A Brain to Train Your Body

A longtime friend recommended a book entitled My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, a young neuroanatomy teacher at Harvard who suffered a horrific stroke, and her long, unlikely journey back to wellness. The brain hemorrhage devastated the circuitry in the left side of her brain, eradicating her verbal and math skills, ability to see color and three-dimensions, awareness of her body, and much of her personality.

However, the circuits that constituted her will and identity, though damaged, survived. With the help of family and friends, she basically rebuilt herself from a quivering sack of protoplasm back to a high functioning professional, and, in the process, maybe a better person as well. It is a insightful and informative book about the brain. But beyond that, it is a deeply spiritual, gut wrenching, and inspirational story as well. Read it, if for no other reason than what you will learn about the enlightened right side of your brain.

But being a TOJ, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the process she followed to re-train her brain and the process a TOJ must follow to train his or her body. Jill Bolte Taylor is an expert on the brain. The brain is an organ, and many systems in the body respond in the same way to the techniques she describes. Here are highlights that resonated with me:

First, change/improvement takes effort, discipline, and repetition. Systematically, she had to relearn to read, associating each letter with a sound, then multiple letters with combinations of sounds, then associate meaning with sounds. It was slow and made her head throb, but she celebrated small accomplishments, and ignored obstacles and setbacks. She worked through pain and challenges beyond anything a healthy Olympic athlete would ever remotely experience. The take away message for a TOJ is that effort pays off. It may not be quick or easy, but you will run a little faster, successfully navigate a more difficult technical section on your bike, or complete another pull up if you just keep working at it.

Second, she discovered that her brain needed and responded to lots of rest. In the months following her stroke, the onslaught of every day stimuli -- sounds, smells, faces -- exhausted her. But like a child, when she rested, she was re-energized. And as she slept her brain was organizing and restructuring itself, via neuro-plasticity, because steady, rapid progress followed periods of rest. Because your cardiovascular and muscles respond much like the brain, a TOJ benefits from rest in the same way. While exercising hard, you create catabolic processes that temporarily tear down your body at a cellular level. If you follow this with adequate rest (meaning not just sleep, but not-exercising), anabolic processes then rebuild your body faster or stronger than it was before. For a TOJ, this period of rest and recuperation may take a longer time than for a younger person, but it is worth it because you get the same results.

Third, Jill Bolte Taylor focused on hope and renewal, whether she was confronted with a tricky surgery or difficulty relearning a particular task. Given the right sequences of activity and rest, she knew from her own professional experience that her brain would heal itself. She had faith that the life force itself would do it naturally. Similarly, a TOJ knows intuitively that no matter how difficult running a certain distance or lifting some weight one more repetition might be, his or her body can do it, in fact, wants to do it. There may be some aches and pains, and progress may come slowly, but as sure as the sun rises in the morning, your body rises to the challenge. It's your nature.

I'm glad my friend recommended her book to me. Dr. Taylor gave this TOJ his own stroke of insight.

1 comment:

Donald Moore said...

I BELIEVE in rest recovery. It's critical. I religiously get 7-8 hours in the sack. In college, I would always take a good night's rest over a couple more hours of studying. The brain thrives on sleep and muscles respond amazingly to it. I'll need to check out this book. I try to bank a couple of 8-9 hour sleep nights 3-4 days prior to a big race. For example, if big race is Sat. then Wed and Thurs. I'm hitting the hay early, in the guest bed for 8+ hours of sleep. The body rewards with a PR, usually.