August 2018 Community Meeting Recap: Brain Health with Paul Hyman


Brain Health

As a brain injury survivor, these two enchanting words instantly grab my attention and get me craving to learn more. Lucky for me, this was the topic of BIST’s August Community Meeting, and guest speaker, Paul Hyman, had my full attention. Paul is a wonderfully accomplished champion for the brain injury community and he comes with a very impressive resume (check out his website if you don’t believe me). Among all of his accomplishments, he is most well known for being the president and founder of Brain Fitness International, an organization that helps those living with a brain injury to maximize their potential and live better lives.

Picture of Paul Hyman
Paul Hyman, Creator and CEO of Brain Fitness International

Paul began the evening with a quick one liner to explain what ‘brain health’ means to him: movement-based, multi-sensory brain stimulation. Put simply, this means that through movement and engaging your senses you are actually helping your brain. To elaborate upon this concept, Paul used the example of a student who was taking a class and, to the professor’s dismay, knitted throughout every lecture rather than taking notes. To the professor’s astonishment, this student ended up far exceeding the professor’s expectations come the completion of the course. Because knitting utilizes both sides of the body, and therefore, both hemispheres of the brain, the student was able to better absorb the information. For this reason, a pipe cleaner (the craft supply) was handed out to each community meeting attendee to fiddle with, using both hands, throughout the presentation. I have been using this pipe cleaner trick for about a week now and, when I do, I feel like I’m better at absorbing and recalling information; so, if it tickles your fancy give it a try!


The point that Paul chose to emphasize was that movement stimulates the brain. If you don’t believe me, lift your arms high in the air and shake your hands around. Just by moving, you are improving your capacity to learn, memorize, and recall information. If you’re currently struggling with brain injury and some sticky symptoms, this may be exhausting; but, as Paul says, movement is great for the brain – try it out and see how you feel.

Further to movement being a brain stimulant, a principle that has been known for many years now was also highlighted, ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.’ This speaks to the neuroplasticity of the brain,  how the brain is capable of forming new connections.

Using both body and breath to stimulate the brain is a fantastic way to facilitate recovery and also leaves you feeling great. We went through several activities over the course of the evening, and below I will share some of my favourites. I’ve included some fun names for each exercise to hopefully make them easier to recall.


Paul used to be a professional trombone player, to which he credits learning the importance of the breath. This first exercise is intended to help you become accustomed to taking slower and deeper breaths. All you need is a tissue! I call this one, the tissue trap:

The Tissue Trap:

  • Take a tissue and hold it up against a wall.
  • Exhale slowly and deeply onto the tissue so that it stays stuck to the wall without you needing to hold it in place. Do this as slowly as possible.
  • For added fun, you can time yourself or challenge others to see who can hold it the longest. (New party trick, maybe?)
  • Vary this exercise by blowing puffs of air instead of a steady stream. If you don’t have a wall handy, use another surface like a book, or hold the tissue between your fingers and watch the tissue fly as you control it using your breath.

This next exercise utilizes both hemispheres of the brain and helps them to work together. It is commonly referred to as eye tracking or lazy 8’s. For a more detailed explanation, click here, otherwise follow the steps below:

Eye Tracking Lazy 8

Eye Tracking/Lazy 8’s:

  • Outstretch your arm in front of you so it’s perpendicular to the floor.
  • Make the thumbs up sign with the hand of your outstretched arm.
  • Move your arm to draw a big, imaginary infinity sign (an 8 on its side, see above). Continue to do this motion.
  • While keeping your head still and facing forward, move your eyes to keep your gaze on your thumb as it moves around.
  • Try this out with your other arm and/or with your fingers interlaced.
  • Vary the direction of your figure 8. For example, instead of going up the middle every time, try going down the middle.

If you prefer, you may like to draw your lazy 8 on a piece of paper or white board. This can be particularly handy if you get dizzy from drawing them in the air.

Brain Gym PACE

PACE is a Brain Gym mnemonic for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic, which together, form a technique for warming up both your brain and your body to maximize your capacity to learn. Now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe this practice using only words for a while, but lucky for me, and let’s be honest, you too, I stumbled on this handy video that captures PACE in a straightforward way.

pace brain Gympace brain Gym

The BIST community meeting attendees really enjoyed Paul’s presentation as he was an excellent speaker with a very engaging presentation. I’ve been told that he will likely return for more presentations in the future so stay tuned!

In the mean time, don’t forget to check out the BIST calendar or all types of events.

October Community Meeting: Join us for our Halloween Party on October 31st!

November Community Meeting: Essential Oils & & ABI with Rose-Ann Partridge – November 28th, 6 – 8 pm 



Q + A with the director of The Brain’s Way of Healing

Tonight on CBC’s The Nature of Things, everyone’s favourite neuroplasticity expert and author of The Brain’s Way of Healing ItselfDr. Norman Doidge, will take us on a visual exploration of his work in a documentary, The Brain’s Way of Healing.


BIST had the chance to interview the documentary’s director-writer, Andrew Gregg of 90th Parallel Productions about the film:

BIST: Many of our members are very familiar with Dr. Doidge’s books, and follow his methods. What can they expect to get out of this film?

AG: I think if they’ve read The Brain’s Way of Healing they’re going to actually be able to meet the people they’ve read about in the books. I know you meet them in the books, but you get to see them and you get to see lab footage and home videos before they found whatever treatment they found that was going to help them.

You basically get to put a voice and a face to the names you’ve read about. And the doctors and scientists that are mentioned in the books you get to meet them them as well.


BIST: What about for people who are not familiar with Dr. Doidge’s work?

AG: I think it’s a universal idea that there’s always a chance that ‘something’s going to go wrong’ and you’re going to find out from a doctor or a scientist that’s going to say, ‘Sorry there’s nothing we can do for you.’

That was the same for every single person we met in this story, [they were told], ‘nothing can be done for you.’

What these stories show is that it’s not the case anymore. By using the brain’s own plasticity there are new ways of healing that we never thought possible.

Hopelessness actually can be turned into hope pretty quickly and I think for all these people to be able to find a way to deal with whatever affliction that was presented to them, you can just see in their faces and in their stories these amazing, grateful feelings of how fortunate they are.

BIST: How accessible are the treatments portrayed in the documentary?

AG: I think that I would take that question back one step further and put myself in the situation of these people that had to seek out the treatments themselves. The people in the film really had to work hard and a lot of them benefited from Dr. Doidge’s previous book, [The Brain that Changes Itself].

I think that by showing their stories it helps the next set of people who are looking for help, it helps narrow down the search.

I think [Dr. Doidge’s] book and this film, for anyone who is looking of answers it’s going to make it that much easier.


BIST:  What, for you, was the biggest thing you took away from working with Dr. Doidge?

AG: The idea of going from hopelessness to hope was so prevalent in the film. Some of these things happen so quickly, like with Jeri and Cathie, who participated in the study at the University of Wisconsin.

They had both suffered a traumatic  brain injury in a car accident and were basically laid up for five years, and thought that was the going to be the rest of their lives. They got themselves got up from Champaign, Illinois for the first treatment and all of a sudden they were standing and walking.

There are these instance of switches being flipped. … [Its’] proof of neuroplasticity, that the brain is there and it is able to be valuable, it just needs the right signals.

That is amazing to me. It’s nice to have a feel good story for a change.



The Brain’s Way of Healing airs tonight on CBC at 8 pm EST – and can be streamed (IN CANADA ONLY) online HERE.

Neuroplasticity + Brain Fitness: Q + A with Dr. Peter Rumney of Holland Bloorview


On October 15th, BIST is hosting a free speaker forum on Neuroplasticity and Brain Fitness, with Dr. Peter Rumney, the physician director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team at Holland Bloorview; Dr. Robin Green, Canada Research Chair and Senior Scientist at Toronto Rehabilitation Insitute; Paul Hyman, President and CEO of Brain Fitness International and Anthony Aquan-Assee, TBI survivor, teacher, author and motivational speaker.

Before the event, our blogger Karolina Urban spoke with Dr. Rumney about his talk.

Photo of Dr. Petery Rumney

KU: Why did you choose this topic to talk about?
Dr. Rumney: There is a lot of interest in trying to prevent, and /or avoid dementia, and why and what are the factors in being successful at this. Just like the old questions you used to have for someone who lived to be 100: what did you do to get there?

KU: What are the general thoughts about exercise and brain health?
Dr. Rumney: Research shows that some things are clearly helpful, such as regular exercise, healthy neuro-stimulation, healthy physical stimulation and being lucky enough to have good genes. The idea is to keep the brain well stimulated and well fed, meaning it has oxygen, good blood flow and nutrition. For example, when you damage the heart and vascular system by smoking, or abusing alcohol and drugs, then you have reduced blood flow. You want to make sure that you promote good circulation to the brain by keeping your heart healthy?.

KU: Are there any studies that have shown the clear link between exercise and prevention of dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Dr. Rumney: There are studies that have looked at elderly nuns in Italy. Here they saw that they seldom had issues of Alzheimer’s and one of the things they did was a lot of mental stimulation and crossword puzzles. It appears if you keep stimulating the brain to learn knew things, then it is helpful in maintaining function. However some individuals who have very taxing and cognitively demanding jobs could have quicker onset of dementia.

Some studies include a neuro-psychologist developing a comprehensive set of tasks for working memory, which have seen positive carry over to other activities that demand working memory. The nice thing is that, if you have improvement in working memory you can have improvement in attention and concentration.

Picture of a jump rope in the shape of a brain

KU: What about all these online gaming platforms aspiring to help maintain brain health?
A. Everybody knows Luminosity! But the question is whether these games succeed in doing what they tell you they do, such as reducing your brain age and cognitive fitness by getting faster and better at their games.

I don’t believe there is a lot of science to prove their claims, you know when you do those games you get better at those games and doesn’t mean you will be better at taxes, or conversing with your family. This “cross fit kind of idea” is to show where there is evidence or where there isn’t.

KU: You talk about increasing blood flow to the brain, are there specific exercises that can lead to that?
Dr. Rumney: From what I understand, it’s aerobic activities that are most likely to do it, [such as] running, walking, swimming and cycling. The other literature talks about what does a ‘lifestyle choice’ do in the long run. Walking is an easily done, low impact, low cost activity that is as effective as other ones, [though] you do have to walk longer.

KU: Can you tell me about regular exercise following acquired brain injury?
Dr. Rumney:We recognize that regular exercise for ABI can be very helpful. For some reason brain injury really doesn’t affect a person’s endurance over and above the deconditioning that happens following the injury. Keeping regularly active helps individuals maintain their energy and endurance, which helps naturally increase blood flow to the brain. It also helps the person sleep and good, healthy sleep is the best way for the brain to restore itself and learn new information.

We also know that individuals [who are living with a brain injury] are dealing with a lot of stress and there are positive effects of exercise and endorphins in dealing with stress.

[Brain injury survivors] also have trouble focusing attention. Burning off extra energy has a positive effect and increases their ability to focus. The question is, can we take the next step in prescribing types of therapy? For example, very old forms of therapy such as yoga and tai chi, [which are] slower, less aerobic types of activity, look at stretching, balancing and coordination and [along with] mindfulness and mediation. Helping individuals deal with pain and therapy, is actually quite safe and we are prescribing it.

Q. What’s your favorite activity or sport?
A. I like cycling, and my other interest is archery but it’s harder to do in the city. My other interests are art and carpentry. Other things are the study of music, musicians have positive overlap with right hemispheric function and learning a new language and may have positive effects.


 Karolina Urban is a former University of Toronto and Canadian Women’s Hockey League player. Currently she is a PhD student at the Concussion Centre in Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Hospital.