From Surviving to Thriving
A Journey Through Interactive Metronome®
We live in an age where everything is being optimized; our phones, our websites, our bikes, our cars. Wouldn't it be great if we could optimize our brains? Well, one innovative therapy called Interactive Metronome® does just that.
Interactive Metronome® (IM) is a neuro-motor skills program that rewires the neurology of the brain to improve and synchronize timing in the brain, heart, and biological system. IM utilizes the brain's inherent ability to repair or remodel itself. The brain develops and adapts by forging new neural pathways for processing new activities, and sloughing off old unused ones. This development process is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is most active in our early "formative" years; but science observes that this process of adaptive brain development occurs in our adult years as well, albeit at a slower rate. The IM program "trains the brain" to plan, sequence, and process information more effectively.
In Interactive Metronome®, one executes simple motor tasks in time to a beat that they hear with headphones. During each repetition of the task, they mark the beat by pressing a biofeedback button at the same time as the beat sounds. A computer measures the accuracy of their strike in milliseconds. Guide tones in the headphones provide auditory feedback about strike accuracy. The IM clinician devises an appropriate protocol to push an edge and engage the brain at a new level, but never to push past or push over that edge. The aim is to challenge the brain dynamically but without causing stress. Game-like and fun, Interactive Metronome® has powerful positive effects on improving brain integration and functionality.
Brain performance is prescribed by how well the brain's current configuration of neural pathways functions both in terms of effective message transmission across neurons and the efficiency of neural timing. The neural network a person's brain constructs from handling life as they have known it, has built-in biological specifications that keep the brain functioning within its own established patterns. Brain function can grow beyond existing patterns when the brain is effectively stimulated to rewrite its neural pathways to produce a higher-performing neural network. IM is designed to improve timing in the brain in an organized, systematic, flexible, and stimulating format. It challenges thinking and movement simultaneously, while providing real-time feedback to help engage the brain to rewrite neural pathways and synchronize the body's "internal clock."
IM training protocols help integrate the left and right hemispheres of the brain so that the pre-frontal cortex can work more effectively. The pre-frontal cortex is the center of: information processing, mental order, and executive decision-making. With improved integration and optimization in the brain, people become more organized, more coordinated, and less stressed. People experience increased energy, stamina, flexibility, more effective problem-solving abilities, and greater self-esteem.
Neural health and optimization is a powerful avenue for personal transformation because everything we experience is mediated by the brain. Brain health produces a ceiling on how we feel and how well we function. Our life circumstances can be fantastic but brain health may circumscribe us to a sense of fatigue, fog, or depression, in which case, we will perceive that things are not so fantastic. Conversely, even if life circumstances are nothing to write home about, an uptick in brain health can allow us to connect with a glowing sense of well-being. Some factors that influence brain health and development over time are physical and emotional trauma, dehydration, diet, overstimulation, poor sleep patterns, and general stress.
Everyone's central nervous system has roadways with pitfalls, downed bridges, and in some cases, places where the bridges never got built. As IM training challenges the brain to clean up broken bridges and pot holes in the neural network and build stronger infrastructure, a breakdown of old systems occurs as the new network connections are being built. Part of the IM clinician's job is to maintain a compassionate and open-minded environment for his or her clients to experience the break down and build up process free from judgment. In this supportive environment, clients are positively-reinforced in treating themselves with a light-hearted and calm perspective, which accelerates the IM training's capacity to imprint these same healthy qualities for the client at the neural-physical level.
Everyone's starting point in IM looks different and presents different challenges. One person wants to improve his competitive edge in professional golf. Another person has dyslexia. Another is dealing with Parkinson's. Yet another is so nervous in performance situations that she can barely do her job but she's good at hiding it. Everyone's brain and personal goals and challenges are unique, so people have a different experience of the journey through IM training. However, there is a similarity of process across the board. Over the course of IM treatment, as a client's brain rebuilds to overcome neural inefficiencies or injuries, personal emotional stress levels drop and the nervous system calms down, leading to improved mental and physical coordination and performance, and greater personal peace and happiness.
Nothing speaks of the impact of Interactive Metronome® quite like personal experience. Here is an account of what Interactive Metronome® brain training was like for one young woman.
A Client's Story
At the time that Darla B. decided to begin Interactive Metronome® brain training, she was four years into her own business as a self-taught freelance website developer, with a variety of odd jobs on the side. She kept up a lively social life, and had two horses, which she cared for daily. She was always busy with a to-do list a mile long. Friends and colleagues regarded her as a reliable, intelligent, and high-performing individual.
And yet, Darla was almost always fighting fatigue and pushing herself through an inner haze of "brain fog." She had on-going sensitivity to light, such that bright sunshine actually made it harder to think. It seemed to dazzle and tickle her brain, making it harder to command the complex focus that her client project work required. She also had an over-sensitivity to certain sounds. Crackling plastic or radio static instantly grated on her nerves, and metal utensils chinking on ceramic would strike an annoying sensation in her brain. She also had a propensity to be snippy with loved ones more often than she liked because, under the internal pressure of pushing through constant fatigue and fog, when she was ready for down time or trying to focus and be productive, even simple social interactions felt noisy in her brain.
Darla was a classic head injury case. Between bicycling, horseback riding, and walking on ice, she had five notable concussion-producing incidents in her history, three of which were pretty severe. Her first concussion was at age 14, the next three occurred by age 20, and the last happened nearly two decades later. But Darla also had other factors in her history that qualify as influencers on how the brain develops and functions. Her mother passed away when she was 4, causing deep emotional trauma and long-standing grief. And like we all do, Darla had various numerous phases of stress in her life, from work and personal relationships over time. Some of those phases where particularly outstanding and prolonged.
Darla never considered herself less than fully functional. She was plenty productive and quite used to living with brain fog and intermittent irritability, as it had been part of her life at least since high school. But when she heard about Interactive Metronome® brain training and how it optimizes brain function, she had a good feeling about it and decided to give it a try.
Baseline & Beginning
Darla's first session was what is called an "assessment." The protocols for that session are designed to record a global baseline of brain timing-coordination responses. However, even an "assessment" session is therapeutic. Interactive Metronome® is always simultaneously diagnostic and remedial. The IM exercises include recording performance measurements that describe the client's brain function at present, and at the same time, doing the exercises gives the brain feedback about its own timing, providing it the right conditions of awareness to stimulate neural re-patterning.
For the exercises, Darla wore a set of headphones through which she heard a cowbell sounding at a metronomic tempo. For each exercise, she repeated some simple, physical task in time to the cowbell. Each task incorporated gently striking a biofeedback button or bar at the same time as the cowbell, and a computer measured her accuracy in milliseconds. Darla found the exercises fun, and it was interesting to experience variations in her own coordination. She closed her eyes for nearly the entire session because it was easier to concentrate on the cowbell without any visual stimuli. Sensitivity to visual stimulation is typical for a concussion history.
For the last exercise, guide tones were added… a variety of tones that sound in the head phones at the time of strike to indicate whether the current strike on the button is earlier or later than the cowbell, and by how much. The extra sounds made more chaos in Darla's perception. Oddly, they were both a help and a hindrance, because they provided more information and yet they were so distracting.
At the end of the assessment, Darla's clinician declared that her brain had just had a very substantial meal. Darla didn't really understand the statement; but she knew it was true because of how her brain now felt. The feeling was subtle, not like pain or heat or tickly or any sensation that has a name. It was more like heightened awareness after exercise; how just the sheer activity enables muscles to be felt that were previously taken for granted by the nervous system. Her brain was awake and alive, and it felt good.
A Little Heart Magic
In Darla's second session, her clinician introduced her to a companion health modality called HeartMath™. HeartMath™ is a way of breathing that helps the heart set a rhythm for the brain so the whole system can calm itself out of chaotic static and into coherent, coordinated order and efficiency. The HeartMath™ was a very mild, gentle experience, and it was not until later that Darla unpacked its real power.
Days after, Darla found herself naturally practicing HeartMath™ breathing while driving, just because she liked the way the measured breathing would steady and deepen her energy. Then she noticed that she was experiencing much more patience and open-mindedness with other drivers. Instead of feeling antsy about being late and seeing other drivers as slow and in the way, she was feeling centered and calm, even if she was running late, and she was even enjoying courteously letting others go in front of her.
Mirror into Self
One of the first things that Darla noticed through her IM training was that she had to let go of judging her performance. She liked to get bullseyes and she was sometimes annoyed or frustrated with inaccurate hits. The IM exercises were like fun, light-hearted games; but part of Darla wanted to win those games! Her clinician always redirected her to a judgment-free perspective. "It's not about winning and getting it right," she'd say. "Your brain is going through a process, and you just need to be present for it. All aspects of the experience are appropriate ingredients in the process."
After just two sessions, Darla began to find it easier to work with her eyes open, although she did not really think about anything she was looking at. The casual inclusion of visual information somehow allowed her to relax her focus in a productive way. Anytime she started to get an extra-long streak of inaccurate hits, she shifted her gaze to something else in the room, which somehow made everything fresh in her mind and she would start to get more bullseyes again. This development of now preferring to work with her eyes open, indicates that the brain was already gaining coherence and remedial benefit. Again, this progression is typical to concussion cases.
Over the next few weeks, Darla's pass/fail performance attitude gently gave way to a more neutral state of mind that allowed her to actually feel what she was experiencing rather than simply rate her outward results. Darla began to look for how much she could feel in her body while doing the IM exercises. That's when IM got really fun! It became a tool for inner exploration, and for building internal connection.
In Darla's own words, "I sink into feeling awareness of my arm and breath, and let the cowbell be the sound of my hand making contact. I have better accuracy through feeling, as well as better peace, and I feel more wholesome as myself. In response to some string of off-beat hits, my intellect offers a judgmental 'bad-performance' comment, but it feels like a mere suggestion of criticism on the outskirts of my mind this time, and I dismiss it with a smile. I feel a new sense of power to choose a healthier way to be in myself."
In one-hand-plus-opposite-foot exercise, Darla's clinician would typically tell her, "Start with your right hand," since Darla was right-handed and this would most likely provide her brain with the smoothest, easiest start for the exercise. But in trying to keep her coordination going in time to the cowbell, Darla found she would automatically start to think in terms of foot-hand, foot-hand rhythm sets. It was a device to get the job done because she didn't have enough mental coordination to process the foot and the hand independently at that tempo. So instead, the game was foot-hand, repeat.
Later on in her training, she experimented with switching the rhythm pairs: foot-hand, foot-hand, now hand-foot, hand-foot. It was all part of the fun to play around with her own mental processing during an exercise, kind of like juggling while trying out various yoga poses at the same time, just to see how well she could hold it all together.
As Darla's training progressed, she looked forward to her IM sessions more and more. They were like play dates with her brain, body, and mind. She found the IM opportunity to practice focusing so delightfully effective that she started to identify skills in her everyday life that she knew she could develop faster and deeper by bringing them into her Interactive Metronome® sessions to practice. For instance, she wanted more from her heart-focused meditation practice, so she practiced heart-focused meditation while doing her IM training sessions, which she found enhanced both her meditation focus and her IM scores! She was totally excited about how IM could help her get better at pretty much anything because of the way it deepened her practice experience.
In addition to enjoying a new level of laughter, discovery, and reward within IM sessions, Darla started to notice some significant changes in her day-to-day life. She started to have easy insights into more advanced computer programming techniques that had eluded and intimidated her for years. She began to experience greater mental sharpness in general, even when tired. Sounds became less annoying. She valued herself more, and this increase in self-esteem led her to communicate more clearly and take better care of herself in both professional and personal relationships. It became easier to respect others because she was doing a better job of respecting herself. Opportunities opened up to expand her website development business in new directions she hadn’t previously thought of, and she felt enough self-worth and self-confidence that she could openly embrace these new interpretations of the value she had to offer professionally.
Then something deeply wonderful happened. During her seventeenth IM training session, Darla encountered an unprecedented quiet in her brain. It was the most delicious stillness she'd ever experienced. Suddenly, she felt all this space and time between cowbell beats, even though the tempo hadn't changed.
She soaked up this inner quiet with deep joy and relief. She had no idea there had been so much noise in her brain until it finally went quiet. This was not mind noise like mind chatter, thinking about things. It was just constant low-level nervous system static in her brain.
She did the hand-alternating-foot exercise which she always used rhythm pairs to accomplish, and this time, with all the space, time, peace, and quiet she was feeling, she could actually treat each mark of the cowbell individually. No rhythm pairs. No crutch. Just the hand. Now just the foot. Now just the hand. Bullseye. Bullseye. Bullseye.
With this new-found quiet in her brain, Darla felt deeply happy in her own skin. Just resting inside the feeling of that serene peace, was her new favorite place to be.
* * *
Darla continues to train her brain with Interactive Metronome® and Heartmath™. She enjoys the personal exploration it affords and the ripple effect it has on the rest her life. She finds herself experiencing deeper and deeper layers of optimization and integration of her brain and heart.
We all deal with various types of mental, emotional, and/or physical injuries and stresses, and the imprints left on our brains from these various challenges, stand as perpetual hurdles to experiencing and expressing our full potential. Interactive Metronome® is a tool for creating, in a short period of time, a new template for one's brain, a template that allows one to find the center of oneself. This new template is an upgrade in the actual infrastructure of the brain, and does not fade over time. Integration of the brain and heart helps to harmonize oneself. This is why IM is an effective therapy for so many things. It's not just for head injuries; it doesn't just calm down the central nervous system, and integrate the brain and heart. Neural integration affects one's personal view and experience of self. No matter where the problems are, this helps align things to open up a different experience of self. The person is not different, but their brain is. This does not change the truth of who a person is; it changes the connection a person has with their inner truth. It helps them gain access to deeper reservoirs of personal strength, joy, and creative potential within, to let them blossom more readily into the full expression of who they are.