I consider myself to be left-brain dominant. I love logic, order and analysis. I love it when A + B always equals C and always follows in that order. I have a deep admiration for people who are creative: authors, composers, and artists. They have a level of intelligence that I cannot comprehend or hope to acquire, but I can enjoy the beauty that they produce.
Back in the 1960s, Roger Sperry performed a series of experiments known as “Split Brain” experiments. His goal was to eliminate the cause of epilepsy in patients. He discovered that by severing the corpus callosum, or the band of nerve fibers that connects each hemisphere of the brain, he could stop epileptic attacks in a majority of patients. Through his experiments he was able to determine what functions each hemisphere of the brain carried out. This is how the idea of “left-brain vs. right-brain” was developed. Sperry earned the Nobel Prize for his work in 1981.
The left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for all analytical and verbal tasks whereas the right hemisphere handles spatial perception and music. As much as I love reasoning and logic, I am lousy at directions! It is a well-known fact among my family and friends that I have pitiful navigation skills. And, naturally, I was able to figure that out on my own by analyzing the number of times I have been lost while trying to find a new restaurant or store. Throw in the fact that I am completely uncoordinated when I do anything with my left hand – I believe it exists for no other reason than body symmetry – and I have to wonder if my right hemisphere may be starting to atrophy. Is there any hope for me?
Actually, yes there is. As a naturopathic physician, I know that the body loves to be in balance. And the left side of my brain tells me that logically I would feel better and think clearer if my brain were balanced. Fortunately there are exercises that I can do to strengthen the right side of my brain.
In addition to logic and artistry, the hemispheres of the brain handle physical actions as well. Each hemisphere controls the movements of the opposite side of the body. Since I am left-brain dominant, naturally I am right-handed. Utilizing my left hand is probably one of the best and most frustrating exercises. I have tried to feed myself by holding my fork in my left hand and made a mess. This is not an exercise to try in a public restaurant. I have also tried to brush my teeth with my left hand and struggled to get the brush against my teeth on my first attempt. The movements were awkward and actually felt unfamiliar. I brush my teeth at least twice a day, every day. How could the movements possibly feel unfamiliar? By using my left hand to do simple daily tasks, I am creating new neuronal pathways in my brain. Just like a muscle, the brain needs exercise and stimulation to stay strong and healthy.
People who stutter can usually sing without any hesitation or stammer. This is because our verbal center is located in the left hemisphere. Singing a song from memory, without any thought of pitch or accuracy, uses mostly the left side of the brain. However if you practice singing with the goal of enhancing your voice, you engage the right side of your brain because that requires creativity and artistry. I am so appalled by my inability to sing that I have never attempted this exercise.
Here is an easy daily exercise that can assist in you in completing your daily chores. Visualize colors or graphics with every task you perform during the day. Make a to do list of everything you need to accomplish tomorrow. Assign a color to each type of activity. For example, the grocery store list might be green, the task to pay bills might be red. All errands that need to be run such as the bank, dry cleaners, drug store might be written in blue. And when you think of each item on your list with the appropriate color, see each word as a graphic. “Pay bills” may be a dollar sign while “running errands” may be a stick figure in a running position. Graphics and colors can help with recall of the items as well as stimulate the right side of your brain. I love this exercise because it applies right-brain stimulus to a left-brain function: the ordered list.
Meditation is a powerful way to strengthen your brain. It is a truly challenging exercise for a left-brained person. It is the logical, analytical side of the brain that interrupts the “witness” or the right side of the brain during meditation. The left hemisphere provides the intruding and distracting thoughts. Through meditation people are able to quiet the demands of the analytical side and find the creative energy and appreciation of beauty that the right side has to offer. The art of meditation is a work in process for me. And although I am far from mastering it, I am enjoying the centering and balancing effects it has on my life.
At this point in my life, I still claim to be left-brained but I am working on it. Maybe one day I will be a NY Times best-selling author, all because I learned to brush my teeth with my left hand.