Neurocentric Training: Towards a definition

I think of Neurocentric training as any task that either requires extreme, acutely focused attention or task that is done with extreme, acutely focused attention.

So a great example of an inherently neurocentric training tool is slacklining, whereby one is required to pay exquisite attention to the "feel" of what is happening in order to constantly maintain balance. Now of course this quality dissolves as one improves in slacklining so in order to continue to raise the level of 'neurocentricity' as one develops skill perhaps the height is elevated, the distance between posts is lengthened, it is done blind-folded, etc. Other examples are rock climbing, single-trak biking, the internal martial arts in a combat situation, any combat situation for that matter.

An example of a task often used in conditioning made more neurocentric is running while paying incredibly close attention to the precise location of first contact on footfall. Is it the heel or ball of the foot? Medial or lateral aspect? How does the left compare to the right? How does a subsequent step feel in relation to the previous step? Or running can be made into a task that requires dedicated focus by running on a narrow surface such as a curb in which a mis step could lead to injury.

This can be applied to literally any form of training, conditioning or activity and I would argue that along with great coaching and natural talent it is the intense focus expressed as the interest in these details that makes the Jordans, Lideckys, and Messis of the world.

How you might make a kettle bell swing more neurocentric, for example, might be to note an object in the background and make note of when the kettle bell reaches its apex in front of you where it is in relation to that object, and not necessarily try to line it up every time, but simply notice.

Breath timing is another great way to make any aspect of training more neurocentric. Going back to the running example, you can note the steps-to-breath ratio or take slightly fuller breaths and notice how it changes the mechanics of your stride, do you take longer strides on a full breath or after you've exhaled?

Erwann Lecorre is great at setting up challenges that require steadfast focus because they consist of primarily balance, coordination, proprioception challenges on discontinuous surfaces that lead to falls if not properly engaged. Andreo Spina's FRC/Kinstretch system requires the participant to engage this high level of attention -without this level of intent and attention you're not doing Kinstretch - creating full irradition,  complete articular movements and PAILs and RAILs all require complete focus and attention.

Using an example cited in an earlier article, Post Standing from various schools of the internal martial arts is not an endurance exercise as it might appear, but an exercise in noting joint positions, muscular tone, relationships between the aspects of the body, breath quality all with as little muscular effort as possible. In the absence of a sharply focused mind it is an endurance exercise for postural muscles. In the presence of a sharply focused mind it is a training of neuromuscular control that improves the quality of the sensory-motor system by drawing more finely detailed maps of our somatosensory cortex which leads to a host of documented improvements in health and movement.

 

 

Sleep like a baby with Neurocentric Exercise

chapelle sleep.jpeg

Lately I've been interested in what I think of as Neurocentric exercise programs that are principally taxing on Balance, Coordination, Movement Patterns, Neurological Tone and and End Range Motor Control like Dr. Andreo Spina's FRC/Kinstretch, Erwann Lecorre's Movnat, Tom Bisio's Daily dozen adopted from the Internal Martial Arts.

Rather than build endurance, muscle size, or power these programs train areas that we often think of as being "hardwired" into our system like balance, coordination, fine motor skills. (These areas are as hardwired as the size of our biceps - yes we have genetic proclivities but anyone who trains the bicep for size will get some improvement). These programs are challenges to the declarations we often say to ourselves about our capacity that usually sound like "I am just clumsy" or "I have two left feet" or "My muscles are just really really tight" (No one who wants to get strong says "I tried lifting weights but I am just weak so I gave up").

While all of these programs can generate a sweat, fatigue, and soreness, they are mostly targeting your brain (central nervous system). My experience with these types of exercise is that I sleep really well when I train my brain.

This makes sense if we understand that sleep is a process and part of that process is what we call the Synaptic Homeostasis Hypothesis which is essentially the idea that neural networks are built during sleep in response to novel input. This means that when we learn a new skill (ie challenge our system) like a language, or a new sport like surfing or a new challenge to an already acquired skill like left handed golf or a new dance sequence our brain needs time to 'build' (or rebuild) the neural networks that 'store' that newly acquired skill. The reason why we get better at the things we practice is a combination of the time put into practice and the refractory period in which our nervous system adapts to that practice and we call that sleep.

So it appears to make sense that on nights in which I have spent time doing CARs,  90/90Post Standing or Circle Walking I sleep like a baby - these are exercises that challenge my neurological set points of mobility, balance, coordination and perception and in so doing require a neurological overhaul that nature has decided most effectively takes place during sleep.

 

How to Think about Acupuncture: Introducing Acupuncture Hormetics

We generally have a reason why we exercise, or why we should; weight loss, strength, to look good, endurance, whatever.

There is an understanding that if I do x I will get y.

This should be the same with Acupuncture Treatments.

I think of Acupuncture as one technique from a class of interventions that facilitate the restructuring of systems by means of hormesis. Todd Becker has coined the term Hormetics to refer to the use of low-dose stressors to improve the body's structure and function and Edward Calabrese refers the process of leveraging hormesis as Preconditioning. The work of both men has been influential in my thinking about Acupuncture.

Exercise is the principle example used to explain the concept of hormesis, whereby tissue (or any system) is  stressed at a certain intensity, for a certain duration, in a certain way that produces a predictable result. This is illustrated by a very brief comparison of a long distance runner and a powerlifter. The runner's training will be generalized (in relation to the lifter) as lower intensity for a longer duration while the lifter's training will be of a shorter duration at a higher intensity. In one case the stress on the body creates greater endurance and lean muscle while the other will create larger more powerful musculature.

This is a scenario with two different exercise inputs create two different outputs.

Other examples of Hormetics that are gaining popularity amongst athletes are:

  • Cold Therapy
  • Heat Therapy
  • plant based nrf2 activators/Sirtuins (i.e. turmeric and resveratrol)

  • bloodflow restricted training

  • hypoxia/hyperoxia  via breathing practices

  • Sun Exposure

  • Cupping & Soft Tissue instruments

 

Proponents of some of the above tools will attribute the effects to reduced levels of inflammation, alteration in blood ph, increased levels of Vitamin D. Which are all true but leave us with the question of dosage and context; when to do what and how much should I do? (what is the best timeframe for cryotherapy? before or after training? within an hour? 2-3hours? next day? for how long at what temperature? It is an area of study that is relatively new and many questions still remain.

But Acupuncture as a Hormetic has a 2,000 year old history with instructions, indications, and expectations. Most of these instructions and applications are simple and provide testable hypothesis and the number of people who are exposing themselves and learning about these methods are growing. This is, I believe, very promising.


We'll look into these techniques and principles in future posts.

 

Cupping is so hot right now

MP dominating

MP dominating

What is to be made of the dark circles that appear on athlete’s shoulders, backs and arms at the Olympics?

If you’re like some of the commentators on NBC you take one look and say “no thank you”.

 

If you’re an acupuncturist you puff your chest, you’ve been vindicated. Taking to social media to say “I told you so”.

 

If you’re a PT, massage therapist, or other health care professional you’ve either just ordered your first set of cups or tweeting the “western” scientific explanation, while cautiously pointing out that “more research is needed” but still encouraging patients to try it.

 

This is just the latest flare up of the debate between “Eastern” and “Western” approaches to techniques like Acupuncture, Cupping, the use of Soft Tissue tools that have been introduced to North America and Europe in the last few decades principally by Chinese Medicine but were practiced in many primitive cultures across continents with documented examples in Europe and Africa.

 

The debate includes the rationale and appropriate use of Needle Therapy (acupuncture vs dry needling), instruments used in soft tissue therapy (Gua Sha vs IASTM) and of course Cupping.

 

 

It is a debate that will likely persist.

 

 

As an acupuncturist, trained at an American Acupuncture School with a keen eye for the thought leaders in “other fields” such as Thomas Meyers, Gray Cook, Andreo Spina, Shirley Sharman, etc. and from whom I have learned just as much about Chinese Medicine as I have from Acupuncture School, I can’t help but feel that this is one big turf war predicated on two things:

 

 

  1. Acupuncturist’s misunderstanding of both Chinese Medicine and Science

  2. Conventional Healthcare providers misunderstanding of both Chinese Medicine and Science

 

 

(we have the same problem)

 

 

These misunderstandings, as I see it, are the result of two assumptions:

 

Assumption #1: Chinese medicine is based on a metaphysical, yet to be identified “energy”

Assumption #2: The Scientific Method is meant to deliver certainty

 

Rather than alienating each other I think there is common ground that both camps can stand on to further develop our understanding of how to best help our patients and make the most out of these safe, effective and increasingly popular techniques.

 

 

Three Points to set the stage for future Articles

 

 

  1. Chinese Medicine is best described, not as a belief system, religion or placebo effect but as as a Proto-Science concerned with the cyclical movement of the natural world. The principles and theories put forth in Chinese Medicine perhaps most closely resemble Dynamical Systems Theory and what the famous mathematician and scientist Benoit Mandelbrot described as the Fractal Geometry of Nature.

  2. Unless we are dealing with pharmaceuticals which operate in the one-ligand-one-receptor arena and have a definitive, objective outcome measure (ie viral load) we are going beat our heads against the wall examining clinician administered techniques (cupping, acupuncture, manipulation, mobilization, etc.) especially if our outcome measure is something like pain, arguably the most subjective and impossible to quantify measure in the health sciences using Randomized Controlled Trials, Meta-Analyses and Systematic Reviews.

  3. I think the most likely candidate for establishing common ground amongst Manual Therapists, Chinese Medicine Practitioners, Physios, etc. who share modalities like acupuncture, cupping and soft tissue tools is the little known (but widely applicable) concept of Hormesis - The phenomenon or condition of a substance or other agent having a beneficial physiological effect at low levels of exposure even though toxic or otherwise harmful at higher levels