Updated: Aug 15
The sci-fi film Limitless is a story about a struggling writer who, after taking a drug, is able to access 100% of his brain's potential. This transforms him into a sought-after financial wizard. However, the side-effects of the drug and the company he gets himself into pose a threat to his existence. Luckily, this is only sci-fi. In reality, it is possible for you to practise some simple tricks to make the most of both of your brain hemispheres without any drugs, negative side effects, or dubious company.
"Follow your heart but take your brain with you" - Alfred Adler
Before we look at how you can tap into more of your brain's potential, let's take a brief look at both sides of the brain.
Your Brain Has Two Sides
The Left Hemisphere is said to be responsible for logic and reasoning, and it handles functions including:
The Right Hemisphere is said to be responsible for creativity and intuition, and it handles functions including:
It is generally believed that some people are dominant in one side of their brain, for example Software Programmers are considered to be dominant on the left side and Musicians are considered to be dominant on their right side. However, recent research shows that there is no real evidence of this.
Nevertheless, if you feel that you are not living up to your potential and there are areas of your life that you want to improve on, then chances are you are not taking full advantage of both sides of your brain.
Here are 4 ways you can boost your brain balance to bring in tangible improvements to your day-to-day activities.
1. Breathing Exercises
Breathing Exercises are the most effective way to boost your brain balance for two reasons:
They are easy to do any time and any place - all you need is a place to sit or stand comfortably and you can practice it for a few minutes.
They deal directly with the physiology of the brain and how it is affected by respiration
The breathing exercise that is particularly effective here is Alternate Nostril Breathing. The purpose of this exercise is to restore and establish even breathing through both nostrils. This ensures that both the left and right energy channels in the respiratory system are unblocked and thus ensures your whole brain is being engaged during your daily activities.
The basic premise of this exercise, known as Nadi Shodana, is to breathe in through one nostril and breathe out through the other in a rhythmic fashion. It is done as follows:
Sit in a comfortable position with the head and spine upright.
You will be using your right hand to block one of your nostrils during breathing, with the ring finger to block your left nostril and thumb to block your right nostril
Close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Count up to 5 until the inhalation ends comfortably
Breathe deeply without any strain
Close the left nostril with the ring finger and release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril
Exhale through the right nostril while counting from 1 to 5. The time for inhalation and exhalation should be equal
Now, inhale through the right nostril, keeping the same count
Then, close the right nostril and open the left nostril. Exhale through the left nostril, counting as before
This is one round. Practise 5 to 10 rounds
Note that this practise should only be done when you are not ill. This video gives a more in-depth demonstration of the practise with a warm-up stage which is recommended.
Meditation requires discipline and so its practice needs to be developed into a routine that fits into your lifestyle. The reason meditation can boost your brain balance is that it allows you to regulate your thoughts and get rid of unhelpful ones such as negative beliefs or resentment. This helps you feel more relaxed and therefore gets rid of any blocks that prevent you from using your brain to its fullest potential. Physiologically, it is believed to strengthen the corpus callosum which acts as a bridge between both sides of the brain.
There are many different views on what meditation is and how it should be done. If you have never meditated before, then I would recommend following the 6 phase method as it lets you focus on specific areas of your life for a few minutes. This method is suitable for those who need guidance on keeping their thoughts focused. Over time, you will find that you are able to achieve a state of deep relaxation and focus without any guidance.
3. Memory Techniques
In The Memory Book: how to remember anything you want, renowned memory expert, Tony Buzan, says that, in order to have a good memory, you need to have a good imagination in addition to logical skills such as sequencing and language. This means you need to engage the whole of your brain if you want to have good memory power.
A good memory can be cultivated through the practice of a number of techniques. Practising these will exercise the whole of your brain and will therefore keep both sides engaged and active. A couple of examples of these are the Link and Story Methods which are useful for remembering a list of items such as a shopping list or a to-do list.
For example, if you want to remember a shopping list, you can develop a story around the items. Remembering the story will help you remember all the items. If your shopping list is:
You can remember these items by constructing a story like this: You open a box of eggs and wonder what you can make with them. You decide to make pancakes. As you make them, you wonder what you can have with them. You open the fridge and all you can find is a cucumber. Disappointed, you open the pantry shelves to see what else you can find. You see a few onions. While you stare in disappointment, an open bottle of ketchup falls onto your shirt from the top shelf, staining it. You take your shirt off and put it in the washing machine and pour laundry liquid into the machine's tray before turning it on.
Here, you are using your imagination and creativity (right-brain functions) to come up with a story. Anything that stems from your own imagination is easier to remember than just a list of items. As long all the items you need to remember feature in your story, you can easily remember what you need. You are also putting the items in a sequence (left-brain function) as they feature in a particular order in your story.
4. Cross-Lateral Movement
Cross-Lateral Movement is any physical activity that engages both sides of your body in a rhythmic fashion. The acts of walking and crawling are simple examples of cross-lateral movement. In Neuroscience, crawling is considered to be an activity that is crucial to the development of a baby's brain and corpus callosum.
As adults, we stop crawling but there are other exercises we can do, such as the cross-crawl, that stimulates the brain in a similar fashion. This article mentions the story, taken from the book Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head by Dr. Carla Hannaford, of a 16-year-old who had difficulty reading and then significantly improved his reading abilities simply by practising the cross-crawl consistently over a period of six weeks.
Certain yoga poses also encourage the engagement of opposite sides of the body. All such movements have the same effect on the brain and ultimately improves overall brain activity.
Practising even one of the above 4 approaches on a regular basis is sure to improve the use of your brain's potential. It is also recommended that you include in your daily intake, foods that are beneficial to the brain such as nuts and seeds, berries, and wholegrains.
Once you get rid of the notion that "people are born smart" and adopt the notion that "anyone can learn how to be smart", there is no limit to what you can accomplish.
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