"Would you like cup of coffee," asks my friend Ismail. I decline. Ismail has never known me to refuse coffee and is taken aback. "I don't do coffee at the moment," I explain, "I am busy with brain training. I am not allowed caffeine, sugar, alcohol or recreational drugs."
I didn't know this when I started out with Brain Harmonics. I only found out when Kerry Swarts, my brain trainer, was setting me up for my first session, putting electrodes to my head and tucking me under a nice warm blanket. I looked up at her and said, "Now all I need is a cappuccino." She stopped, and looked at me with concern. "You didn't read the email, did you?"
Now, almost two months later, I sit and reflect on what all that deprivation has bought me. Am I the virtuoso musician I always dreamed I would be? Am I the multi-million dollar chick-magnet every teenage boy dreams of becoming? Can I hold court at a dinner party? No, none of these.
But worth it, it undoubtedly was.
What is brain harmonics?
Neurologists agree that our brain starts forming patterning habits from an early age. Too often, these patterning habits are self destructive. My own father, for instance, used to tell me I wouldn't be able to do anything I set my sights on, thus creating obstacles in my brain long before I would encounter them for real. The result is an unwillingness to try.
While this is debilitating, it does not need to be paralysing and can be fixed. The brain does have the ability to reorganise itself. Brain Harmonics is one way to reorganise and balance those patterns.
The training time required can be anything from eight to 48 hours, depending on what is being treated, and what your goals are. Individual sessions can take two, three or four hours, and take place weekly; or you can go through an intensive programme, in which training is completed within seven to 10 days.
How it works seems simple, but I am sure it isn’t. It starts with a two-hour assessment of your brain. Electrodes are fixed to your scalp and numerous tests are conducted. Each test has three one-minute phases; one you do with your eyes shut, one with your eyes partially open, and one with your eyes properly open while some cognitive test is done. For instance, I had to repeat numbers that were read to me, I had to count a specific word in a passage I was reading, and I had to concentrate on a paragraph that was being read to me.
My results were startling. The deviations between the left and right hemispheres were enormous.
Brian training sessions
Once training starts, your brainwaves are fed to a computer and converted to audible "harmonics", which are fed back to you. A threshold is set, and when your brainwaves reach that threshold, your brain is rewarded with a pleasing tone (or a visual reward). If your brain’s frequencies are too fast or too slow, and miss or exceed the threshold, a less pleasing tone is sent back. Gradually your brain learns to generate more or less of these specific frequencies.
Kerry initially recommended twelve hours for me. I did three four-hour sessions.
The training itself is physically not painful: I did have problems sitting for so long, but then I have never really been a sit-still sort of person.
It can, however, be emotionally draining: during one of the exercises, a forgiveness exercise, it would have been interesting to have a heart rate monitor.
A problem Kerry picked up in the assessment was that I am not a good sleeper. During the training sessions, and at home immediately after, I did a lot of sleeping. It was great. No matter how much I slept during the session or if I took a nap afterwards, I still slept like a baby at night.
Since then, though, I’ve struggled: sleeping is the area where I have observed the least benefit. This could be due to the fact that I cheated, though on the whole I thought I was well-behaved. Over the three and a half weeks, I did have sugar in various forms. My alcohol intake, while not zero, was close to it. I went from about a dozen cups of instant coffee a day to zero, though I did allow myself the odd cup of decaffeinated coffee for the first couple of weeks – by my last week I had stopped the coffee altogether. Now I go days without coffee, preferring tea instead.
While preparing to write this story, I asked my girlfriend if she, being closest to me, felt there had been benefits. I would have been satisfied with two or three, but she went on and on. Things like being able to set boundaries and analyse problems better. I don’t run away from problems as I used to. As mentioned, I do question any improved sleep benefits, but she tells me my sleep is more restful.
My brain is still scattered, but I am able to better complete tasks; and there seems to be far more coherence to my thoughts. Prior to Brain Harmonics, I would tell a story about a trip around the coast via a recipe for banana bread and lists of who won the most races in the 1983 Formula One world Championship. (It was Alain Prost, with four followed by Nelson Piquet winning three, but also taking the World Championship.) This is not to say I no longer get distracted, but I do get from A to B a lot quicker. (I make really excellent banana bread, by the way).
What has been quite unexpected are the overall health benefits. I have become very fond of drinking water even when I am not thirsty. I seldom drink less than two litres a day. Everything functions better when you are properly hydrated. And I eat better: as a smoker, when you feel the pangs of hunger, you grab a cup of coffee, and another smoke. During the coffee non grata period, I found myself actually making myself eat. Hunger causes depression. Depression causes an overload of negative thoughts; and negative thoughts cause you to feel even worse. I am not exaggerating if I say that I am a happier person than I was three weeks ago.
Certainly, there is room for improvement. But with Kerry’s system, you can give her a call, discuss things, and perhaps schedule a top-up session.
Brain training is not cheap: it works out at about R550 an hour. But speaking as a small business owner, it is worth it. It has enabled me to better dissect and respond to problems. I would have to say that I haven’t been put to too many real tests yet. Whether I pass any of the big obstacles in my path remains to be seen, but what I have noticed is that I see things a lot clearer. I can better identify things that I am doing wrong. That, for me, is a big improvement.
For every werewolf in your life, there is a silver bullet. You can’t kill werewolves without them. Is Brain Training the silver bullet? I don’t think so. Healing comes from within. This, however, I do know; for me, brain training has given me the boost to load the silver bullet in the gun and take aim at the werewolves.
Contact Kerry Swarts on firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel 076 4343 252
(Niels Colesky, for Health24, June 2009)