Neurofeedback therapy and neuromodulation for peak performance

Unlock your potential with neurofeedback therapy for peak performance. Learn how EEG biofeedback and neuromodulation can enhance brain function, including for ADHD.

Feb 6, 2024

Welcome to the era of self-improvement!

In the book Stealing Fire, Kotler and Jamie Wheal's concept of the Altered States Economy underscores the popularity of personal growth and development on a global scale. As our society evolves and our basic needs are increasingly met, many of us reach a stage where we have the time, resources, and inclination to invest in our own self-improvement. This emphasis on higher level needs like self-actualization and peak performance has given rise to a vast emerging market. We actively seek tools and practices like neuromodulation, EEG biofeedback and biofeedback that enable us to tap into "altered" states of consciousness, improve our cognitive functions related to ADHD, and maximize our potential.

Stealing Fire © 2017 by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal

Stealing Fire © 2017 by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal

It is necessary to acknowledge that while personal growth and development are gaining traction in developed countries, many individuals – both within the USA and worldwide – still face significant challenges, requiring necessities like clean drinking water, food, and shelter. While we explore the potential of personal growth, it’s important for us all to recognize and address these pressing issues, showing empathy with and providing support in ways we can for those who may not have the same opportunities.

Happy new year picture

In our previous blog post we examined trends in Americans' new years resolutions. We found that across the country, many of us are looking to be healthier, level up professionally, unlock our potential, or just organize our lives. Thanks to the thriving Altered States economy, a wide variety of consumer, off-the-shelf products and solutions are now available to help us make meaningful improvements to our lives.

In our practice we have learned that it helps to plan our biohacking for personal growth according to a hierarchy of needs to maximize results. If we try and train higher order function cognitive function on a shaky metabolic foundation, we may find that we don't have the fuel needed to sustain the advanced practices. Or if we try and train advanced meditative practices while we continue to hold onto past trauma in our body and mind, we may find that our inner senses are distorted and do not provide us the illumination we are seeking.

For the best results of your Do-It-Yourself biohacking for personal growth and development, we recommend following a similar approach.

Our hierarchy of needs

Metabolic Health

The base of the hierarchy is metabolic health. Your metabolism is the engine that powers your entire body, including your brain! Ensuring it’s functioning correctly and has the fuel it needs is critical. You can even extend metabolic health to include your environment, which can impact your metabolic health even further! Screening for toxic mold, unhealthy levels of EMF exposure, or even junk light.

Table full of food

Here are some DIY strategies to consider:

  • Dietary Optimization: We all have different dietary needs, and it's hard to tell what your body needs unless you measure it! A common pitfall is to eat based on an ideology - an idea of who you want to be or appear in the world – instead of eating based on the reality of what your genetics and lifestyle require. DNA testing from a service like Selfdecode can be a good start, but keep in mind that just because it's in your genes doesn't mean it's a problem. Consider a functional medicine workup from a functional medicine practitioner.

  • Exercise and Recovery: Regular exercise, coupled with recovery techniques like cold exposure or infrared saunas can enhance your metabolism. And sometimes just a little time off is all you need! Fitness trackers like the Whoop or Apple Watch aren't the best at absolute scores but are great for tracking progress. Amazfit produces a decent product at a highly affordable price if you are just getting started.

  • Supplementation: Like dietary optimization, some careful research can help guide your choices, but a functional medicine workup can give you a clear action plan.

In our practice we can help guide you to the most appropriate direct-access lab tests and help you to interpret your findings or refer you to a functional health practitioner.

If we try to use neurofeedback or neuromodulation without a healthy metabolic foundation with physiological needs met, the body may not be able to produce enough neurotransmitters to support the training. Without sufficient dopamine, fueling the prefrontal cortex with the necessary beta waves will be challenged.

Autonomic Balance

Woman meditating

Moving up the hierarchy, we arrive at autonomic balance. Finding a balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic arousal is important for well-being. Too sympathetic, and the fear response can make it difficult to rest and recover, and difficult to change higher order function. Too parasympathetic, and apathy can set in, making it difficult to find the motivation for change.

Here are some biohacking techniques to consider:

  • Meditation and Breath work: Mindfulness practices, controlled breathing, and neurofeedback can help balance your autonomic nervous system and improve overall brain function. Applications like Calm or Headspace offer accessible, guided sessions.

  • Heart Rate Variability Training: Dedicated HRV biofeedback training products like Heartmath and Elite HRV With an external sensor and incorporating neurofeedback training, one can help in achieving optimal balance and enhanced brain function. A new generation of products like the Lief Therapeutics or the Oxa Life and its services in applied psychophysiology aim to optimize your brain's performance through neurofeedback. wearables are designed to be worn more consistently to provide feedback throughout the day.

  • Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulators: Beyond HRV training, tVNS devices use a mild electrical current to directly stimulate the vagus nerve, promoting balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activation. Many consumer products are now available, from the Parasym to the Pulsetto and Sensate.

Bear in mind that your autonomic nervous system rests on top of your metabolic health. For example: if you have nutritional deficits that are impacting your adrenal function, you may hit a wall in terms of how far these practices can take you without addressing the lower level of the hierarchy.

In our practice we leverage professional grade equipment to assess your autonomic health including how your heart and brain regulate each other. We can then apply professional neurostimulation equipment to help regulate both vagus nerve and cognitive function simultaneously. We've found that in practice, some cases see faster cognitive changes when paired with tVNS in this way.

Cognitive Optimization

Man focusing at his desk

Once we have established a strong foundation and move up in the hierarchy, we reach cognitive optimization. Here's where we will harness biohacking technology, including neurofeedback training, to boost our cognitive functions like focus, memory, mental clarity, and manage symptoms of ADHD.

  • Brain Training Apps: Apps like Lumosity and Elevate offer convenient interactive brain-training exercises to enhance cognitive skills. Cognifit offers a comprehensive solution from cognitive testing to help identify your strengths and weaknesses, paired with brain training games to shore up the weaknesses.

  • Nootropics and Smart Drugs: Nootropics have a rich history and can be very effective for some people but can require trial and error to find the right cocktail for your unique biology. Thesis offers a quiz to help you identify your sweet spot and pre-made blends based on their years of extensive research with customers.

  • Neurofeedback: In the last few years that has been an explosion of consumer neurofeedback and even neuromodulation offerings! An impressive new offering is the neurofeedback systembiof, which draws from a wealth of experts and real-world experience to offer a solid out of the box experience to most people for peak performance training. The Mendi or Brain-Trainer’s State Changer headbands make a nice complement to the for prefrontal training, and specialty products like the Frenz Brainband target improved sleep. The NeurOptimal system is good for relaxation and wellness, and anyone can use it, but isn't targeted at specific problems you may have.

Again, keep in mind that cognitive function rests on metabolic health and autonomic balance. Without optimizing the lower levels, you may hit a wall in terms of your cognitive gains.

Consumer Neurofeedback Systems

While the headset does tailor its protocols to the individual somewhat, for the most part consumer solutions are "one size fits all." The good news is that Neurofeedback can have good effects with very few sensors – since a sensor on the scalp is measuring many neurons in the brain, including neurons connected by networks within the brain, even a single electrode at the top of your head could produce some nice effects! But if you have a specific complaint that you want addressed, these "one size fits all" solutions may not provide the results you are looking for.

The type of neurofeedback also matters. The Mendi and other HEG headsets are excellent at increasing prefrontal activation, but if that's all you do, and that's not your problem, you will see little benefit from neurofeedback.

If you focus only on alpha waves, perhaps using a Vielight Alpha, and that's not your problem - you get the idea. Both neurofeedback and neuromodulation typically rely on a comprehensive map of brain activity in order to be most effective (there are some exceptions, like Infra-Low Neurofeedback which can also be used for many conditions).

NeurOptimal was one of the first platforms that I tried as a consumer, and it has a profound effect on relaxing the central nervous system. It primarily trains the nervous system to reduce variability, or stay in a stable state, which nearly everyone would benefit from! But only measuring two sites on the scalp, while more effective than one might at first think, is not sufficient for targeted problems. I have to admit, though, I wish I owned a system that I could use to simply sooth a long day!

Professional Neuromodulation and Neurofeedback Training

Entrance to 1801 Bush St

In our practice we apply 37-channel quantitative EEG and ERP coupled with advanced computational neuroscience techniques to identify the brain wave activation patterns that may be holding you back. From this comprehensive analysis we develop a highly personalized training plan just for you to optimize your results. And, thanks to our professional grade neuromodulation equipment, we can relax your nervous system so that it can entrain more constructive patterns in far less time than with consumer devices.

Also worth considering is traumatic brain injury, a silent epidemic. If you have suffered from a concussion, simple consumer neurofeedback devices may not be enough to help your recover from the cognitive side effects. Because this is a silent epidemic, many people don't know that they have had one. A good first step before any neurofeedback treatment is to begin with a QEEG and comprehensive map of your brain's electrical activity.

Advanced Spiritual Practices

At the pinnacle of our hierarchy, we find advanced spiritual practices. These days spirituality means different things to different people; different philosophies lead to different goals and different practices. Within this article, we will use lucid dreaming and out of body travel as examples of advanced spiritual work: lucid dreaming has the potential to give us greater self-understanding, and out of body travel has the potential to give us greater collective-understanding. As an exercise to the reader, you may consider how your own goals may fit into this hierarchy of needs.

Depiction of astral projection

Some DIY techniques you can apply to develop these skills:

  • Reading a book and practice: Robert Bruce's Mastering Astral Projection in 90 Days provides a wonderful hands-on guide to learning skills that facilitate both lucid dreaming and out of body travel. They can be coupled with the additional techniques here.

  • Brainwave entrainment: For decades it has been understood that Theta brainwave entrainment can help guide the nervous system and our awareness into the appropriate state to do these practices. Many recordings are available on YouTube for this.

  • Neurofeedback: In principle, theta synchrony training can help to train the awareness necessary for these practices. The headset provides as one of its advanced missions a Theta/Alpha/Gamma synchrony program that could be helpful.

While these can be practiced at any time, our experience has been that the best results come when the necessary foundations are established. For example, to sustain a lucid dream, it is necessary to be able to hold a single-pointed focus which in turn requires not just cognitive training but also metabolic support to provide the needed energy and neurotransmitters. Further, inner work requires careful discernment and if we hold significant amounts of trauma in our nervous system this can distort our interpretation of the material that is revealed in our journeys.

In the future we plan to offer services tailored to these advanced spiritual practices. But in the meantime, we have the rest of the hierarchy to work on!

© 2023 - 2023 James Croall - All Rights Reserved.

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