Brain Training for Self-Care, Focus, and Productivity - Alex Doman

Brain Training for Self-Care, Focus, and Productivity - Alex Doman

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Jill Stowell: Would you like to feel  less stressed, not only right now in   the short term, but in general in your life? Retraining your brain to access a calmer,   more relaxed and more focused state is  possible. Welcome to the LD Expert Podcast,   your place for answers and solutions  for dyslexia and learning differences. Jill Stowell:   Have you ever noticed how music can impact  your mood? Today we’re going to talk about   how the fields of music, neuroscience and  technology have come together to help teens   and adults reduce stress and anxiety  and increase focus and productivity.  I’m your host Jill Stowell, Founder and  Executive Director of Stowell Learning   Centers and author of Take the Stone out of  the Shoe: A Must-Have Guide to Understanding,   Supporting and Correcting Dyslexia,  Learning and Attention Challenges.  Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Alex  Doman. Alex is a pioneer in the field of music,   neuroscience and brain training. He is the  cofounder and CEO of Advanced Brain Technologies,  

a company dedicated to improving brain health and  cognitive function through personalized music and   brain training programs. Welcome back, Alex. Alex Doman: Great to be with you, Jill. Jill Stowell: Yeah. It’s so nice to have you here.   So let’s start with just a little bit about  your background and how you became interested   in the use of music to improve brain  function and just overall well-being. Alex Doman: Jill, I’ve been very fortunate  to be part of a family that has been   really dedicated to helping people achieve  optimal human performance going on over 80   years now. Three generations starting with my  grandfather who was a rehabilitation physician  

and one of the pioneers of brain injury  rehabilitation in early child development.  My father Robert Doman is an educator and had  been in the field for my life and I joined the   family in the field 30 years ago this year.  So it has been quite a journey and with all   the work that I grew up around, I was very  inspired about the impact, the different   modalities that my father and grandfather  and their colleagues used to help children,   help teens and help adults from severe  brain injury to highly gifted individuals. 

What really resonated with me most was the  application of music and specialized music   designed to help improve brain performance. So I  began studying that, studying different methods   in Europe, training in them, using them with a  very wide range in clientele and I found my happy   place. I really found my niche in the field  using music and sound as a way to well-being. Jill Stowell: And music really can help  regulate our emotions and promote better sleep   and there’s just so much that it can do, which is  essential for our overall health and well-being.   So I love the exploration that you’ve done  in the field and all you’ve done with it. Alex Doman: It has been an honor and it has been  a pleasure and I feel like we’re just scratching   the surface. We’re just getting started.  If we think about the application of music  

in well-being, it’s one of our oldest, most  ancient forms of healing in humanity. So we’re   learning and starting to understand really how the  brain functions and how it’s impacted by sound,   music and all forms of sensory input. So while we’re learning more and more,   I’ve watched this field change and the  scientific awareness grow and we’re   learning more that’s allowing us to do better,  create better programs, more impactful programs.   But just feel like we’re still scratching  the surface of what’s possible. Jill Stowell: So thinking about all that  you’re saying about the discoveries that   are going on and what music can do for  us, what is kind of the mechanism behind   how we experience music and how  our mood is so impacted by it? Alex Doman: Well, it’s interesting because  there are multiple mechanisms within the   nervous system that are involved  with the processing of music and   the benefits of music and in fact if  you look at neural imaging studies,   you come to understand that more areas of the  brain are involved when experiencing music   than any other input to the nervous system. So that tells us something of the importance  

of music and sound and it’s working both from  the bottom up from the autonomic functions of   our body-brain connection which would be the  autonomic nervous system that’s regulating our   involuntary states and our conscious  process and our cognitive function.  So bottom up and top down impact in terms  of mechanisms and it helps to regulate–   music regulates different neurotransmitters,  different hormones in the body related to   stress management, relative to attention  and reward mechanisms as well as sleep.  So that’s one of the profound things about music  is it impacts so many areas of the brain that   there are just multitudes of explorations into  the different neural networks that are engaged   when we experience music and also the emotional  states that we experience with music listening. Jill Stowell: When you mentioned that music kind  of trains the brain top down and bottom up and   at our learning centers, we’ve been using  the Advanced Brain Technologies’ listening   programs for, well, decades, I guess now. But we started out using that to stimulate  

and tune up the auditory processing to really  support reading and language and speaking and   then as we learned more about what music really  can do, we use it also with our Core Learning   Skills Programs where we’re working really bottom  up with the body and regulation and attention and   just sort of physical and mental organization  because it really does support all of that. Alex Doman: Well, and it’s interesting, Jill. We  shared that journey together. When we created the   Listening Program in the ‘90s, the idea was as a  listening program to improve how we discriminate   and respond to sound in the environment,  especially with language and communication. 

So we were working from the top down and  together with you and our network of thousands   of providers, we discovered that it appears – and  I would say it appears that the impact is really   starting bottom up and that perhaps this bottom  up improvement in self-regulation is making the   individual more available for attention,  for concentration, for executive functions   that allow us to execute daily activities  and facilitate learning and communication.  So that’s still the discovery that’s  going on is how much is top down,   how much is bottom up. But really it’s  the relationship because anytime we try   to segment the brain into pieces and parts and  look at left hemisphere and right hemisphere,   we have to understand this is a whole system  or a whole – we’re a whole organism. So we’re   affecting our overall being and in functions. So  we have to take a step back and just keep that in  

perspective as we get maybe too isolationist  in terms of our approach of these things. Jill Stowell: Oh, and we absolutely see that  with our students that everything we do,   it’s so hard to separate out  one thing that’s having the   impact because it’s really addressing the  whole person, the whole mind-body connection.  So I want to talk about the new brain training  technology - Vital Neuro - that’s really kind   of just coming out now. Can you give us an  overview of what Vital Neuro is and who it’s for? Alex Doman: Yeah, I would be happy to do that.  So Vital Neuro is neuro performance training that   harnesses the power of neural feedback combined  with psycho-acoustically designed music that   is personalized to change your state of mind  in real time through the reading of the EEG,   which is the electrical activity within the brain. We started Vital Neuro back in 2016, myself and  

my first cofounder Dr. Kamran Fallahpour who’s  our clinical psychologist and neuroscientist and   our chief scientific officer because Kamran and I  really wanted to build a solution for individuals   that would help them find focus and balance in  their life, really how to self-regulate and we   wanted to bring the power of what we have been  doing with psycho-acoustically designed music at   Advanced Brain Technologies over the decades and  what Kamran have been doing with neuromodulation   therapies in his clinic in New York. So we combined these two and worked to create a   mobile, scalable solution that would be accessible  to the masses as opposed to technology that   would be limited to clinical application only,  which most of neurofeedback practice is today.  So what we have today is a headphone and I can  show this Jill, which is a proprietary Bluetooth   headphone that has integrated sensors as you  see here and also in the ear cuffs and these   sensors read the electrical activity in the  brain which are brainwaves and the brainwaves   tell us what the current state of the brain is. Is the brain relaxed? Is it stressed? Is it  

anxious? Is it asleep? Is it focused? So by  putting on the headphones as we see here and   connecting to the mobile app on an iPhone or on  an iPad, we do a baseline EEG in under a minute,   clinical grade on a mobile device. We read  that EEG. We determine the current state of   mind based on the brain waves. Again we’re  not reading the mind. We don’t know what the   mind is thinking but we know what that electrical  activity, that signature the brain is telling us.  Once we understand the baseline, we then play  psycho-acoustically designed music that’s   selected by the individual using Vital either  to meditate, to relax, to focus or to optimize   and activate our executive function. So based on the desired state of mind,  

the music begins to entrain the brain to that  state while we’re measuring the EEG in real time,   sampling the brain activity every four  milliseconds. Then the music is personalized   in response to that brain state. As the brain  learns to reach the target of its goal state,   it’s rewarded through a paradigm called  “operant conditioning”. So that’s a feedback.  If you’re familiar with biofeedback, that’s how  where operant conditioning is employed and in   neurofeedback we use EEG to help activate that  network and it’s a loop. So what Vital is doing   through the app is giving the brain a mirror  to watch itself through the EEG and to reward   the brain when it’s achieving its goals. So if  I’m trying to relax from a stressed state, we’re  

monitoring that brainwave activity specifically.  Once the brain begins to relax by reaching a   target frequency, the brain is rewarded. The music  is personalized and changes through a reward tone   that the brain finds pleasing and the brain  seeks out more of those rewards and it learns   how to self-regulate and achieve relaxation. So you use Vital daily anywhere from five to   thirty-minute sessions. So we love to see people  do two 15-minute sessions a day. It’s a really   nice routine to have and to make this a part  of their daily lifestyle. You can use Vital  

during transitions of the day, upon waking,  getting prepared for school or doing work   and preparing email or doing emails. On breaks  during the day, it transitions back home when we   need them from school and work as well as in the  evening as part of a pre-sleep ritual. We have   now lots of individuals that have been trialing  Vital and using it during exercise, during yoga   and treadmill use and their Peloton bike. So we’re seeing all kinds of applications   that we hadn’t considered where  Vital is really proving useful.

Jill Stowell: So when I think about all of the  work that we do, whether it’s attention training   or processing skills training or reading  development, the first step in change is   awareness and with Vital, I feel like that’s kind  of what’s happening. It’s helping you to be aware,   your brain to be aware of what it feels like to  be in the desired state, whether it’s meditation   or relaxation or a calm, relaxed focus or the  more creative, executive, optimized program.  What I noticed is in the whole process, with  creating goals and customizing the program   with our clients, just that beginning part  starts to build awareness of what they need   and what state they really want to operate in. Then as they get going with it, the brain starts   to recognize what it feels like to be more  relaxed or focused or really on a roll and   then for myself personally and really what we  always are working towards with our students   is then to be able to access that anytime  because you’ve learned how to make that shift.

Alex Doman: Yeah, that’s really well-said. It is  about bringing self-awareness to internal state.   So Vital gives us that opportunity to  go within while still being connected   to the external environment and  to subconsciously self-access,   scan where are we and then the technology and  the music is guiding us to where we desire to be.  When we’re doing Vital, we talk about making the  shift. We make the shift to the desired state   during the session and that has an immediate  benefit when we need to be in a certain place.  Then we have a halo effect and that halo effect  will carry on for hours after the session. But as  

this becomes a habit and we employ this with  the right frequency, intensity and duration   using this in our daily life, that’s when the  beauty of neuroplasticity comes and then the   brain changes and the pathways are established to  reinforce that allow us to carry that experience   throughout everything that we do, so  that ultimately we’re changing our state.  So when we have a stressor, we have an appropriate  response, right? And that response is yes to feel   stressed but then to release this stress when the  stressor is no longer coming at us whereas now,   people often go into a fight and flight state  and they don’t go through that recovery release   process. Vital enables that, the ability to  get focused when distractions are happening,   to be aware of OK, these things are  happening around me. But let’s get back   and focus on task. So that awareness is really  a keyword, Jill. I love that you shared that. Jill Stowell: And you kind of right in there  alluded to – well, not alluded. You kind of   explained what you would have kind of called  episodic, like change in the moment as well   as long term change with real neuroplasticity.  So a changing of the connections and pathways  

in the brain and I think that’s really important. I know we’ve been kind of learning different ways   that we can use this and sometimes we have  students that they come in and the day has   been tough for them. So doing 10 or 15 minutes of  Vital helps them to get into a more calm, relaxed,   focused, available state in that moment. I know this for myself too that afternoon   is my worst time for getting things done.  So if I really need to, which I usually do,   and I’m not very focused, I will put Vital on  while I’m trying to start going through that email   and different things. I find, wow, I was able to  focus for another two hours. Not with Vital on the   whole time but just doing a 15 or 20-minute  session and then I was really good to go. 

But it does take like with all of the brain  training that we do, it takes frequency and   consistency to really build that over time which  is what we want. We want a better stress response.   We want to more quickly get back to a calmer state  when something has been upsetting or stressful.   I just see this as an incredible tool  to help teens and adults do that.

Alex Doman: Well, we agree and we’re really  thrilled to see and the learning that we’ve   been doing with you and your team at  Stowell Learning Center, both with the   team using it and using it with students. You touched on something really crucial and   we call that a priming effect. So when we  shift the state, we’re priming the brain.   We’re priming the individual for the activity that  they’re going to engage with. What’s interesting  

is we use all sorts of aids in our life as a  primer. I got a cup of coffee for caffeine,   which is a primer to activation. We may use  melatonin to help us go to sleep and shift   our neurotransmitters so that we increase  our sleep state and our sleep readiness.  What we’re finding in a lot of the feedback  is with Vital, that people are able to not use   those aids as often. So we’re getting reports of  people needing less caffeine to have their energy,  

to do the things that they would normally do  to focus and be attentive. They’re reducing   and they’re finding using Vital as a pre-sleep  ritual is providing what they need to get a good   night’s rest and that sleep is really crucial  as we know with brain plasticity because it is   during deep rest as well as sleep that  neuroplasticity takes place, that that   consolidation of events of the day happened  that we get – human growth hormone is produced.  The cerebral spinal fluid is clearing out  the neurotoxins in the brain and flushing   the system. So it can be healthy and the brain is  rewiring. Most in consolidating, it’s learning for   the day. So helping to facilitate good sleep is  one of the things Vital is proving to be really   crucial for in terms of its benefits which  then supporting everything that we’re doing.

Jill Stowell: Yeah, and I definitely see  that with myself personally. But as we’ve   been working with this, I’ve been seeing  with anxiety and with sleep in particular,   that people seem to get into patterns and  they just can’t shift and so they get into   a pattern of not being able to sleep or having  these really high stress responses and anxious   moments throughout the day and what I had found  is that starting to use Vital, it helps them   break that pattern and start to create a new  pattern. So it has been really exciting to see. Alex Doman: Well, as we know, we get a lot of  learned behaviors. These patterns for behaviors   and it takes a while to have that behavior  change take place and that’s what we in fact   start to see. So you bring out an important  point. I want to share a little bit of the   research that’s going on at Vital, if we could  take a couple of moments on that because we’re … Jill Stowell: That would be great.

Alex Doman: We currently have completed some  or in process in initiating a total of 20   pilot studies in the United States with  different populations of the individual.   For reference, today is April 11th. Last Friday,  2023, we had just completed a six-week study with   flight attendants from two of our major airlines  and they were recommended to use Vital three times   a week for at least 15 minutes a day and we are  just starting to analyze the post study data.  We did a baseline. We did midpoint and then  post-evaluations with a number of standardized   assessments and I just wanted to touch on the  anxiety and sleep in particular because we did   measure those Jill and just midpoint after three  weeks, we had seen a 40 percent symptom reduction   in anxiety in these flight attendants. We know  how hard it is for flight attendants with all the  

travel they’re doing and all the customers  that they’re keeping safe and supporting.  It's an incredibly stressful job that  they have and sleep is a big issue as   they’re crossing time zones and have a lot of  shift changes. We saw a 31 percent improvement   in their sleep as well as the 41 or the  40 percent reduction in anxiety as well   as a number of other measures. As we’ve  started to look at some of the post data,   what we have seen is that trend has continued  in improvement gain as we go through the study.  So currently we’re now working with nurses,  mainly critical care nurses that work in   hospitals that have extremely stressful jobs and  are now just on the – in the beginning stage of   working with enrollment on first responders,  police officers, fire fighters, paramedics. 

So we’re looking at different impacted populations  where there’s a lot of stress, anxiety,   sleep issues, mental health challenges and so far  really, really pleased with what we’re seeing. Jill Stowell: Wow, that’s really exciting and I’m  so glad that you’re being able to do studies with   these different populations. I feel like this  could just change the world. I feel like our   whole world is operating in such a high level  of uncertainty and anxiety and boy, I just see   tons of potential with Vital for our students  and our staff but just for adults in general. Alex Doman: Well, we agree Jill. You know,  as a society, it’s like our ability to be our   best is under attack. If we think about midline is  normal and on the far left is severe mental health   challenges and on the right is high performance.  That middle of the curve has shifted left.  

So we’re left of normal with  more mental health challenges   and farther away from our optimal potential. So really what we’re trying to do at Vital is   move us not just back to center but slightly  right, so that it’s a society we’re really   helping everyone to shift to where they need  to be. That’s why we started Vital. I really   believe that we have a solution that can do that  and I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to hear   your experiences and learnings that we’re getting  from you and using that same perspective. Deeply   value your experience with helping students  for so many decades now. You’ve seen so much  

come and go and it has been thrilling to  watch you embrace what we’re doing here. Jill Stowell: Well, I am thrilled that  our learning centers have gotten to be   early adopters with Vital and as I said with  my own personal use, I’ve seen much better   sleep. We’ve seen increased motivation and focus  with students and a number of our staff members   have shared that using Vital before leaving the  center to go home has really helped them shift   gears from work to home, which I think is great. People today really are more aware of anxiety and   the need for self-care. But what to do about  it has been really difficult and so I just  

think Vital is very timely, a very much needed  avenue for reducing anxiety and improving that   sense of well-being that we all want. Alex Doman: Yeah, we all want, we all need and I  love hearing that transition from work to home.   It’s so often hard to maybe compartmentalize  our lives and take. The work that your teachers   are doing is quite intensive in that there’s  incredible one-to-one focus of the student and   the intention is fully put into that student. So what I know in speaking with teachers at  

your facility that are working with your students  is that they’re giving everything they have just   as a therapist that’s working with a patient or  a physician, a first responder that’s attending   to somebody in crisis, the flight attendant on  the airline or the nurse taking care of patients.   We’re giving of ourselves and we’re focused  on another and we have to refill our tank.  Vital is a way to step back, reset, refill  the tank. Even if it’s only 10 minutes a day,   that 10 minutes of self-care has massive impact  on the rest of the day and our interactions with   our loved ones, with our family and if we don’t  do it for ourselves, if we do it for our family,   to focus on those transitions. If we won’t  do it, to put ourselves first. At least we’re  

seeing people do that and it's OK to put  ourselves first, to practice in self-care.  It’s like when we’re flying on a plane and  you’re told to put on the oxygen mask before   you help another. It’s because we need the  oxygen in Vital. That helps provide that. Jill Stowell: Yeah, and I have to say it is   really easy and convenient to use because it  really is the headset and an app on your phone.  I want to make sure people have a good  sense about like the different options   that they can work with. So can you just talk  about that programming just a little bit? Alex Doman: You bet. So there are programs that  help to downregulate the brain or to calm it  

and there are programs that upregulate the brain  or to activate it as well as programs that help   us achieve that midline of balance. So it’s  really shifting between states and emotions.  So starting at, say, the bottom up, we  have meditation. So meditation allows us   to access very deep meditative states that are  ideal for really calming the nervous system,   helping the autonomic nervous system  get out of fight or flight response,   so from sympathetic to parasympathetic recovery. Very good for pre-sleep, to help with sleep   onset and sleep maintenance. Now when we  discuss the impact of sleep maintenance,   we’re in these studies with individuals that  have biometric devices like Whoop and Oura,   Apple Watches. We’re monitoring heart rate  variability. We’re monitoring sleep quality   and we’re seeing improved deep sleep and REM sleep  in response to Vital use. So meditation is very  

good for that as is relaxation. So just slightly  different frequencies in the brain that we’re   working with to achieve a more relaxed state,  to feel less anxious, to feel less stressed.  So we have meditation. We have relax, and then  

focus. Focus allows us to concentrate, to  stay on task, to avoid distraction and to   access what we call flow state in our lives. Then optimize would be the most activating   that are going to help charge the brain, give  it the energy, allow it to engage in creative   activities and the executive functions where  we plan and organize the things in our life.  With optimize, there are three different music  selections as well as with focus and relax and   currently two in meditation and we’re building  new music programs now and we should add that   each music program has a companion of visual.  So there are very beautiful, abstract visuals   that play on the screen along with the music  when you’re doing your Vital Neuro training.   So you can do just auditory entrainment  and feedback or combine auditory-visual   entrainment and feedback when we’re using Vital. Then they each have different time options, 5,  

10, 15 minutes, then 20 or 30 minutes, so  on the longer sessions. So there’s a lot   of variety for individuals to choose, to pick  their favorite sessions within the collections   or just to experiment and see what the  experience of different ones are like. Jill Stowell: Great. Vital is really for   teens and adults. It really has been  researched for that population. Is that right? Alex Doman: Yes, but we are working  with children and moving to younger   and younger children. So we started with  teens and adults and children are also a  

group that we really want to impact, Jill.  So the protocols are working very nicely   with the kids that are using it but most  of our experience thus far would be teens,   late junior high and high school, college  students, through the adult population. Jill Stowell: And I can see how it would  be really beneficial for children. I was   thinking perhaps the headphones were too  large for a child’s head or something. But   I can see that but I can also see with teens  and adults, there’s just more awareness of the   changes that they’re making. So I think  that is helpful as well. Just as they  

become aware of what they notice as they’re  doing Vital and after and in the long term. Alex Doman: Isn’t it exciting to see our teenagers  be present, to be self-aware and to do something   with a screen and a device that’s positive?  There’s a time we can have screentime and phone   time or tablet time. It’s totally OK and some  of the gamification components of Vital we’re   finding that teens really respond to very well  because they like to see if they can in fact   game the system because you learn as you try to  direct the feedback coming to you, that if you do   certain things, because it is real time, you get  a different result. So it has been interesting   to watch the teenagers turn this into a bit of  a gaming experience but quite a positive one. Jill Stowell: Well, to our audience, if you  are listening and thinking, “Oh my gosh,   I’ve got to get a hold of Vital for myself, for my  family,” you can visit to get in   contact with us. Alex, where can people learn more  about Advanced Brain Technologies and Vital Neuro?

Alex Doman: Yeah. So Advanced Brain Technologies  would be and Vital Neuro is and both companies are on all  social media platforms. So you can follow up   and keep up-to-date on what’s happening  with these organizations in our research,   social or on the websites. But for those of you that are   working with Stowell Learning Center,  really encourage you to be in contact   with them. We had selected Stowell as one of  the first learning centers in the world to   have access to Vital Neuro and very, very  few clinicians currently have access. So  

Vital has been in research mode, has been  available to select populations with our   very long-standing relationship with Jill Stowell  and her team. We had invited them to participate   and have been so happy that we have Jill and  we’re able to see your continued work with it. Jill Stowell: I’m so honored that we have and   I just see tons of potential there with it. So  Alex, what have I missed? I just want people to   have a really, really good sense about this  and because I think it’s truly life-changing   and world-changing. So I just don’t want to  leave anything out. If there’s anything …

Alex Doman: You know Jill, there’s so much  we could go into. You can go so deep. I think   we’ve covered a lot today and it’s easy  to get into the weeds. I can geek out on   the science and the technology and we’re going  to have an audience that’s going to love that   and others are going to say, “Is it going to help  me? Is it going to help my child and is it safe?”  It is safe. This is validated science.  Neurofeedback has over 100,000 published   studies. This is an existing science with  new technology, mobile, clinical grade with   a mobile phone and a wireless headphone. This is  something that’s first of its kind. So it doesn’t   put anything into the brain. All we’re doing  is reading the electrical activity. All that  

we’re providing the brain is music and visuals  to watch. So it’s safe. It’s non-invasive. It’s   incredibly effective and it’s accessible. We’ve  really created this to be something that the   general public and the masses can have access to. So Vital today is available again through limited   partners today in different organizations.  We’re working with some veterans groups and   military groups and the different occupational  categories that we shared and large companies   and then later this year, it will  become far more widely available. 

So we’re excited for that but I think the main  takeaway is it’s something that each of us can   use. It’s a stressful world out there. It’s hard  to be present and Vital is something that can make   us present, make us aware, find our happy place  and live a much better, more fulfilling life. Jill Stowell: Well, thank you so much  Alex for being with us again today,   for sharing all of this and for your dedication  to helping people live their best life. Alex Doman: Yes. Thanks so much,  Jill. Yeah, I really appreciate you.

Jill Stowell: At Stowell Learning Centers, we help  children and adults eliminate struggles associated   with dyslexia and learning differences. We know  that this is a challenging journey for a parent   and we want to make it easier for you. So connect with us on social media and   on our website  for information and free resources.  If you found this episode valuable, please share  it. The struggles associated with dyslexia and  

learning differences can be eliminated.  Help us get the word out by leaving us a   five-star review wherever you’re listening or  watching. Let’s change the narrative together.

2023-05-27 01:40

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