Archive for October, 2008

NeuroLeadership Day 2: The Implications of Brain Based Leadership

October 31, 2008

The Platform: The NeuroLeadership Summit, 2008, NY, morning session

The Twitter: Chocolate, Sex and Bonding with Mommy light up the same area of the Brain!

The Big Idea: The Brain responds in a similar way to physical AND social reward.

The morning session of NeuroLeadership Summit, Day 2 was devoted to the questions concerning the brain and the social world, especially the implications of neuroscience for the field of leadership and leadership development. Looming before an unwitting audience of the keenly business minded were the scientific and ethical questions of reducing scientific research to “brain phrenology” and it worse, running with information that is only “partial” to create a new “trend.” Diane Coutou, senior editor at the Harvard Business Review came out strong as a critic of egregious and misguided entrepreneurialism — citing the skepticism neuroscientists have in reducing a still burgeoning science to brand and product.

While I applaud Coutu’s warning, one can hardly blame a smart, cosmopolitan audience for being attracted to the novel aspects of brain science, especially when we are told by scientists like Matthew Lieberman that bonding and social rewards have as much impact on the brain as chocolate or money in a (stable) bank. Lieberman, who runs a social neuroscience lab at UCLA, entertained the audience with FMRI studies, that tested neurochemical response to the pain and pleasure that comes in relations to playing social games and social group relations: Categories of interest:

The brain correlates to thoughts and feelings we have when we are left in or out of a game.

The brain correlates to thoughts and feelings we have when we are given an ultimatum, especially if the ultimatum hinges on “fairness”?

From Lieberman’s talk emerges a clear thought: If gaming (play) is the work of children, here we learn that childhood is our training ground for gaming in life.

Lieberman’s point: The Brain is designed for learning to engage in social groups, having social relations, for recognizing social pain and reward. He even went on to say that from the social neuroscientific perspective, the brain appears predesigned for social relations, especially if one considers the role early bonding plays in the basic physical survival of the human species.

Break Out discussions addressed the implications for both business and education. In the education session, Renee Rolleri offered a plea for a progressive brain aware, creativity model for education and discussed her own collaborative efforts in designing a new charter school, The BLUE SCHOOL which she co-founded with the members of The Blue Man Group!

More on implications later today.

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.

NeuroLeaders Pay Attention to Brain/Mind/Body Connections

October 29, 2008

The Platform: NeuroLeadership Summit 2008, Day 1

The Twitter: Psssttt! It’s all connected — brain, body and mind!

The Big Idea: Rethinking leadership from an interdependent whole-brain, whole-body, whole-mind networked point of view!

David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and organizer of both the NY and Sydney meetings this year, noted last evening that today’s most urgent issue, as seen by companies and businesses across the global sphere, is the crisis of developing leadership. With that in mind, Rock invited world-class scientists to give keynote talks — presentations which should help this year’s summit partipants picture a new paradigm of “best practices” when approaching the question of developing leadership.

For yours truly, it was a deep and gratifying pleasure to be immersed in an arena wherein scientists, coaches and consultants seriously broached the topic of new neuroscience and the myriad of ways to connect body, mind and brain in human learning, performance and innovation, be it at home, school, in sport or in the workplace.

Again, time is limited to tell all (more will be fleshed out post summit) but here’s the beef on today’s keynote talks — which by the way, are followed up by generous amounts of time for question and break-out focus group discussions:

From the first keynote by Dr. Amy Arnstein to the last one of the day delivered by Dr. Kevin Ochsner, the frame for Day 1 stretched across a psychological continuum: Arnstein cogently tackled the neurochemical correlates to interrupted moments of perception and cognition (either by way of daily stress or by profound mental illness); Ochsner closed the long intense day by chunking the complex study of human emotion into a bite size expose on the neuroanatomical correlates to strategies that effect emotional experience and behavior, e.g. “reappraisal” of emotional narrative. (Arnstein gets two thumbs up for a spiffy visual presentations. As one researcher noted — the cartooned versions of neurotransmitting processes signaled well with ‘low noise’ residual.)

With the frame set by these two talks, were some real nuggets of 21st century thinking — the sort that reinforces the hard work reseachers, thought leaders and cultural changers have put forth for more than half a century in communicating

1) the value of “insight” in innovation and
2) “mindfulness” (or meditation) experiences in modifying how we use our “attention” in goal directed tasks.

Within the break out discussions, some facinating and tough questions were raised by the audience regarding cross-cultural imprinting and bias in charting the neuroscience of perception, leaving a door open to comparative cultural studies, especially with developing leaders in the global sphere is concerned.

While all of the keynotes were delivered in impeccable style, Dr. Yi-Yuan Tang’s lunchtime presentation clearly touched my brain and heart in his clear and playful deconstruction of cultural definitions of “mindfulness” experience to make room for the semantics of a neuroscientifically informed picture of brain/mind/body operations and connections that enter into the “mindfulness state.” As one who first came to mindfulness through the Martial arts, Yuan placed before us the challenge of knowing how to engage attention and awareness in a way that helps us “integrate” body/mind and brain in the experience of “being” (as to be distinguished neurologically from “thinking or doing.”) In response to Tang’s talk, David Rock offered a tip he found helpful in his study of mindfulness, namely the strategy of distingushing between narration (interpretation) and direct experience — each having their own correlates in brain anatomy and brain chemistry.

As I have noted on this blog, the brain/body/mind connection is one we can’t emphasize enough. It speaks of a new way to recognize our very humanness as a function of emergent networked processes, allowing us to integrate in a multi-dimensional fashion, a host of relations between what and how we think/feel and do.

The message from today’s proceedings: The responsibility of developing effective and even inspiring 21st century leadership rests on the shoulders of the somatically and neuroscientifically aware.

One can find the summit proceedings schedule on the NeuroLeadership.org website.

More manana.

Syaptically yours,

Dr. G.

P.S. A self-referential historical note regarding the inception of the blogsite: I wrote my dissertation in the late ’80’s on “attention and awareness training” practices used by American performing artists. Sometimes a good idea like cheese, needs time to age. Please write if you have questions about the literature on attention training.

Neuroleadership Summit 2008: Quantum Mechanics Dates Neuroscience!

October 29, 2008

The Platform: NeuroLeadership Summit 2008: Opening Keynote Address

The Twitter: WOW!!!!!!Quantum Mechanics Dates Neuroscience and finds an attractive mate!!!!!!

The Big Idea: Attention Changes the Brain as understood from the standpoint of Quantum Mechanics….

Yawzaa! Talk about brain training for neuro-leaders at the quantum level!!!! The first night of the NeuroLeadership Summit 2008 in New York City has blown everyone’s mind with a turbo charged presentation by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D., UCLA and his mentor, the visionary Quantum Physicist and Author Henry Stapp. Schwartz, who appears to nearly jump out of his skin with enthusiasm when speaking, uses baseball metaphors for delivering “fast balls” on the question of “attention” in Q.M.   Schwartz’s key point? Bringing neuroscience and Q.M. together in a unified field theory over-rides the inadequacies of Newtonian physics in coming up with plausible mathematical formula and explanation has to how we can observe and understand, with reasonable veracity, the movement of large bodies, like the human body.

The nearly two-hour presentation called for a deep deep think on the part of this observer and begs for a gorgeous visual map to point to the multiple vectors of interrelated ideas. Forgive me then, in this brief period of online time to outline the team’s main points concerning a new way to discuss neuroplasticity to an audience focused on the question of leadership, be it in business, education, government or related areas of human learning and enterprise:

1. The Marriage of Quantum Mechanics with Neuroscience: The marriage challenges the Newtonian model of physics, which leaves out the role of the observing agent, the agent that poses questions about the phenomenal world. In the Newtonian model, there is a purposeful blindness imposed upon the role the observer and his or her tools of observation play in influencing the inquiry and observation… hence, the Newtonian science of refutation and double-blind experiments.

2. The Role of Interactivity between the Observer and the Observed: The Neuro-Q.M. theory takes off the self-imposed empirical blinders and moves the question of information gathering and observation to address the interactive aspect of inquiry and observation.  In this model, interactivity between “the observer and the observed” helps to create the potential answer to the question posed. Sound familiar, somanauts?

3. Invoking Attention Density and the Executive Action Template create the conditions for interactivity of the observer with the observed.

Definitions first:

What is Attention Density? Distinct from “concentration,”  attention density involves repetition of attention, as in learning a new skill, like learning to swim, learning to read,  learning to eat only one piece of chocolate,  or even learning to recover from a stroke!

What is the Executive Action Template: This term refers to the executive functions — analytic difference detecting, syllogistic reasoning and decision making — correlated with activity in the Pre Frontal Cortex of the human brain.

Schwartz and Stapp argue for the role of the “impartial observer” — the observer who uses “attention” — and this is important —  specifically, the repetition of attention plus the engagement of intentional executive action to pose questions in an interactive fashion with the phenomenal world and thus discover/create a possible answer to the questions posed.

In other words, for Schwartz and Stapp claim Attention Density and Executive Action are said to be the two determining factors in creating the conditions for the impartial observer and the conditions for the moment probability collapses into a unit of possibilty or “an answer.” Now there is a complex Q.M. theory of how this actually works and I’ll leave it to you dear readers to start doing your own interactive search to learn about the necessary correlation between “attention density” and the “collapse function” in Q.M.

The implications for Neuro Leaders? Schwartz and Stapp point to a radical and “rational” rethinking of leadership and organizational systems models by suggesting:

1) The lessons of neuroplasticity: One can now acknowledge the fact of neuroplasticity — the brain creates the mind and the mind creates the brain — and how it is generated and conditioned by asking questions, by being curious, by the act of paying repeated attention, by making inquiry, by learning and sharing information;

2) Bottom Up Flow of Information: By recognizing the Neuro-Q.M. theory of probability, one can begin to value bottom up information flow.  Workers are not mindless cogs in a machine but rather brain/mind attentive information “workers.” (To better understand the bottom up theory of info flow, check out Steven Johnson’s EMERGENCE: a great study for neuro leaders who wish to take lessons from developing ant colonies, developing cities, developing brains and open systems software practices!)

3) Neuro leadership is hall-marked by invoking a brain based/quantum understanding of the role of attention, interactivity and decision-making in all aspects of human performance.  The Schwartz/Stapp model encourages us to take seriously the interactive possibilities of the brain in relation to the interactive possibilities posed by the use of our other research tools, be it a gene splicer, a sub-atomic particle accelerator.

There is so much more to say but time is running out. Let it be noted that the ghost of dualism clearly plagued the presentation as did the mechanistic semantics of Newtonian physics, e.g., Stapp referring to humans as machines.

‘Oi Vey.’ I will take that one on in another blog.

More tomorrow. Until then, attentive breath be with you!

Dr. G.

Neuro-leaders, donde esta?

October 27, 2008

Dear readers,

News on the home front;

First, commentary continues to flow from Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk on Oprah. A neuro-leader if there ever was one. Please enjoy the discussion that ensued on this site.

One of the questions to arise: Should we be devoting our lives to training our brains for bliss, or should bliss pursuits be relegated to the cloistered arena of mystical experience? Of course, the dualist framing of the question is unfortunate for as Taylor herself points out, right-brain enhanced joy is not licenced or owned by religious seekers.  Think of the pattern recognition operations that go on in the mind of painters or fabric designers?

For those interested in a critical, psychological analysis of American mystical experience, try starting with a standard and truly royal read: William James’ VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. James, the father of American psychology and a spacious thinker on the question of brain-mind relations, takes one on a tour of the diversity of American religiosity. Seems we in the U.S., have not strayed too much from our turn of the century predecessors.As James is one of my favorite American thinkers, I can’t help but think he would be totally turned on by the big movements in neuroscience and neuro-education — the sort Taylor insinuates in using neuro-anatomy to tell her deeply personal story of survival and transformation! I only wish James were alive today to join me at the upcoming 2008 Neuroleadership Summit in NY. I will be blogging on the event — and upon my return will be offering my services to those looking for consultants to design and set up neuroleadership and neuro-fitness programs in their companies and institutions

In the meantime: to embolden your own neuro-leadership program, try and practice a few of the basic “brain tips” mentioned on this site:

Mid-day napping

Bringing breath awareness to your athletic or other human performance training

Spinal rolls: juicing up the joints of the spine for greater blood and chi flow!

And a new one to be discussed in future blogs: Think Popeye and eat your spinach!

May the Breath Be With You!

Dr. G.

Jill Bolte Taylor Interview on Oprah!

October 21, 2008

Quick note:

Check out Oprah’s show today or go to her website for the interview with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor along with Dr. Mehmet Oz: http://www.oprah.com

(See the SpaceSuit Yoga archive of this site for note on Taylor’s talk at TED 2008)

Touching Story: NPR reports Brain Adapts to Hand Transplant!

October 15, 2008

Twitter feed from NPR:  

Yesterday (Oct 13) NPR reported on the success former amputee Dave Savage is having in adapting to his new hand transplant.   Do notice, the term “adaptation” here points to the capacity of Savage’s brain (and central nervous system) to remodel neural networks in order to operate his new hand.

Courtesy of Jewish Hospital, Kleinert Kutz and University of Louisville

Courtesy of Jewish Hospital, Kleinert Kutz and University of Louisville

Savage’s story is rather touching, to say the least, and puts a kinder, human face on the harrowing Silver Spring monkeys epic that pushed neuroscience into the study of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.

For NPR’s report on the neural implications of Savage’s hand transplant, go to: 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95593579

For the story of the Silver Spring Monkeys , see Sharon Begley’s discussion in TRAIN YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN, or Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley’s narrative in THE MIND AND THE BRAIN.

And for readers of SpaceSuit Yoga, the implications:  The lessons of neuroplasticity are so far-reaching as to push us all to rethink and recontextualize our work, our creativity, our lives with respect to the innate power of our brains.

Wonders never cease!

Dr. G.

More on Cat-Napping: Rested Brains, Smart Ideas!

October 14, 2008

The Platform: Brain Rules by John Medina, Ph.D.

The Twitter: Catch some ZZZZZs!

The Big Idea: Become a Neuro-Leader: Provide 20 minute, afternoon brain rest periods for your students, workers or colleagues!

…. Picking up on my sleeping pod commentary, I wish to reinforce the idea of catching some “zzzzs” as an antidote to the rise in stress these days and add an important point: Whether or not you have access to a sleeping pod, practice Neuro-Leadership by creating structures within your institution to allow for “brain time outsFollowing brain development specialist John Medina, getting enough sleep earns its place as Brain Rule #7 in his 12 Brain Rules. Rule #8? “Stressed Brains Don’t Learn the Same Way.”

As Medina notes on his own website: “Your brain is built to deal with stress that lasts about 30 seconds. The brain is not designed for long term stress when you feel like you have no control.”

Drawing an evolutionary comparison between facing a predatory saber-toothed tigers and your boss or a bad marriage, Medina pinpoints the effect: “You can actually watch the brain shrink.”

Shrinking brains might sound great as a 5th grade science project but for brains on fire from stock market quakes to the prospect of reorganizing a new world order, an expansive brain sounds more like what the doctor ordered. Medina’s prescription for avoiding chronic stress? Sleep well, think well and take an afternoon nap to improve mental and physical performance.

For years, I have manuevered around an academic schedule, eeking out 20 minutes of meditation before the start of a 4 p.m. seminar. My method: hit the steam baths and “work out” before class. Days without class, I schedule in an afternoon yoga nidra session.

What is yoga nidra? Simply put, yoga nidra is an ancient technology of deep relaxation, often referred to as “waking sleep.” It is one of the more beautiful restorative practices from the hatha yoga tradition, enabling rest while staying conscious at a subtle and quiet level of awareness. Significant neuroscientific studies of yogic meditation date back to the late 1960’s and today, the National Institute of Health within the U.S. is devoting research interest in the physiological and neuroscientific effects of yoga. It is worth noting that yoga nidra was included in the roster of week long yoga symposium topics covered at NIH in May 2008.

While Medina does address yoga nidra per se, he does emphasize the need for down time, a chance to enter the “Nap Zone” – that period during the hour of 2-3 in the afternoon, when as he says, “It’s deadly to give a lecture. More car accidents happen. Memory, attention and problem-solving suffer.” What accounts for the brain degrade? Charting the syncopated relations of ciradian and homeostatic sleep rhythms in our brain/body, Medina highlights the intersection — a crossroads that beckons the sleep.

Forget the candy bar or latte. Grab your yoga mat, your office sofa or place first dips on the new sleeping pod at work to re-calibrate your innate biological clock and set sparks to a new idea!

And as always breath be with you!

Dr. G.

Oprah talks Brain Science with Dr Jill Bolte Taylor

October 11, 2008

Quick blog announcement: I just received an email from Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor noting her talk with Oprah is due to air on

                                                

                          The Oprah Winfrey show, Oct 21, 2008.  

 

Breath be With You!

Dr. G.

NappingPods:BrainRestforHighPerformance/Creativity!

October 2, 2008

The Platform: The New Idea Lab: The Urban Pod

The Twitter: Cat Naps are back in!

The Big Idea: Deep rest influences creative synthesis of ideas!

Remember kindergarten “quiet time”? — Those rows of squeaky cots, the whispering, the agony of waiting out time until we could get up to play!? Well leave it to science and inventive high tech ingenuity to tap the wisdom of childhood: Napping Pods!

Today high tech napping pods are on the market. Recently reviewed in Wired Magazine and the subject of Google buzz, these “metro” pods are said to promote brain rest with musical and other aids to encourage a neural shift into “quiet time.”

From the standpoint of neural rest, I love it when science reinforces a childhood and an ancient wisdom, in this case, one that has long been recognized by the creative, the somatic and the psychological communities, namely: Incubation leads to creation! Yes, providing an appropriate break for neural rest during intense think-tanking allows our brain to rest in order to digest the onslaught of ideas, feelings and intuitions. Nap pods, in other words, mimic the “rest and digest” processes of our parasympathetic nervous system – the system that allow our bodies to restore energy that we’ve depleted with activity between meals.

The more we learn about the role of parasympathetic nervous system in brain/mind/body functioning, the more we understand why cognitive scientists would target sleep to understand how the brain replenishes itself during naps. And the more we learn about the role of sleep and neural rest in creativity, the more we can appreciate why artists and writers naturally choose to include aimless doodling into their studio practice or why business coaches and psychotherapists advocate relaxation to counter creative blocks, or why leading yoga teachers insist on incorporating savasana (“corpse pose”) and even yoga nidra (“waking sleep”) into one’s daily yoga practice.

So whether you’re brain-storming a new idea, preparing creative strategies for a race, improving “your game” or opening the channels of artistic practice, consider all of the possibilities, both high and low tech for catching some zzzzzzssss!

For more tips on brain rest, feel free to surf this blog. ***

Here’s to Brain Rest!

Dr. G.

***For corporate or private consults on brain and body wellness and high performance, please write to me through the GGI website or leave a comment below.