is a myth.
The truth of the matter is that we use both hemispheres of our brain. Creativity is not solely housed in the right side of the brain nor is logic housed only in the left side of the brain. Both sides make critical contributions and it is imperative to keep those networks engaged in order to stay sharp, creative and on top of your game. Here are six things you can do to boost those connections.
The brain has various brain wave patterns depending on the activity. Sleep, stress, relaxation, anxiety and creativity all generate different wave patterns affecting the brain’s function. The interesting fact is that these wave patterns can be influenced by an outside source like music or sound. Using particular sounds and music can help influence brain wave patterns to improve focus, concentration, retention and learning through the use of binaural beat. A binaural beat is the beat generated by two sounds or tones that are extremely close in frequency. That beat is around 10Hz, which happens to be in the Alpha wavelength for the brain. This state often happens in meditation and is associated with creativity, increased serotonin, relaxed alertness and being “in the zone.” Listening to music designed with binaural beats can be a simple and easy way to tap into your own “zone.”
All forms of exercise, cardiovascular as well as strength training, have positive effects on the brain. Regular exercise increases blood flow and oxygenation to the brain, improves cognitive function, generates new neurons and increases the communication capacity and speed of the neural network. Cardiovascular exercise is proving to be more effective than most medications for impacting cognitive impairment.
Enhance your efforts by changing up your environment, taking different routes on your walk or run, adding balance exercises or, better yet, trying something completely new. Mastering a new activity can be both fun and a surefire way to stimulate new neural pathways in the brain.
Meditation is more than a stress reliever. The act of meditating has multiple effects on the brain. The first is the change in breathing patterns which results in signaling the nervous system to switch from “fight or flight” to repair and regeneration. This switch lowers cortisol levels, which are responsible for depressing the growth of nerve cells. Another impact of meditation is on the brain waves themselves. The brain’s massive electrical currents change frequency during meditation to what is called an alpha state. In this state, the brain is more able to learn, process information and analyze complex situations. This is often referred to as “the zone” in athletics, when there is a heightened focus and performance. Learning to meditate may seem daunting, but the rewards are certainly worth it. There are many ways to meditate, so find what works for you and your brain will thank you.
When was the last time you handwrote a letter? Not having a delete button to quickly edit and change an email challenges the brain’s executive functioning. Letter writing requires much more organizational skill through sentence development, word selection, concentration and planning. The physical act of writing requires the concurrent
recruitment of fine motor skills, engaging both hemispheres and increasing the neuroplasticity in the brain. Pausing to think, compose and handwrite a letter requires singular focus, taking you away from constant multitasking, which is so deleterious to brain health. In addition, the forgotten joy of writing and receiving letters enhances the social-emotional connection that is vital in brain health. While sending out an email or Facebook post can be more expedient, the comprehensive benefits of handwriting a letter make it time well spent.
Much of what the brain does is process sensory input: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Using and challenging your senses can stimulate and enhance the neural pathways. The simple activity of closing your eyes while eating will allow
for greater stimulation of other senses like smell and taste. It also challenges your spatial awareness. Try using your non-dominant hand for everyday functions that you would otherwise default to your dominant hand for. Challenge your touch with your eyes closed and describe the textures you feel, or try going barefoot (when appropriate). Our feet are loaded with sensory receptors, so feel the world through your toes.
Adult coloring books have been one of the fastest-growing trends and for good reason. Coloring may be thought of simply as a stress reducer, but the benefits go beyond relaxation. The act of coloring involves both hemispheres of the brain through color selections, creating aesthetic balance and using fine motor skills. It improves focus, concentration, organizational skills and problem solving, and it can be fun. Coloring isn’t just for the kids anymore.
If you have been accused of being too right-brained or too left-brained, remember it may just be that those skill sets have been more readily developed. The important takeaway is that we must continue to challenge ourselves in different ways in order to keep building new neural pathways across both sides of the brain. The adage “use it or lose it” couldn’t be more appropriate, so please use it.