Training Enhancements

Background Music

Based on some research done years ago, we used to use a tape player (to show you how old this was) to play music in the background during our sessions in Atlanta. 60-beat Baroque (e.g. air on a G string, Pachelbel Canon) definitely helped people into the middle frequencies, especially alpha. Mozart, the faster sections of some of his works, especially with higher pitched solo instruments (clarinet, violin) tended to help people produce a beta state. We played these in the background and were regularly asked to make copies of the tapes for kids or parents to have at home. Of course, now I would just rip a song from a CD or download it as an MP3 and play it in the background in the Audio Player.

Brain Exercises

Do Brain Exercises Work? I’ve used several of them with clients and myself, and the ones I used pretty much did the same thing. Asking whether they work is like asking whether doing aerobic exercise will improve fitness. The answer is “yes, if you do it consistently over a period of time.” That’s always the problem. Clients get started and do the exercises several times, but then it becomes another chore that starts getting put off or missed and, sure enough, it doesn’t work.


EMDR, when it works, is faster than NF, but it is very specific to an individual traumatic memory, so you have to do it a bunch of times if the client has more than one or two traumatic memories–and some clients are very disturbed by the process of bringing the traumatic experience back into memory, preferring not to do it. NF doesn’t seem to work with individual memories. It is more oriented toward changing the activation pattern in the amygdala/hippocampus/temporal lobe that was set up around the original trauma. Once that is changed, the experiential and behavioral effects melt away. In most the cases I’ve worked with, there was never a need to recall the traumatic material at all.

One of the potential issues always with EMDR (which I agree can be a remarkably powerful technique) is that the client has to (at least in the models of which I’m aware) call back into memory in several modalities some painful or frightening experience. A client who has a lot of very slow theta and/or delta activity may actually do this quite successfully–so successfully that they actually begin abreacting before the process fully unfolds.

I have presented the possibility that what happens in EMDR is that the two hippocamus/amygdala formations inside the two temporal lobes, which are not working together due to very early traumatic experience (hence the Disconnect), are asked to pull out of the memory banks some experience they are likely to have poorly integrated. When the client’s eyes move back and forth across the midline, the two hemispheres have to work together resulting in the possible re-integration of the memory. Don’t know for sure that’s what happens, but it does make some sense.

Since people with left-sided disconnects, more indicative of early lack of nurturing, tend to maintain emotional flatness in the face of experience. It’s possible that someone with that pattern, when the emotional/feeling tone side of the brain gets pulled into the equation, the result may be very unusual and uncomfortable.

The nice thing about NF is that, unlike EMDR, which tends to work a memory at a time, it works on the underlying activation pattern that tends to lock the problem in place. When the brain lets go of that pattern, all the individual events are affected, and it usually is not necessary to call them back into consciousness to have this effect.


The brain is essentially an organ that receives information from outside (sensory inputs) and inside (memories, emotional responses, associations with previous experience), integrates all this and responds to it with motor outputs (speaking, acting) and changes in its own body’s internal environment. This is a constant cycle with outputs creating inputs (how did the teacher respond to what I said) which create more outputs, which result in more inputs ad infinitum.

Holosync (and other systems of binaural beats) essentially provide the brain with a fairly radical change in its environmental inputs. You close your eyes, block out sounds other than the beats, sit in a comfortable place, etc. The only inputs to the brain are (mostly) beats which are produced at a particular or various frequencies. The evidence is that, in this relatively artificial state, the brain will begin to move toward the frequency of the beats. If you produce beats at 10 Hz, the brain will begin to produce more 10 Hz. That energy change can result in a change in mental/experiential state. I guess one could accurately use the term “bombards”, since that is what binaural beat training in a closed environment does. But what that has to do with “neuroconnections” is beyond me. If you play fast dance music very loud in a situation where you have nothing to do but listen to it, that may change your energy level (you dance). But connections are formed by experience, by learning. The two are not connected.

Moreover, it is less clear whether–once the brain has this “driving” effect removed and returns to the more complex and variable situation in which it usually processes (eyes open, ears hearing multiple inputs, movements, physical touch sensations, scents, desired outcomes, responses coming from other independent sources (the teacher is angry today or is in love today)–it will sustain the results of the beats. When the music goes away and you leave the studio and go back to work, do you maintain the high level of energy or fall back into the habitual energy patterns your brain produces to THAT environment?

Neurofeedback works on a very different principle. Neurofeedback is an accurate and focused mirror that reflects the brain to itself through its sensory inputs. It can reflect via visual, auditory and other sensory modes. It can also focus on very specific elements of the brain’s performance, like a football coach might focus on the play of the interior linemen on running plays or a conductor focusing on the clarinets in a certain passage of a certain piece. The goal is, by providing accurate and immediate feedback to the brain about its habitual patterns, to coach it into shifting those and making the new patterns a new habit.

The difference is that, with neurofeedback, the brain makes the changes itself, actually adjusting its own stable patterns, where AVS training pushes it into a new place. The former is likely, if the results are good, to become stable fairly quickly. The latter, like taking a drug, can give the client/brain an experience of being in a different place, but it doesn’t teach it how to get there on its own.

There is some evidence that AVE can boost the effectiveness of neurofeedback training. There are also folks who use just the AVE devices alone, without NF. There are some good options available in the Photosonix line and also the David line. There are also lots of relatively inexpensive tapes and CDs that use binaural beats to help “nudge” the brain toward new frequencies.

Heart-Rate Variability Training (HRV)

There is a fair amount of research suggesting that, when the autonomic nervous system is working properly–not over-stressed–heart rate dances around like a barefoot ballerina on hot concrete. When stress levels are high, it tends to become rigidly locked into certain rates. The more variable the rate, the healthier the heart. Hence, training HRV is reputed to have a positive effect on both the heart and the brain.

HRV is an excellent training–like almost all peripheral biofeedback–of activation in the autonomic nervous system. When you are in sympathetic mode (fight-or-flight), as many stressed people are, your heart speed is driven by the adrenal system and is very stable. When you move to parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode, which should be dominant for most of us most of the time, there are multiple ganglia that can be controlling heart rate depending on the body maintenance functions are being performed, so the heart rate is more variable.

It is very useful to learn to get out of the sympathetic mode and remain in parasympathetic, but as far as I’ve been able to tell, that doesn’t necessarily have an effect on brain activation patterns.

I clip the EmWave sensor onto the client’s ear, start the software and verify that I have a good heart signal, then open the feedback screen the client likes and sit back in my chair.
I believe that the clients who most need HRV are the ones most interested in “understanding” the graphs and the numbers and evaluating “how well” they are doing, etc. And the trainers who are most interested in that probably have never really learned to get into a highly coherent state (as defined by Heart Math). When people ask me to explain what they should do or how to make the feedback happen, I just tell them “slow down your breathing”, “look through the screen, not at it,” “find something positive and happy to focus on,” and other equally useless suggestions. People usually stop asking me how to do it and what it means after a session or two. Then they start to make progress. I think there is a great analogy to riding a bike: the more “help” you have–especially from someone who wants to “explain HOW” to do it, the longer it takes you to learn. Once you are riding, you probably can’t explain to anyone else exactly HOW you are doing it. You just do it. That’s the way it is with most brain training.

Appropriate Session Length

How long one trains doesn’t really matter. If someone gets into the state fairly quickly but has trouble staying in it, I may stop the session after a few minutes and have them focus on what they did differently between the beginning and when they started to lose the feedback. Many people take 15 or 20 minutes to relax and get bored enough to stop trying. Those I train longer.

Goal of HRV Training During Session

It’s to get feedback. In order to do that, your heart-rate should slow down and become more variable. In order to do that, you autonomic nervous system needs to shift into parasympathetic mode–“rest and digest” instead of “fight or flight.” Feel calm, relax, find positive, happy, loving, beautiful things in your focus.

Games for Slow Brains

Naming Game

The naming game works like this:

The player’s job is to name as many things as possible, out loud, that they can see in the area where you are working, in one minute.

The coach counts the number of items and watches the clock.

Slow-wave processors don’t use words inside their heads–they use images to process information. Language requires faster brain activity. Naming aloud pushes the brain to block slower activity and produce beta.

I use a stopwatch and an inventory counter (about $15 at Office Depot).

I explain the game to the client and ask her to name something she can see now just to verify that she understands. In some cases you may have to point to an object for her to name it the first time. (When done at home, the cool way to do this is to ask the player to handle the stopwatch and counter while YOU try to name 3 times, one minute each time, trying to beat your record. Then switch roles and let her name.)

I usually start like this:

“OK, now you are going to see how many things you can tell me the name of out loud that you can see in this room. How many do you think you can name?”

(Interesting to see the responses to this question–the more slow wave activity, usually the lower the guess; more combined slow/fast–ADHD pattern–the higher the guess).

I write down the number they give me and say, “all right, let’s see. Ready? Three-two-one, begin.”

Keep track of how many items were named in the first 30 seconds and how many in the second 30 seconds. Most people with attention problems will name half as many in the second half-minute as in the first.

When the minute is finished, show the client the counter and ask how many she got. Then I like to discuss what happened. Did she ever see something and know what it was but not be able to name it? How hard or easy was it? Does she see things now she could have named but did not? Etc.

The ultimate goal of the naming game is to name 140 items in 3 minutes without a break I usually start, after figuring out where the client is starting, by having them try to get 20 names in 20 seconds. To do this I suggest that they name in one place: looking at me and starting at the top, naming every part they see.

Hair, hairline, part, forehead, wrinkles, temples, eyebrows, eyelashes, eyeballs, pupils, eyelids, nose, nostrils, cheeks, upper lip, lower lip, etc. I demonstrate this on them, doing a steady beat of one item per second. Then I tell them to do it on me, and they’re welcome to name the same things on me I named on them.

Slow-brain processors don’t see details, so they may be down to my shoes by the time they’ve named 12 items. They keep practicing, starting at the top, then at the bottom, until they can get 20 in 20 seconds, then 30 in 30 seconds, etc. The rule is that they have to look at the thing they are naming when they name it.

Naming is a great way for the client to see a measurable change in the number of things they can name in a period. It also speeds up the brain and often begins to result in easier awakening, better memory and stopping the bedwetting.


Keys to the Naming Game

The keys to naming as we developed it in the early days in Attention Development Programs in Atlanta:

  1. Practice for 3 minutes, perhaps starting with as few as 10 seconds in a trial until the client can name 10 things in 10 seconds.
  2. Count and keep track of how many things were named, so you can see progress, and write down (or even better, have the client graph) the number of items.
  3. Continue naming until you can name 140 items in 3 minutes without a break (about 47/minute).
  4. Focus on naming details (I like to start on the body) starting up top and going down (e.g. hair, part, bangs, forehead, eyebrows, eyelashes, eyes, pupils, nose, bridge of the nose, etc.) The client counts and the trainer times.
  5. Repeat the same naming site until the client can name at a 1/second pace or close to it.

There are some rules I always use:

  1. You can’t name from a picture; you must name from a real-world item like a person or items in a room–3-dimensional.
  2. Do NOT point when you name. In working with autistic children or those with very slow brains, sometimes the trainer can point to help them focus, but the goal is for them to focus with their eyes on their own.
  3. The namer must look at the item being named when naming it. This creates and reinforces (as it is repeated in successive trials) a neural network that includes the visual item, the spoken name of the item, the heard name of the item, so language processing (beta), which is the goal, becomes more fluid and the brain is able to sustain it for longer periods (speeding up the naming).
  4. When the client gets good at the complete body/clothing, move to items in the car, items in the kitchen, etc. and repeat those until they are fluid.
  5. Get a stopwatch and an inventory counter (clicker), which the coach uses during naming–and then switch roles. I’ll name and you count, then you name and I’ll count. Not competing with each other but just trying to beat our own records.
  6. The namer has to remain still when naming, especially for fidgeters.

There is also the naming walk, which is being combined with naming here but is different. That’s actually something that Fritz Perls taught me. Go out for a walk, ideally in a situation where you can speak out loud without having people around you tink you are crazy. Out loud–or even under your breath–maintain a constant monologue in this form: “Now I’m aware of the tree on my right; now I’m aware of how tall it is–maybe 60 feet; now I’m aware of how rough the bark is; now I’m aware of a breeze that just came by; now I’m aware of a collie trotting toward me,” etc. What you will find is that you can do it just fine for 30 seconds or a minute or maybe even more, before you suddenly realize that you aren’t doing it any more. You’re thinking. Stop, turn around and look back to see what was the last thing you were aware of. Then start again. “Now I’m aware I’m getting a cucumber out of the refrigerator, now I’m aware I’m closing the refrigerator door, now I’m looking for a knife to slice the cucumber, etc.” This one is not necessarily time-limited like naming. Naming is 3 minutes. I would often break it up into 1-minute segments, trying to get up to 47 or more things. Then begin putting them together.

If you have a client who has a hard time waking up or getting going in the morning, wake them up and sit on the bed and have them start naming. You’ll be amazed how quickly they wake up.

Reading Aloud

The client reads aloud. Alternate with the client until he/she builds up some stamina.

Stump the Jock

Pick an age-appropriate piece of written material–usually starting with a paragraph. It should have factual information in it (names, dates, places, etc.). Both the trainer and the client read it at the same time (can be aloud first, but then silently).
Take turns:  One asks the other a question that is answered in the paragraph. The other has to answer correctly.  If yes, a point is gained; if no, a point is lost. The person being questioned can challenge the asker to demonstrate that the question is answered in the paragraph if there is any doubt.  If it is, he loses a point; if not, the asker loses a point.
One of the keys in this game is for the client to learn that there are facts in written material, learn to recognize them and remember them.  You can’t ask good questions unless you recognize the facts.
A second key is how to ask open-ended questions.  For example, instead of “how many times does a hummingbird flap its wings in a second”?”, ask “how fast does a hummingbird flap its wings?
I explain to kids that they are learning how to know what questions will be on a test (if there are still tests in school).  All the teacher does is look for facts in the assigned reading or lecture and makes up questions.  If you recognize the facts when you read and know how to turn them into questions, you know what will be on the test.
With practice, you can expand the reading material from a paragraph to a page or more.
The final point I do is to show the client how to read (or take notes) in shorthand:  write down the facts when listening to a set of instructions in your own code.
For example, I tell the client, “there are 4 books here on the table” (if there are still books in school). “First I want you to take the biggest book, turn to page 311 and find the 4th word in the 4th row and jot it down on this paper.  Then take the red-covered book, find the 4th page from the end and take the first 3 words in the last sentence and write them on this paper,” etc.
The client might make notes like “biggest 311 4w in 4r; red -4p last s w 1-3”

Note Taking

Note taking if we get that far.

RSA Breathing

Since RSA breathing tends to stimulate the vagus nerve, which pushes you into parasympathetic mode–and is the pair of the cranial nerves that connects the brain to the abdomen via the heart, esophagus and lungs, it prepares the body to participate more effectively in these parasympathetic maintenance functions. It also reduces autonomic stress, so doing it multiple times during the day creates points in the stress graph which produce drops, breaking up the steady climb, so stress levels at day’s end are significantly lower.

It’s always a good idea to do something like RSA breathing (exhale slowly for 7 seconds–counting the seconds in your mind–to empty your lungs, then let the breath come in by itself and count 3 seconds. Not deep breathing. Not abdominal breathing. Just slow. That is often helpful in reducing blood pressure.

RSA Breathing: do 2-3 minutes of counted breath at least 4-5 times per day. I suggest using parasympathetic triggers (rest and digest). So when you go to the bathroom, breath slowly, focusing on the emptying out-breath. Before you sit down to eat a meal, do 2-3 minutes of breathing, before lying down to nap or sleep, do it. Anytime you are driving, especially in traffic, do it.

Breathe out for 6 seconds fully and quietly until your lungs are empty. Let the breath come back into your lungs (should take about 3 seconds). Repeat, making sure that you are pushing the air out from your belly up to the top of your lungs. No-one should know what you are doing.
This will shift your autonomic nervous system away from fight-or-flight toward parasympathetic maintenance mode.

Swingle’s Audio CDs

They are binaural beats embedded in pink noise. You can create your own binaural beats in BioExplorer and set the protocol to run them constantly, turn them on and off based on the client’s performance vis-a-vis thresholds or change the beat frequency depending on peak frequency of the EEG.

Trainer Tips

NF is good Zen practice (at least with brain-trainer designs) for the trainer. The main job is to be aware and NOT ACT any more than necessary. In the early sessions, after letting the client try to find the state himself, you might coach some during the breaks, suggest things to try or watch. After a few sessions, my main job is occasionally to ask a question. It doesn’t take long before I’m just there watching. Of course by interfering a lot in the training, you can stretch out or even block that process.

Bored Clients

This is one of my favorite training issues. I guess it must be related to the cultural changes that have made news into entertainment, homework assignments now being done by finding internet sites, etc. As astonishing as it may seem to many people, not ALL of experience is meant to be entertainment.

If this client can’t simply relax enough to enjoy interesting and colorful patterns unfolding when he’s supposed to be calm and relaxed, that’s probably exactly WHY he needs training. Imagine sitting where I do, watching the ocean, wave after wave, all pretty much the same color, hour after hour, day after day. BOOORRRINNG. And how about being married to the same person or having the same friends or working in the same job for years or decades. Unbearable.

Of course people with short attention spans get bored quickly with even the most expensive “games” available for NF training–and even with regular video games eventually.

I would explore with your client why he finds it depressing to watch something pointless, like a flower garden or a sunset or a child sleeping. That’s kind of interesting.

Training Oneself

It can be daunting to be both trainer and client at the same time. Especially when you are just starting off as a trainer, you can easily spend a lot of energy fiddling with the electrodes or the software or ANYTHING to keep from just paying attention to the feedback, without judging or evaluating, without thinking or trying. It’s hard to do that–at least for very long. So new trainers (and, I must confess, guys who’ve been training themselves for a couple decades as well) focus a lot on all the technical issues and hope to see “changes” in the EEG readings.

In 20 years I’ve never had a client come to me and say, “I want to get rid of this pesky fastwave coherence in my frontal lobes.” When I do a training plan, if I see that pattern in a client with obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviors or anxiety or generally being tired and burned out, then I’ll put it on the plan to try out. Training it just because it’s there may be helpful, but how will you know?

You know by asking the client–even if the client is yourself–what am I feeling? I do this in the breaks between training segments. I notice and feedback changes I see in the client, posture, level of tension or fidgetiness, facial expression, ability to communicate with me. And I ask him (and ideally an observant friend, partner or family member) to let me know any little changes they noticed in the 24 hours after a session. I get them LOOKING for changes and reporting them (usually be email). I just finished with a man who trained with me for a week. We tried a number of different approaches based on his assessment, but though he loved the trainings, he didn’t notice anything different. In a break during the 10th session, when I asked him what had happened, he began explaining to me how he had been able to become the observer in his own mind for the first time he could ever remember, seeing thoughts as if they were encased in bubbles, and just letting them go by. That told us how to continue, what to train, and he made remarkable progress.

As far as what results a client “should” experience from a training, I don’t answer that question. The question I’m interested in is “what DID the client experience), If I tell a client, “this will make you feel X”; then, when I ask in a training break, some portion of them will tell me they noticed X because they think they should have. Another group looks so hard for X that they miss A, B and C appear.

If you are getting clean signals and have done an assessment and decided what to train based on that, then focus for a while on being the client instead of the trainer. Most of the brain-trainer designs are pretty automatic, setting thresholds for you, so once you feel the feedback level is comfortable, just forget the screen. Set it to pause every 3 or 5 minutes, depending on what you are training, and look inside yourself. Jot down notes. Don’t need to write an essay. Then do it again. When you find something you like that you think is related to positive things happening for you, stay with it until you cannot train it for a week or two, and the positive effect remains. Then you know the brain has established a “new normal” state for itself.

Client Stories

Long ago when I had my offices in Atlanta, we used equipment that had a tendency from time to time to go south. Of course that never happens any more… One day a young man and his mother came for his session, and, despite our best efforts, the trainer and I could NOT get the machine to work at all. I was about to send them home after explaining to the mother what had happened, but when we went into the training room the client was sitting quietly in front of a blank screen (monitor was turned off), leads on his head, both he and the trainer staring intently at it. We went back into the waiting room and hung around for about half an hour until they came out. The kid was very pleased with himself. The trainer had told him that he thought the boy might be ready to try invisible neurofeedback. He had done a number of sessions. He had an experience of what he felt like when he was scoring. So, the trainer told him, just look at the screen and make the computer (which was turned off) beep. The kid did. They took their usual breaks and discussed how many points the kid had gotten in each training segment, etc. All the usual stuff.

Pete’s Story

I can tell you my own story briefly. I was 45 when I stumbled into neurofeedback. Fairly successful in my life, though I had already been through a number of different careers (not just jobs) ranging from carpenter and professional photographer to hospital administrator and consultant. I was very good at certain types of thought, but if I had to do anything like a budget or a plan, or keep track (in years past) of homework assignments and (more importantly) get them done on schedule, I had a great deal of difficulty. I started working on my own head simply because I wanted to learn how to do NF to help a client I was working with in starting his own NF practice, and I couldn’t find anyone else foolish enough to let me hook them up and train them. The process is, as suggested in another response, a lot like standing at the bottom of a mountain and looking up. Fortunately I came at it rather like I came at raising children: with total ignorance and no sense of everything that was involved. I just took it a step at a time: how do I put on the electrodes? then how do I turn on the software? etc. With a little help, I actually got the software going and started off with a simple basic training which fortunately worked okay for me. I kept doing it, partly because I began within about 8-10 tries to notice that some things about the way I thought and made it through the day were changing. I stopped after 35 or 40 sessions because I had gone on vacation with my family for a couple weeks and been unable to train, and I noticed that the changes (which were also noticed by others we were visiting who had known me for years) were stable even without the training sessions.

Of course that was 15 years ago, and I’ve done hundreds of sessions–if not thousands–since then, trying all kinds of protocols to see how they work and feel. My wife was grinding her teeth at night, biting her nails, having almost constant panic attacks, etc. I worked with her for about 25 sessions, and those problems were gone.