Training the brain

At the Madison Brain Center, Catherine River helps children and adults reboot their brains.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Early in her adulthood, Catherine River, founder of the Madison Brain Center, admits she battled addiction and lived life “in a haze.”

During her long recovery, River says her brain just “got stuck.”

“I had an epiphany on a street corner when I saw a sign one day that said ‘Brain Gym: Neuro Kinesiology,’” she states. “When you have an epiphany that makes no sense, you follow it.”

A screenshot of a neurofeedback session used for retraining brainwaves.

That led to a weekend class taught by educational kinesiologists committed to the principle that intended body movements lead to optimal learning. There, River says she gained clarity of mind that had long been missing. “In that class, my brain started working profoundly better,” she recounts.

Over time, she became a certified educational kinesiologist through the Educational Kinesiologist Foundation and studied extensively with bodywork and brain function when a friend suggested she explore neurofeedback.

In 2012, River opened the center in Madison to help people of all ages who might be struggling with attention, focus, cognition, mood, behavior, sleep, and sensitivity issues that can prevent them from performing to their best capabilities.

“When people get sicker and sicker, often it’s because different systems in their bodies aren’t working well together. Eastern medicine works on meridians and how different things interplay. We work with the brain and how that interplays.”

River’s ultimate mission is to help communities and individuals dealing with issues like poverty, stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit disorder (ADD)/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism. “Neurofeedback switches on your brain,” she explains. “When the brain is engaged and working correctly, it’s amazing what one can do.” In a recent interview, we sought enlightenment.

IB: Who can benefit from neurofeedback?
Anyone seeking peak performance. If their focus and attention is not where it should be, or they have anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or get frustrated easily, this will help. A brain can be dysregulated by things like surgery, a job switch to third shift, sleep deprivation, anesthesia, profound stress, or abuse. For someone with a very stressful job, neurofeedback can also help put things in perspective so maybe they don’t fly off the handle as much. That said, I’ve worked with people as young as 18 months old and as old as 95.

IB: How does it work?
It’s exercising the brain. I compare it to a computer that needs to be rebooted. Sensors are placed on a person’s head and brainwaves are monitored and retrained using a computer program and moving images on a screen.

IB: And the result?
Your brain gets tuned much like you’d tune a musical instrument. Over time you can perform better. A task that might take you two hours to complete if you have ADD, for example, might take only 10 minutes with a trained brain. Some [professionals] can be good at schmoozing, building their businesses, or controlling their own calendars, but are they spending a lot of time doing things they could actually accomplish in a third or half the time?



IB: What drives your desire to work in challenged communities?
Years ago I had a child, money, and a car, yet it was still difficult for me to be the perfect wife and mother and get my son to gymnastics on time. I was burned out. But I didn’t have dysfunctional kids. I didn’t have poverty. I didn’t have to go on a bus to go here and there. I didn’t have people treating me like trash because of the color of my skin or how my clothes looked. There’s a lot of stress there, and unfortunately, our system is very punitive.

IB: How do kids handle the training?
They come here and play. They can be weird. They hide little dinosaurs around the office. I keep them safe. I suck up to them and bribe them to get them to do what I need them to do. I have food here in case they’re hungry because it’s hard to train the brain when the glucose is low.

IB: What is the key to a healthy brain?
Keep it moving! Do fun, new things and move your body. Be a geek. If you’re good at puzzles, do different puzzles. Be social. But sitting around and watching TV makes you stupid no matter who you are.

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