Finding the Point of Balance: Left Brain and Right Brain

            All of this research casts new light on the well-known differences between the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. In most people, the left hemisphere is superior in processing verbal material, while the right hemisphere is superior in handling visual/spatial information. Studies by neuroscientist David Shannahoff-Khalsa of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences indicate that hemispheric dominance is constantly shifting back and forth from the right to the left hemisphere, with average cycles of 90 to 120 minutes.

            Other scientists have reached similar conclusions by testing subjects at regular intervals on verbal (left-hemisphere) and spatial (right hemisphere) tasks. They found that when verbal ability was high, spatial ability was low, and vice versa. This discovery, Shannahoff-Khalsa points out, “suggests we can exert more control over our day-to-day mental functioning. For example, certain cognitive functions, such as language skills, mathematics and other rational processes that are thought to be primarily localized in the left hemisphere” might be boosted by “forcibly altering” our cerebral dominance. And in the same way we might “accentuate the creativity that is thought to be characteristic of right-hemisphere dominance” through similar forcible altering. It now appears clear that mind machines are highly effective tools for “forcibly altering” hemispheric dominance.

How do you know which hemisphere is dominant at any given time? One simple technique is to simply sit quietly and breathe, and feel which nostril is more “open,” which one has the most air flowing through it. If your right nostril is more open, then you are in a left-hemisphere-dominant state.

Learning how to control hemispheric dominance consciously can be a powerful tool for boosting our ability to deal most effectively with the task at hand. If you’re going into a conference or a written test, or some other task that requires left-hemisphere capabilities, and you find that you are in a right-hemisphere dominant phase, for example, you might want to shift quickly into left-hemisphere dominance.

However, one key finding that has emerged from these studies is that each time dominance shifts from one hemisphere to the other, there is a point at which dominance is equally balanced between both hemispheres. Researchers have found that it is at this point, and during this short period of time, when the brain is at its most fertile and creative.

The truth is that two brains are better than one. While each hemisphere seems to have its specific beneficial capacities, each has its downside as well. The right hemisphere has been linked with visual/spatial skills; emotional and musical sensitivities; and intuitive, timeless, imagistic thought; but also with depression, suspicion, sadness, hostility, paranoia, and negative emotions. The left hemisphere has been linked with verbal skills; orientation in time; rational, logical, analytical thinking; happiness; and positive emotions. But mere analytical thought, without intuitive, emotional, imagistic, time-free insights, is rigid and uncreative.

There is a reason why we have two hemispheres: They are both necessary and complementary, and they function best when they are functioning together, synergistically. This is an obvious point of much of the research we have looked at so far. EEG studies of meditators clearly demonstrated that peak states were characterized by increased synchrony and symmetry between the hemispheres. As the statement at the beginning of this chapter indicates, C. Maxwell Cade’s research led him to conclude that peak mental functioning is associated with a “bilaterally symmetrical” EEG.

It’s evident that a highly integrated brain, a brain in which both hemispheres are functioning in symmetry, synchrony, harmony, and unity, is a key to peak states and peak human performance. But throughout history, humans have found that it’s not easy intentionally to bring both hemispheres to bear simultaneously. Much of our lives we spend swinging back and forth between left- and right-dominant states. By providing us with the capacity to integrate and synchronize brain hemispheres, mind machines present revolutionary possibilities. Research has shown that they can alter hemispheric asymmetry and imbalance quickly and produce more symmetrical, balanced brainwave patterns. And, the evidence suggests, by doing so they can assist in producing the peak performance states associated with whole-brain integration.

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