A: What does Brain Integration really mean and why should people be interested?
J: People talk about it a lot but what it basically means is having a brain where the components are balanced and working well, and then the connections are also working well. The areas of the brain, people know that as gray matter, these are the areas where information is integrated, the cortex and sub-cortical gray-matter, and then these areas talk to each other which is done by white matter pathways. So we want to first of all get the gray matter working and clear up any areas that are stressed – and stress can be from all sorts of things; environmental, oxygen stress from birth, or emotional – we clear up the pathways to these areas so they can talk to each other. Once that’s done the next important task is synchronizing these activities and the neurons that allow these parts to talk to each other. If it’s not synchronous, it’s like an orchestra without a conductor. Everyone knows their part so they’re all playing the same music, but if they don’t have a conductor to work out the timing then it’s not beautiful music. And then there’s another step that we use in brain integration and once the brain is actually functioning well, we do things that might challenge it to ensure areas are working effectively together. Sometimes just the thought of doing the task destroys integration, because there has been so much emotional trauma connected to the idea of it.
A: How did you first become interested in brain integration work?
J: I initially wanted to be a teacher when I first started school, so I went to university to do that but I became a little disenchanted with the system that I was exposed to. So I decided to leave that for awhile. I got involved helping with reading programs and perceptual motor programs and I noticed that a lot of the children had big problems with reading; and it wasn’t even words that you would think would be a problem, like ‘hippopotamus’ or ‘elephant’, they would be words like ‘was’ and ‘the’. And they had already, in their first couple years of school developed strategies to avoid doing it. So they would say; “Oh, I forgot my reader”, or they would create distractions. I noticed this, and then my youngest daughter started having problems. I noticed that she could, theoretically read the story, but if I covered the words with my hands, she would still say the words as if she was reading them, so I realized she was doing it from memory. She would pick books that she had already heard and had memorized. And some of the words that were really difficult for her to pick out were the words that really didn’t have a lot of meaning, like ‘was’, ‘the’ and ‘and’. That interested me. And then I saw a friend of mine who was a doctor of Chinese medicine and he referred me to Charles Krebs PhD. I didn’t think I would be doing kinesiology because I had done a little of it before and I hadn’t seen it as a solution. But I went to talk to Charles anyway and he said he was developing a program with his (at the time) wife, Susan, working with learning problems using kinesiology, and that was exactly what I was looking for. It hadn’t been taught yet at that time, but I was fortunate in that Charles was running a college that did two years of study. While I was in my second year, LEAP was taught for the first time. I’ve been fascinated with it ever since and it has been over twenty years now.
A: So it was love at first site when you found the LEAP program?
J: It was like something just clicked; I knew I was looking for something different from what I had done before working in the travel and tourism industry. I felt like I was really being pushed to go into the health sciences. I didn’t know why, but it turns out obviously that I was meant to be doing this!
A: So if you’ve been doing this for 20 years, how has this field of research changed in the time you have been involved? Lots of new research has come out, lots of new courses have been developed…
J: Well the advancements in science in the last 25 years have been phenomenal. Even when I first began studying the brain, I can think back to some of the theories that we looked at that were considered unimportant or that there was simply not as much knowledge about. Because of the scanning and the things that science can do now, there is a much greater understanding of how the brain functions. All of the imaging, the fMRIs that allow us to see what the brain is doing when it’s actually working on a task is amazing. So that has changed how we work because we understand more about different areas of the brain. But also, the viewpoint of the general public has changed. To see books about how the brain changes itself, or neuro-emotions in the work of Candace Pert where she discusses neuropeptides and how they change the way we behave. A lot of people now know what the amygdala is for example, and that it’s involved with our fight/flight response. So that’s changing – not just how we work with it, but the general knowledge has increased, which is fabulous.
A: I was thinking about this the other day because I was reading a novel and it occurred to me that, a couple of generations ago, if someone was struggling in school, then there would just be a common consensus; ‘Well, he’s just a little slow, he’s not that bright’, and they would give him menial tasks to do and no-one would expect much of him. Whereas now, there is the idea; “There’s something not firing properly or something’s not connecting, and what can we do to change that?” It does feel like the general attitude towards learning is different that it was, even 30 or 40 years ago.
J: I agree and understanding different styles of learning contributes to this too because people are just not good auditory learners or good visual learners; there are so many different ways to learn. Some people who I know are incredibly bright have problems learning in the general sense of the way schools are programed. It’s difficult to tell because I’m not actually in the school system myself, but I believe in different places they are changing things. Now, they have sometimes been known to throw out the baby with the bathwater when they are changing to something new that they think will be better, finding out later that they are still having other problems… I think the truth is, very much so, that we don’t all have the same IQ. That’s very obvious, Einstein is not representative of your average run-of-the-mill person. But what we can do is help people to access the areas of the brain better so they can use what they’ve got.
A: So, when you say ‘access the areas better’, how does that actually happen?
J: That’s a good question and it’s not a simple one! It depends on what we are talking about. If you’ve had some challenges emotionally in your formative years, that will colour every part of your learning. If you can remove the stress around the trauma then you can access those areas of the brain without the trauma getting in the way. When you have a trauma, the survival parts of the brain get activated. Because if you feel that you are under some sort of threat, whether it’s real or perceived, then those (survival) parts of the brain take over and they can easily shut down higher parts of the brain; the prefrontal area and the dorsolateral frontal cortex, and those are related to our working memory and processing things in ‘now’ time. So if you have a trauma from when you were quite young, when it becomes activated by a trigger – and that could be something like the sound of a person’s voice, how they look, words that they use, or a situation like a classroom – then the person actually regresses to that earlier time in some ways. Obviously not physically, but logically they go back to the time when the trauma occurred. They shut down the ability to think in the ‘now’ time part of the brain, and we don’t learn very easily or have access to higher levels of functioning with that kind of a brain.
We’re talking right now about learning and people think about learning as: ‘how do I learn at school? How do I learn to do maths and reading?’ But one of the things that I’ve found to be so true when you’re doing this sort of work is that it’s not just about that; learning is about how we live our lives. If we have a situation where we’re not getting on with people in our work and we find that there’s a pattern that has been there; it’s not just this person at work but there were people at my previous job where it was the same – if there’s a common denominator that is you, then there’s something that you haven’t learned yet. Something you need to look at in order to resolve the conflict or the lack of ability to progress. That can be with relationships in any area; your children, your partner, your family (families are great ones!) being more integrated and less reactive to survival threats – this can help anyone.
A: Can you share something new about this field that other kinesiologists may not yet know about that would be interesting to other practitioners?
J: I get excited because there are so many areas that we can work with now; even ten years ago there were a lot of areas that we didn’t understand well. Now that we have a better idea of their involvement, with kinesiology we can much more easily access these areas, challenge them with a task or in other ways, and then remove stress. One of the big areas is the cerebellum. It has been known to be involved with motor movement for a very long time, but we understand now how important it is for modulating our emotions and how we think, which pretty much covers all aspects of life! Another area of understanding that has really grown in the last 10-20 years is the glial cells of the brain. They were thought to only be supporting cells, supporting the neurons, which were the main event when it came to brain integration. But we now know that glial cells do much more; they decide to some extent what goes on at a synapse where neurons connect and talk to each other; they control the neurotransmitters that are involved. They are involved with the timing and synchrony of neurons firing together so that we have a coherent signal. They also help to determine which neurons grow and where they grow. Probably another area that most kinesiologists are not familiar with in an area of the brainstem called the reticular activating system (RAS). And that is so relevant when you look at people with learning problems. Our RAS sets our levels of wakefulness and arousal so we can pay attention when we need to. One of its’ tasks is to help filter irrelevant information, so kids aren’t distracted in the classroom by all the movements or all the little noises in the distance, they should be able to filter those as irrelevant and amplify what is relevant and for learning, that’s important. For kinesiology in general, the RAS sets our basal muscle tone. That’s what we are always doing in kinesiology: looking for a muscle that is over or under energy. When we work with kinesiology we’re actually directly keying into this brain stem area and it’s fascinating that we can directly access the subconscious brain, the deep survival parts of the subconscious brain – what a gift is that! Another thing about the RAS that is so important is that it sets our level of arousal. Currently a huge problem in many societies is post-traumatic stress disorder. Particularly with people who have been in the armed forces but right now, people in the US and the Carribean areas have had major storms and four hurricanes in the last month, plus earthquakes in Mexico; these create major stress for people who are involved or who have family members that are around there. The RAS is also involved with that. So being able to work with these areas allows us to work with a wide range of imbalances with people.
If people are interested in learning about kinesiology, Dr. Krebs and Tania O’Neill-McGowen wrote an amazing textbook called Book: Energetic Kinesiology, Principles and Practice. If you’re a practitioner, it’s a really good reference manual and if you just want to understand a little more about kinesiology and energetic sciences, it’s also excellent for that.
I wrote a course a couple of years ago called Simply the Brain. I was on my way to teach in Japan and China and I wanted to give people a chance to work with areas of the brain that we don’t necessarily work with in LEAP but that could segue into LEAP classes. It’s a gentle introduction, so they had an understanding of the various areas because the brain is so complex it’s not an easy thing to work with. There’s so much that we don’t understand. There are so many parts that people have never heard the names of and they don’t know what the functions are, the anatomy and physiology is complex and you need to understand the interactions and how parts affect each other. So I wrote that to introduce it all in a simple way, and that has been working well. It works for people who are fairly new (but already know how to muscle monitor), but I’ve also taught it to people who have gone through the entire LEAP system and feel like this really ties things together. It gives people a soft entry to see if they really like working with the brain and survival areas. Our survival areas affect us in all areas; of course it’s going to affect our digestive system, we know that, and our ability to think, but it also affects range of motion and pain levels because it ties in directly to the RAS and the rest of the brain stem. Once you change that, the body just sorts the rest of the problems out.
I use aspects of brain integration in every session that I do. It is the basis of all kinesiology. I feel excited to still be able to work with it and learn new things, and to me that’s really important, after almost 25 years, to still get excited!