INCubator Spotlight: Untangling the Mind
Sep. 26, 2018
Imagine your brain.
That glossy mound of being, that elephant-gray parliament of cells, that aspiration machine, that tiny tyrant fitted perfectly into a wall of bone, that cascade of neurons calling all the shots, that petit everything, that unpredictable pleasure oasis, that wrinkled library of selves compacted into the skull like too many books on a shelf.
Ok. Enough metaphors.
As humans, we generally take for granted the ridiculous sounding yet indisputable fact that each person carries around atop his or her body a complete universe in which countless thoughts, sensations and desires flow.
They intermingle silently, privately, while agitating on many levels, some of which we’re completely unaware of.
Thank goodness. If we needed to remember how to operate the lungs or manage the intricacies of the digestive system, we’d be overwhelmed by thought, and there’d be no time to pet cute kittens.
My brain likes cute kittens. But it also likes pizza. And bacon-wrapped asparagus. And watching overly-dramatic Korean dramas. And kickboxing. And drinking coffee as dark as a moonless night.
Although the brain is a sanctuary for our partialities, it’s also a rigid overseer and, at times, a self-tormentor.
It’s where cravings for Flaming Hot Cheetos keep tugging, and where catchy, yet embarrassing songs manifest into obsession.
Yes, the human brain is truly crazy…but here’s my number, so call me maybe…
Our states of mind flicker like candlelight, faster than we realize.
For many, when the fog of sleep lifts, their minds immediately become aware of the unsynchronized duet of thought processes, some congested like traffic in torrential rain; and others, disoriented like a NASCAR racer speeding down the track in the wrong direction.
It's as if the brain were a college dormitory, where busy students traverse the corridors and rarely converse with one another; and some locked rooms hide repressed shadows, faint but lingering like a rumor.
These brain wave dysregularities may occur based on environmental signaling. For example, when severe traumatic events occur, such as a major vehicle accident, abuse or rape, the way our brains process the event is what causes irregular brain activity.
The path to healing complex trauma is what inspired Christy Tittsworth to establish Healing Minds, a neurofeedback center, in July of 2016.
"I have personal experience with neurofeedback training related to my own struggle following traumatic childhood events," Tittsworth says. "I credit neurofeedback with improving my ability to self-regulate, build habits, and augmenting my relationships and overall quality of life."
"In 2016, I had the incredible opportunity to bring neurofeedback to the Chattanooga community. I am now providing neurofeedback to adults and children to improve their health by improving their ability to manage stress."
Neurofeedback is a relatively new biofeedback technique that focuses on helping a person train themselves to directly affect brain function. Although its practice may sound like a science fiction film, it’s actually a reputable and scientifically-proven technique practiced by those with certification from the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA).
As the name implies, neurofeedback works by providing feedback to an individual about their brain, specifically, their brainwaves.
Research supports the use of neurofeedback in disorders such as depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, sleep disorders and migraines. Tittsworth collaborates with medical providers treating these disorders. Healing Minds uses neurofeedback for the purpose of improving self-awareness and self-regulation for stress management.
So, what in the world does a session of neurofeedback look like, you ask?
Luckily, I had the unique privilege to try it myself.
The rest of the world slowly disappears as I sit quietly in a darkened room and stare intently at a computer screen with a yellow Pac-Man gobbling dots as it races across a blue background. A soft, steady beeping is the only sound. But, I am not using a controller or keyboard to control the character; instead, a single thin wire with a dime-sized, gold-plated cup is fastened to my scalp with conducting paste. The sensor picks up my brain waves – my electroencephalogram (literally, electric head picture) or EEG – and as I alter my brain waves by breathing deeply or relaxing or increasing my concentration, I also manipulate the speed of the Pac-Man.
For a brief moment, I feel like Professor Xavier. But, this fantasy is slowly consumed as I am consistently defeated by the multi-colored specters.
Training your brain is not a walk in the park; it's more like traversing through a maze of Pac-dots.
"During neurofeedback training, it's your brainwaves that are monitored," Tittsworth says. "Using this information, your brain can learn to normalize faulty brainwave patterns. Over time, these 'new,' more optimum brainwave patterns can replace the old faulty patterns leaving you with an enhanced ability to handle the stressors of life."
Unlike conventional therapy, which can take years to descend into the deep recesses of the mind, Tittsworth can immediately map out this hidden empire, this dense jungle of neurons.
But, the idea of someone illustrating our brain activity can seem like an EOD technician taking the lid off a ticking time bomb and shifting through thousands of wires.
"There is nothing done 'to' you. Your brainwaves are simply monitored and all the action comes from your brain in the form of learning during the training. Due to neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to change) the effects of neurofeedback training can be significant and permanent."
As your brain adapts what it needs to do to make your computer screen active, Tittsworth gradually makes the goals of the exercise a bit more difficult in order to challenge your brain to perform “better.” This is analogous to weight training workouts: as your muscles become accustomed to one weight, a little more is added until over time you build new muscle.
"This process gives your brain instantaneous feedback about its performance during the training session. On a subconscious level, it begins to work out what it needs to do to make your computer screen active. It then begins to produce more of the helpful type of brainwave patterns and less of those that are correlated with the symptoms you wish to address. With practice, your brain learns new patterns. Desirable neuronal pathways are strengthened and new pathways may be created."
Just like pumping iron, we have to exercise the areas of our brains (ones we probably haven't used for decades) so they can be more manageable and adaptable. With neurofeedback training, gradually your brain learns how to work at a more optimal level.
"Think about learning to ride a bicycle. Remember how difficult that was at first? Did you fall flat on your face? And then, after a while, you didn’t even have to think about balancing anymore? At a subconscious level, your brain was transmitting messages to your muscles to do what they needed to do to keep you upright. Even if you haven’t ridden a bicycle in years, if you were to get on one right now, your brain would quickly remember what it is supposed to do to help you stay balanced."
This is what happens through neurofeedback training. You train your brain to work in a way that will help keep you “balanced.”
The brain's genius is its gift for reflection and change.
The brain analyzes. The brain loves. The brain detects an aroma and is transported back to a childhood memory.
But, the brain also has labyrinths of regret and chambers of deep sorrow.
Our internal dialogue often seems like a barrier between us and our neighbors, between us and the ones we hold dear.
But, in reality, it is what unites us at a fundamental level.
Our brains are not hardwired, though at times, they may seem so.
Sometimes, we must be at our lowest to make the greatest change.
Healing Minds is here to help you make that change. With professional guidance and continual support, Healing Minds desires to lift the heavy burdens of your mind. In time, harmony of thought will be as natural as the morning sun.
And helplessness will be a memory of the past, leaving behind only a mindglow.
Like the tail of a shooting star.