powered by centersite dot net
Wellness and Personal Development
Resources
Basic InformationLatest NewsVideosLinksBook Reviews
10 Minute Solution: Butt Lift10 Minute Solution: High Intensity Interval Training101 Ways to Meditate29 Gifts3-In-1 Total Body Fitness with Desi Bartlett30 Minute Ab & Butt Blaster5 Day Fit Yoga5 Mega Miles with Toning Band7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups8 Keys to Body Brain Balance8 Keys to Practicing MindfulnessA.M. EnergyAccessible Yoga for Every Body DVDAfter the Ecstasy, the LaundryAge-Proof Your MindAgeless Mobility: Pain-Free Wellness For LongevityAlmost MeatlessAM/PM YogaAnswers for AristotleAnywhere, Anytime, Any Body YogaAthlete's Guide to YogaAuthentic HappinessAwakening Self-EsteemBack in Action: Yoga for a Healthy BackBalanced AssetsBedroom Body: Booty Burner, Core & Pelvic Floor WorkoutBeginners Meditation & Mindful StretchingBeginners Yoga DVDBeginning YogaBellyFit ElementsBetter Sex Through YogaBody By BethennyBorn to Balance - Balance BasicsBreath-Centered YogaBreathingBuddhist Boot CampCalm Body Clear MindCalm EnergyCalm Focus JoyChakra MeditationsChoosing CivilityClassical Pilates Technique DVDComplementary and Alternative Therapies ResearchCore Fusion - Pilates PlusCore Fusion - Pure Abs & ArmsCore Fusion - Thighs & GlutesCore Fusion Body SculptCore Fusion Lean & TonedCore Fusion Power SculptCore Strength PilatesCore Strength Vinyasa Yoga Power Hour with Sadie NardiniCore YogaCreative Core AbsCreative Writing In Health And Social CareDance Off the Inches: Cardio Hip Hop PartyDance the Chakras Yoga WorkoutDeep Stretch / Yin YogaDetox YogaDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Eating WellDr. Andrew Weil's Guide to Optimum HealthDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitEastern Body, Western MindEasy YogaElement: Barre ConditioningElement: Targeted Toning Pilates for BeginnersElement: Yoga for Stress Relief & FlexibilityElements of Yoga, Earth FoundationsElements of Yoga, Fire DynamicElements of Yoga: Air & WaterEmotional Chaos to ClarityEmotions, Stress, and HealthEvamarie Pilipuf's Yoga Express DVDEvery Day Yoga for Every Body DVDEveryday GreensEveryday Workout for the Everyday WomanEveryday Yoga for Stress Release Everything VeganExhale Core Fusion 30 Day SculptFamily YogaFast Food for the SoulFat and FuriousFear and Other Uninvited GuestsFit Family Fun CircuitFit in 5 DVDFlat Abs PilatesFlow and YinFlow YogaFluid Power Vinyasa Flow YogaFully PresentGaiam Pilates Slide and Sculpt Kit with DVDGaiam Pilates Total Toning KitGaiam Yoga For Weight Loss KitGet Ripped & ChiseledGood MedicineHandbook of MindfulnessHealing the Heart and Mind with MindfulnessHealing Through Movement: Pilates Head to ToeHealthy AgingHealthy Sexy Beautiful Kundalini YogaHemalayaa's Yoga for Young Bodies DVDHemalayaa: Bollywood BootyHot Body Cool Mind - Level 1Hot Body Cool Mind: Waking Energy How to Cook Everything VegetarianHow Would Buddha Act?I Contain MultitudesI'd Rather LaughIn Defense of FoodInsight Yoga Earth: Balancing Yin EnergyInsight Yoga Heaven: Balancing YangInsight Yoga with Sarah PowersIntegrated YogaIntegrative MedicineIntroduction to Ashtanga Yoga DVDIntroduction to Qi YogaIntroduction to Yoga DVDIt's Up to YouJanis Saffell Beverly Hills YogaKids Teach Yoga - Flying EagleKidYogi - Yoga for ChildrenKnowing the Nature of FearKripalu YogaKripalu Yoga Dynamic DVDKripalu Yoga Gentle DVDKundalini Yoga : DVDKundalini Yoga for Beginners & BeyondKUNDALINI YOGA for Your Week - MONDAYKUNDALINI YOGA for Your Week - TUESDAY - CoreKundalini Yoga Meditation for Beginners & BeyondKundalini Yoga Meditation for Complex Psychiatric DisordersKundalini Yoga on the BallKundalini Yoga Solar Power All-In-One WorkoutKundalini Yoga to Detox and Destress DVDKundalini Yoga Transformer All-In-One WorkoutKundalini Yoga: Green Energy of the HeartLife MakeoversLifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues--Level 1LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues: Level 2Living BeautifullyLiving Room Yoga DVDLiving Room Yoga: Twist and BendLiving Your Best LifeLiving Your DreamLunar Flow YogaMadhur Jaffrey's World VegetarianMake It Fast, Cook It SlowManage Your Depression Through ExerciseMaui PilatesMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Back PainMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for IBSMayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for InsomniaMean GenesMeditation in a New York MinuteMeditations for BeginnersMindful AmericaMindful AngerMindfulnessMindfulness for BeginnersMindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches: Clinician's Guide to Evidence Base and ApplicationsMisadventures of a Garden State YogiMozart's Brain and the Fighter PilotNamaste Yoga: Season 3 Part 1NeuroLogicNew York PilatesNext-Level PilatesNutrition Essentials for Mental HealthPassionate VegetarianPerfect in Ten AbsPerfect in Ten: PilatesPerfect in Ten: StretchPerfect in Ten: YogaPilates AnatomyPilates for BeginnersPilates for MenPositivityPower to the Peaceful YogaPower YogaPower YogaPower Yoga for HappinessPower Yoga: Core PowerPower Yoga: Fat BurnerPrenatal FlowPrescriptive StretchingPresence Through Movement: Yin YogaPsychology Moment by MomentPure and Simple YogaPure SculptPure Yoga Pilates with Kerry BestwickQi Gong Fire & Water With Matthew CohenQi Gong Flow for BeginnersQi Gong for Low Back PainQi Gong for Upper Back and Neck PainQi Gong for Weight LossQi Workout AM/PMQiGong for Healthy Joints & BonesQiGong IllustratedQuick Blast MethodReach - Upbeat Toning & Flexibility for a Dancer's BodyRed Lotus YogaResistance Stretching With Dara TorresRestorative Yoga PracticeSara Ivanhoe's Taste DVDSaving NormalSelf-CompassionSeven Challenges To Change Your Life DVDSleep BetterSolar Flow Yoga DVDSoupsSparkSpontaneous HappinessSports Hypnosis in PracticeStep By Step Strength TrainingStep by Step Tai ChiStrength & SpiritStrength, Grace, HealingStress ReliefStrong & SculptedStrong Body, Ageless BodySun SalutationsSuper Natural CookingSuper Seniors: Box, Balance, & Lift SupersurvivorsSurf Yoga SoulSybel's Yoga For Sports & FitnessSybel's Yoga For Sports & Fitness Vol 2Tai Chi for Beginners with Grandmaster William C. C. ChenTaming Your Inner BratTeach Yourself MeditationTeen YogaTeenYogi DVDTen Minutes to RelaxThe Accidental VeganThe Angelica Home KitchenThe Art and Science of MindfulnessThe Athlete's Guide to YogaThe Beginner's Guide to Healthy EatingThe Best Things You Can EatThe Booty Barre -Total New BodyThe Breathing FieldThe Cafe Brenda CookbookThe Complete Book of Raw FoodThe Complete Vegetarian HandbookThe Easy Yoga WorkbookThe Feeling Good HandbookThe Five Things We Cannot Change ...The Good LifeThe Happiness of PursuitThe Healing Remedies SourcebookThe Healing Remedies SourcebookThe Health Psychology HandbookThe Healthy KitchenThe Heart of YogaThe Indian VegetarianThe Jewel Tree of TibetThe Joy of MeditatingThe Kettlebell BoomerThe Little Book of Healthy TeasThe Little Soy BookThe Little Yoga BookThe Mood CureThe Mozart EffectThe Myth of Freedom and the Way of MeditationThe Perfect ExerciseThe Pilates Workout JournalThe Playful BrainThe Quest for Peace, Love, and a 24'' WaistThe Road to Calm WorkbookThe Spa DeckThe Spirit of Buddhist MeditationThe Stoic Art of LivingThe Ultimate BALLET YOGAThe Ultra MindsetThe Way of StretchingThe Weight of the NationThe Well-Tuned BrainThe Will to Live and Other MysteriesThe Yin Yoga KitThink SmartTotal AstangaTotal Health the Chinese WayTotal PilatesTotal-Body ToningTransform Yourself with Jivamukti YogaTransformative YogaTrudie Styler's Warrior YogaV-Core WorkoutVegan ExpressVegan for LifeVegetarian Turkish CookingViva Vegan!Walk It Off in 30 DaysWalk to the HITS Radio RemixesWalkingWalking a Literary LabyrinthWatch Me Do YogaWeight Loss Cardio KickWellbeingWhat We Say MattersWhen Things Fall ApartWriting in FlowYin and Yang YogaYin Yoga DVDYogaYogaYoga & Pilates Workouts for DummiesYoga 4 TeensYoga : Beginners Flow for EveryoneYoga AnatomyYoga and PsychologyYoga as MedicineYoga Beauty BodyYoga Bliss HipsYoga Body : Lean & Defined Total Body WorkoutYoga By Teens DVDYoga Emergency DVD: Arms & ShouldersYoga Emergency DVD: BackYoga Emergency DVD: Full Leg StretchYoga Emergency DVD: HipsYoga Flow DVDYoga for AnxietyYoga for Back CareYoga for BeginnersYoga for Energy & Stress ReliefYoga for EveryoneYoga for MeditatorsYoga for OsteoporosisYoga for Pain ReliefYoga for Regular GuysYoga for Strength & EnergyYoga for Strength & FlexibilityYoga for the Young at HeartYoga for Your WeekYoga In BedYoga in BedYoga Inside Out: Go DeeperYoga Inside Out: The Healing WayYoga Journal's Yoga for StressYoga Journal: Yoga for Strength and Toning DVDYoga Link: Core IntegrationYoga Link: Hip HelpersYoga Link: Shoulder Shape-UpYoga Nidra for Complete Relaxation and Stress ReliefYoga on DemandYoga Quick FixesYoga SanctuaryYoga SculptYoga ShaktiYoga TherapyYoga Therapy for Back PainYoga Therapy Prescriptions - 60 Health Restorative SequencesYoga To Go's Yoga Quick Fixes DVDYoga to the Rescue - Feel Good from Head to ToeYoga to the Rescue for Back PainYoga to the Rescue for Neck & ShouldersYoga to the Rescue for Pain-Free Back, Neck & ShouldersYoga Weight Loss for DummiesYoga: Freedom from Back PainYoga: Relief from Neck and Shoulder PainYoga: Spirit of Vinyasa FlowYogabodyYogawomanYou Can Think Yourself ThinYou'll See It When You Believe ItYour Body Breakthru - Your Best Body Circuit DVDYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Miracle BrainZen Encounters with Loneliness
Related Topics

Anger Management

by Richard Restak
Three Rivers Press, 2001
Review by James Sage on Mar 4th 2002

Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot

In this highly readable, hands-on volume, Richard Restak presents 28 chapters to help you improve your brain’s performance, to develop a “super-powered” memory, and to become more intelligent.  Contrary to recent trends, Restak argues that a key component of intelligence is a good memory.  While “mere” memorization has been deplored in education circles, Restak reminds us that having a “super-powered” memory is an important part of any highly intelligent person’s abilities.  In each chapter, Restak shares numerous examples of how to improve memory and cognitive functioning – from basic memorization exercises (such as memorizing the layout of your living room and then forming a mental image of it) to advanced logic puzzles (such as probability assessments and other “brain teasers”). 

While the book’s premise is relatively straightforward (better memory leads to improved intelligence), the strength of the book lies in its abundance of mental exercises, sprinkled with detailed explanations of the neuro-physiological basis of each exercise.  I cannot list each exercise here (there are too many), though I can attest to their effectiveness (I tried numerous of these activities and found them very useful).  While each reader will have different needs and abilities, Restak provides so many exercises there is surely at least a dozen or so for any reader.  Overall, this is a wonderful volume for anyone looking to improve his or her memory.  I also recommend this book for children: the exercises in this volume are crucial to cognitive development and, at the same time, they are fun enough to keep children interested. 

With this in mind, Restak first encourages us to learn as much as we can about how our brains work.  He provides a brief introduction to the basic operation of the human brain, emphasizing the multi-leveled, highly inter-connected, functionally-specialized parts of the brain.  By understanding how the brain works, Restak claims that we will be better suited to make improvements in our cognitive abilities.  With this knowledge, we can choose activities that exercise our brains and in turn reinforce the neuro-connections that form the basis of a strong memory.  Next, Restak tells us that the brain is susceptible to “disuse atrophy” – a kind of breakdown of neural pathways symptomatic of Alzheimer’s patients.  And what’s more, while most of us incorporate some sort of physical exercise into our daily (or weekly) routines, Restak argues that we should incorporate some form of regular mental exercise into our routines as well.  Specifically, Restak emphasizes that the brain is an organ that actually improves with use.

Knowledge, according to Restak, is a kind of networking in the brain in which connections are always changing.  The brain, in other words, is a “work in progress.”  Throughout our lives, our brains are constantly changing.  Restak recommends that we choose memory-enhancing activities that maximize connections within the brain.  As a result of this insight, Restak recommends a variety of activities to maximize neuronal connections.  Some of these involve physical activities that force our brains to coordinate the prefrontal cortex and the primary motor cortex.  These activities include playing sports that require fine motor control (such as ping-pong), and playing sports that require general motor control and balance (such as tennis or basketball). 

A variety of Restak’s learning and memory exercises involve recall of lists of items (for example, grocery lists are memorized and then recalled as best as possible without consulting the list) and also word-pair lists, number sequences, spelling words backwards, and listing groups of things by category (for example, listing mammals in Africa, or animals that live in the ocean – these are particularly fun activities with children and helps build the connections in their brains).  As a variation of this idea, my friend, David, has invented a game in which you must generate a list of items that fits two or more distinct categories.  For example, generate a list of all edible white foods that begin with the letter M (mayonnaise, macadamia nuts, menonita cheese, milk, etc.).  Again, children will find these activities fun and challenging – and this develops and reinforces neuronal connections in the brain.

Part of the overall strength of Restak’s book is his intimate knowledge of the brain and its sub-systems (he has written 12 other books about the brain and how it works).  Throughout, Restak reminds us that some cognitive activities utilize the same part of the brain (that is, a variety of tasks use the same tissue-localized brain region).  Among the various macro-level sub-systems that he emphasizes are language, visualization, and motor control.  Each of these can be activated simultaneously without much difficulty (though even this takes practice).  However, when we try to perform two language tasks, we find ourselves frustrated and our proficiency lacking.  For example, when having a conversation with one person, you may have noticed how difficult it is to listen carefully to a different conversation.  This is because you are attempting to utilize the same language processing system to monitor two distinct things.  However, if you are having a conversation, say, over the phone, you’ll probably find it easy to read a short note on your desk, for example a short phone message. Talking on the phone and reading a short message uses auditory and visual language systems and is easier that trying to listen to two conversations simultaneously.  We get frustrated precisely because we are trying to use the same auditory language system for two distinct activities.  Recognizing this conflict is part of understanding how the brain works and suggests several strategies.  For example, when combining two or more tasks, understanding how the brain works will help us to avoid frustration and find greater success.  Suppose you want to listen to the radio and read a book at the same time.  If so, then don’t listen to talk radio shows (such as Car Talk on National Public Radio.  I’ve tried it and it is very hard to do!).  Reading while listening to Jazz, however, is much easier.  These kinds of insights are what Restak means when he encourages us to understand how the brain works—it allows us to be more efficient and more successful at the tasks we choose to perform.

Among other cognitive activities that Restak contrasts are linguistic activities and various types of visualization.  Restak suggests a number of mental exercises meant to reinforce the power of visualization – by shutting off the internal dialogue (or “self-talk”) we may find that we are better at certain visualization tasks.  For example, Restak recommends a simple activity that can also be very challenging: study a photograph for one minute, then put it away, and try to imagine all of the details of the photograph.  When you cannot recall any more, return to the original photo and study it again for another minute.  Put it away and try to construct a mental image of the photo (try to shut off all “self-talk” during this process—rely only on mental imagining).  Once again, try to reconstruct, as vividly as possible, all the details of the photo.  Repeat this process five times or until you can accurately visualize the photo.  Eventually, work up to more and more complex photos or increase the time between putting away the photo and generating a mental image of it (for example, hours later, try to reconstruct the image with as much detail as possible).  Since most of us tend to be very language-based, emphasizing the visual system of your brain will help train parts that tend to go unused in modern life.

That said, we should also be aware of how powerful the brain can be, and how quickly it can adapt.  If our goal is to provide the brain with a challenge, then we mustn’t let it get bored.  Reporting on memory studies using PET scans, Restak tells us that people who engage in repetitious actions have highly active brain states when first learning the routine or pattern (such as sorting mail by hand or using a 10-key adding machine).  But very quickly, the brain shuts down and automates most of the routine or pattern.  As a result, very little brain stimulation is taking place.  In order to increase brain stimulation, Restak recommends changing tasks periodically.  For example, if you are employed in a factory setting, try to switch tasks with other employees, or change up the task just enough to stimulate your brain – one easy example is to use your non-dominant hand when performing tasks. 

With all of this talk of mental exercises and activities, Restak is careful to emphasize the importance of rest and relaxation.  He suggests several activities to help us slow down – such as listening to a book on tape (while reading along with it) as well as controlling our breathing.  But even here, we can achieve a refreshed state while we still stimulate the brain.  For example, if you’ve been busy all morning reading or writing (highly language-based activities), an excellent refresher is a brisk 10-minute walk or any other form of exercise utilizing the legs (calling into use balancing and motor control).  The physical exercise will activate different parts of the brain, oxygenate the blood, and allow the language regions of the brain to relax.  Restak also emphasizes how effective standing on one leg can be – the amount of neuronal activity jumps when our brains are forced to maintain balance on one leg.  So, if you don’t have time for a long brisk walk, try standing on one leg.  That would be quite the scene in the corporate world! But who’s going to argue with solid medical science?

Another form of a “brain break” is to choose activities that stimulate regions of the brain other those you’ve just been using.  In my own case, I find that after hours of reading or writing, doing something that is visually stimulating is perfect – playing a flight-simulator video game or other visual activity (photography, painting, etc.) provides just the right sort of break from language processing (so long as you can silence “self-talk” during these activities).  Within only a few minutes, I can return to reading for another couple of hours.  Afternoon naps are also among the recommended strategies for relaxation, and a personal favorite of mine!

Restak recommends a number of language-based activities meant to enhance connections in your brain.  One easy activity is to re-trace a conversation you just had with someone (the other person can help too, adding to the fun).  More advanced activities include re-tracing your thoughts (for example, set a timer to go off in 10 minutes at which time try to re-trace your thoughts in the last 10 minute period).  As a variation on this activity, have someone set an alarm to go off later in the day.  When it sounds, stop what you are doing and recount your thoughts for the last 10 minutes.  These thought re-tracing activities help to reinforce your ability for recall and to integrate your thought processes.  Restak also suggests keeping a journal (he highly recommends keeping your journal on a laptop or similar computer-based medium).  Keeping a journal (of your thoughts, what you’ve read, your dreams, etc.) will assist you in finding continuities between various periods in your life.  Using a computer word-processor to keep your journal allows you to search for recurring themes (this is related to the psychoanalytic technique known as self-analysis).  In addition, Restak presents a variety of “free association” activities meant to enhance mental acuity, recall, and creativity. 

Finally, Restak suggests a few more general strategies to enhance memory and intelligence.  These strategies including: training your powers of logic (doing “brain teasers” or timed crossword puzzles); enhancing your sensory capacities (noticing colors, textures, shapes, etc.); becoming more attuned to your daily rhythms of alertness (do you work well in the morning or at night?); improving fine motor control of your hands (through playing video games, performing magic tricks, or knitting); and improving your active memory threshold (utilizing memorization techniques such as “chunking” or “memory pegs” to increase the amount of information you can sustain in active memory).

All in all, Richard Restak has presented a must-have volume for any reader who is interested in improving memory and intelligence.  Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot is a great collection of mental activities mixed with just the right amount of neuro-physiological insights.  Best of all, Restak’s book can be used by children and adults alike.  I will certainly continue to utilize the various activities and strategies Restak describes and I look forward to trying out some of these activities on my family, especially niece and nephews.

 

© 2002 James Sage

 

James Sage is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Utah. His interests include the evolution of mind and rationality, philosophy of science, and naturalized theories of knowledge.