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Living on the Light of the Sun

-- Guidelines for Sungazing --

As the Scientific Model, Hira Ratan Manek proves that
Humans can Achieve the Miraculous

Living on Light

- Welcoming Back the Sun

    . . . plus   11 Steps to a Better Brain

"When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome."
--- Wilma Rudolph quotes (First American woman Runner to win three gold medals at a single Olympics. 1940-1994)

"Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun."
--- Bible - Ecclesiastes 11:7

"There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind."
--- Annie Dillard (Pulitzer Prize writer of theology and mysticism of the natural world).

* Skip to Living On Light
* Skip to 11 Steps to a Better Brain

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Is living on light possible?   

According to scientific research and studies, it is. Not only that, living on light seems to be a significant part of our heritage from the very ancient past. In this issue, you will learn how the brain and body actually needs it for maximum functioning.

As science continues to delve deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the brain and discovering its remarkable power and abilities, it becomes clearer that humans of the not-too-distant future will have learned to use the brain more efficiently and perform amazing feats. What we currently think of as being impossible will not only become possible but will rise to be increasingly commonplace in the years to come.

What is the brain anyway? Understandably, the brain has been compared to a super computer ... an amazing instrument that will never be duplicated no matter how sophisticated our technology becomes nor how much science advances.

Much like a computer, our brain is literally subjected to programming and "training" by our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. In similar fashion to frequently traveled, well-worn paths through a field of tall grass, the more we think certain thoughts and the more we remain confined to reactive behavior patterns - the deeper the grooves are etched in our brain and the deeper entrenched become our habits.

Only when we choose to veer off the beaten path to seek unknown landscapes and greater adventures do we forge new neuronal pathways through our brain and awaken to new insights and possibilities. Then we begin to move toward that place where time, space and human-made laws become bendable, flexible, fluid and even non-existent.

If we are truly immortal at the soul level and are each a "chip off the old block" (A Child of God) - then it stands to reason that we have abilities far beyond our normal capacity of which we have forgotten. We have "fallen asleep at the wheel" when it comes to using our brains!

Our future is wrought with choices ... and how that future looks is dependent upon what kind of thoughts and beliefs we have today. Will we focus on establishing ourselves as travelers in space, living upon huge starships (like Star Trek's Enterprise) or will we develop our natural abilities and simply alter our reality and instantaneously travel wherever we want by simply willing it?

Within this same context, can you imagine living far into the future and being sustained by the same foods that are commonly eaten today ... or will there be such a dramatic evolution in consciousness - by then - that a portion of human civilization finds that solid food to be unnecessary?

Perspective from the Future

While receiving transmissions over several years (as a deep-trance channel) from a collective-intelligence that claimed to be from our future, they stated clearly that they rarely ate food: only occasional consuming watery fruit similar to watermelon. Instead, they received the major portion of their nourishment from pure air, water and sunlight.

Stunningly vibrant and fully alive are these beings from the future, that they do not need sleep and remain in a constant flowing state of creativity, enjoyment and inner peace. They co-operatively share within global-wide communities where world peace has finally been achieved.

If that is our future, then we are that future's past. And in order to give birth to such a future, then at some point in our present time-line and current era, there must begin to arise from within humanity those individuals that become the pioneers that break the mold and the first to demonstrate these abilities. And indeed, new ideas and seemingly impossible abilities are beginning to surface here and there throughout the world.

Now as wild as the above statements may seem, those who tend to be more futuristic in their orientation (their brain is wired for greater potentials and acceptance of new ideas) - will instantly resonate with this and know that it rings true.

Living on Light

Many of my readers will remember when I reported over a year ago on the man who stopped eating food in 1995 and continues to sustain himself to this day by receiving energy from the sun. This is a man who has been monitored and examined by a number of medical doctors both in the US and in his native India. He is the world famous breatharian and sungazer, Hira Ratan Manek - otherwise known as HRM (His bio is further below).

Recently, I was fortunate to meet HRM while he visited Flagstaff, Arizona during his United States tour. He is currently offering free workshops to all who are interested in learning how he does what he does and why. To say the least, it was quite fascinating.

Breatharianism is as old as humanity itself and is considered lost ancient knowledge. It has been a deep interest of mine ever since I first learned about it over twenty years ago and immediately intuited that this was my path. Everything about it makes total sense to me and I feel that I will eventually become a breatharian by the time I'm around eighty years old.

Now some of you may wonder why on earth would anybody want to do this??!

While being on a path of refining my diet and eating less over a period of years, becoming a breatharian simply means greater freedom to me - and a return to an innate divine nature.

I can only say that as I continue to eat less food (although still choosing the best quality, whole, organic and nutrient-dense foods I can find) that I am gradually becoming increasingly more at peace, lighter, content and more free. This process has included going through periodic cleansings of a physical, mental and emotional nature - but after each of these on-going purification stages, I come out the other end at a healthier and clearer level than ever before.

Of course, some may be horrified at the thought of eating far less food - let alone eliminating it altogether - since a huge part of life's daily routine for most folks is spent planning mealtimes and choosing the amount and types of food to eat. Social activities and celebrations almost always include a variety of food - and lots of it - as part of the entertainment. So its easy to see why some would be strongly resistant to such ideas.

However, eating less food has nothing to do with not enjoying eating. As for myself, I enjoy eating food like anyone else. The difference is that I am simply nourished and satisfied with much less of it. Hunger as well as cravings are fading away as well. As this metamorphosis continues, ideas and interpretations of fun, enjoyment and entertainment are also changing. I laugh far more easily now and am amused and entertained with the simpler activities and circumstances of life.

What most people don't know is that food influences human consciousness, emotions, mental processes and physical well being.

Many will deny that this occurs. But there is enough scientific research that states that this is true. Since the processes of the human body are electro-chemical in nature, it is simply a natural reactive function of the endocrine and neurological systems: whenever any food or substance is taken inside the body certain moods, emotions, and thoughts - as well as physical reactions - are triggered. Facts are facts.

Some folks will say that that ultimate achievement is about mind over the body and that it doesn't matter what one eats --- as it all depends upon your thinking and beliefs. However, how many folks do you know who have achieved this kind of mastery over their body sufficiently enough to transmute anything that goes into their body and render it harmless? I can tell you that in all my years of observation, I have not met - nor read about - any one who is able to do this successfully at all times. And since I am knowledgeable on which foods and substances tend to trigger certain reactive behaviors and attitudes - and influences body language and movement - I frequently see the consequences of a person's food choices in their appearance, their movements, their attitude and their perceptions of life.

Its greatly significant to realize that super-human abilities - like bio-location, instant materialization of solid objects, extraordinary physical stamina, transmuting poisons in the body, demonstrating amazing levels of genius, immortality or unusual long life - as well as a host of other unusual feats - have been performed by individuals who are primarily vegetarians who ate very little food or ate no food at all for very long periods of time.

Our body is using up almost all of its energy in digesting and assimilating what we eat while dealing with the additional burden of processing toxins from the environment, polluted air and water, drugs, hormones as well as chemicals and pesticides in our foods.

After having to process all of these substances, what energy is left for repairing cellular damage, overcoming disease, healing injuries and providing the brain with what it needs to excel and perform at it maximum? Next to zero energy is left ... that's what!

HRM and the brain

HRM (Hira Ratan Manek) states that the brain is activated to more efficient levels of functioning when sunlight reaches it through the eyes. The eyes are an extension of the brain and are a holographic focal point within an infinitely large receptive field. Along with the finger tips - the eyes are considered to be the most powerful points of the body when it comes to transmitting energy.

And contrary to popular notions, proper sungazing will improve your eyesight, not hurt it.

When sunlight falls on the skin, Vitamin D is produced. When sunlight falls on the eyes, Vitamin A is produced. Direct sunlight contains all the color rays of the spectrum - those that can be registered on devices as well as those properties that cannot be detected by technology. These all important nutrients feed our brain and our body in unique ways that have the power to rejuvenate us at the cellular level.

Now before you become alarmed at the idea of looking directly at the sun, you may find it interesting to know that there is no harmful ultra-violet rays in the earth's atmosphere within one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. So these are the only times one is to look directly at the sun and only for a few seconds in the beginning.

One starts out with 10 seconds of sungazing and increases by 10 seconds each day until 45 minutes is achieved( in about 9 months). It's okay to blink. The idea is to gaze restfully at the sun, not stare at it!

After that, enough solar energy has been absorbed and stored in the body and sungazing can then be stopped. If one begins to feel at peace and happy after practicing sungazing for 3 months, then it can be stopped sooner than 9 months. To keep recharged, however, one needs to walk barefoot on bare ground for 45 minutes each day at least six days a week to absorb the solar energy stored in the earth.

Do not walk on grass. Even though it can feel good to do so, grass actually draws energy away from your body through your feet. Walk on bare ground or sand.

If after 9 months one cannot walk barefoot on bare ground, then do 15 minutes of sungazing. Do not stop eating nor eliminating any medications at first.

Enough accumulation of sungazing time will begin to heal many ailments. Bacteria and disease cannot grow in sunlight. Toxins are drawn out of the body by exposure to the sun. Dependencies on drugs, alcohol, smoking - as well as other mental disorders - begin to disappear. Fear dissipates and one becomes more peaceful. Athletic performance - like dancing and sports, as well as abilities in music, art and intuition - improve. Higher spiritual awakening also takes place.

HRM states that after enough sungazing - often after the 7th month - one begins to lose hunger. He also went on to say that with proper sungazing, one can increase their life span to up to 200 years old since the aging process is greatly slowed down.

Science has proven the need for sunlight for growth, agriculture, health and numerous other aspects of human life. Many beliefs from around the world reflect the need for sunlight in the greater scheme of things. In Indian mythology the sun was worshipped as "Surya" - one of the principal Vedic dieties in ancient times - and was responsible for health and life.

In their tribal practices, Native American Indians include standing in the sun for two hours while exposing maximum parts of their body after which they need not eat any solid food on those days because they sustain on the micro-food the sunlight.

Some Korean Prisoners were forced to look at the sun as punishment while captive. They ended up with 20/20 vision. It has been found that homeless people living outdoors in slums for years have powerful immune systems because they get a lot of sun exposure.

The sungazing phenomenon is in fact a rediscovery of an ancient scientific ritual, which was used to heal physical, mental, emotional and spiritual diseases in ancient times. Ancient Egyptians called it Heliotherapy and Europeans called it Apollo therapy.

HRM derives energy from the sun in a similar manner that solar cells are used to transmute energy from the sun to power cars, generate heat and make electricity.

Traditionally, human beings eat secondary sources of energy in the form of plants and other vegetation which depend heavily on the sun for their growth. HRM is simply taking energy directly from the primary source - the sun itself.

Since the brain is a powerful recipient and the retina of the eye and the pineal gland (third eye) is like being equipped with photoreceptor cells, it is a scientific hypothesis that a kind of photo-synthesis may be taking place during sungazing, which provides a person with all kinds of energy and vitamins that are required for the proper functioning of internal organs. Additionally, the rays of the sun with seven colors have a cure for all kinds of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, obesity, arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer and others.

If world peace is to be achieved, everyone should have a perfect balance of mind. Thus, this method can also contribute to the world peace.

Namaste'   ~  Paula Peterson

Learn more about Sungazing before trying it on your own:


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--- Sungazer/Breatharian

Hira Ratan Manek was born on 12th of September 1937 in Bodhavad, India, was raised in Calicut, Kerala, India, where he had his Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Kerala. After graduation, he joined the family shipping and spice trading business and continued working there until he retired in 1992.

After he retired, he began to research and study the ancient practice of sun gazing in which he had been interested in since his childhood. This method was an old but forgotten method, which had been practiced, in the ancient times in many different parts of the world.

After working on this method for 3 years, he was able to re-discover the secrets of sun gazing. During his study, he was mainly inspired from the teachings of Lord Mahavir of Jains, who was also practicing this method two thousand and six hundred years ago.

Other inspirations for sungazing came from ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Native Americans.

Since June 18th, 1995, HRM has and continues to live only on sun energy and water. Occasionally, for hospitality and social purposes, he drinks tea, coffee and buttermilk. Until now, he had three strict fastings, during which he had just sun energy and only water and was under the control and observation of various science and medical teams.

The first of these fasting lasted for 211 days during 1995-96 in Calicut, India directed by Dr. C.K. Ramachandran, a medical expert on allopathy and ayurvedic medicine.

This was followed by a 411 day fast from 2000-2001 in Ahmedabad, India directed by an International team of 21 medical doctors and scientists led by Dr. Sudhir Shah (Dr. Shah's synopsis report) and Dr. K. K. Shah, the acting President of Indian Medical Association at that time. Dr. Maurie D. Pressman, MD also describes his experience with HRM in an article he wrote and later joined the team for the next observation on HRM.

After the excitement of the findings at Ahmadabad, HRM was invited to Thomas Jefferson University and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where he underwent a 130 day observation period. This Science/Medical Team wanted to observe and examine his retina, pineal gland and brain, therefore this observation team was led by Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, a leading authority on the brain and also featured in the recent movie "What the Bleep Do We Know", and by Dr. George C. Brenard, the leading authority on the pineal gland.

Initial results found that the gray cells in HRM's brain are regenerating. 700 photographs have been taken where the neurons were reported to be active and not dying.

Furthermore, the pineal gland was expanding and not shrinking which is typically what happens after mid fifties. Its maximum average size is about 6 x 6 mm, however for HRM, it has been measured to be at 8 x 11 mm.

There have been many other sungazers who have achieved similar results and have volunteered to be tested, however due to lack of funding and other lifestyle restrictions the results have not been documented. The uniqueness of HRM is that he has surrendered his living body for observation and experiments to the scientific community for several extended periods of time.

Although scientists and doctors have agreed that hunger is definitely being eliminated, because the brain functions are still very complex, they have not been able to explain how sungazing is doing wonders or why food is not required - however more research is underway.

Since 2002 Hira Ratan Manek has given hundreds of lectures throughout the world, including the US, Canada, Caribbean and UK and nearly 400 newspapers all around the world have published articles on him. Additionally, many television networks have broadcast stories about HRM and was recently interviewed by BBC World Services.

There are now Solar Healing Centers coming up all over the world and facilitating a global group of HRM Phenomenon practitioners. For those who are interested in learning more about the sun energy as an effective healing source, HRM recommends these books:

- "Light: Medicine of the Future" by Jacob Lieberman

- "The Healing Sun: Sunlight and Health in the 21st Century" by Richard Hobday

For more detailed information on healthy sungazing, please visit the website of Hira Ratan Manek


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Want a better brain? Besides gaining greater sun exposure and using proper sungazing techniques, the following article presents some brainy advice.

11 Steps to a Better Brain

New Scientist Magazine
May 2005

It doesn't matter how brainy you are or how much education you've had -- you can still improve and expand your mind. Boosting your mental faculties doesn't have to mean studying hard or becoming a reclusive book worm. There are lots of tricks, techniques and habits, as well as changes to your lifestyle, diet and behaviour that can help you flex your grey matter and get the best out of your brain cells. And here are 11 of them.


Does getting old have to mean worsening memory, slower reactions and fuzzy thinking?

Around the age of 40, honest folks may already admit to noticing changes in their mental abilities. This is the beginning of a gradual decline that in all too many of us will culminate in full-blown dementia. If it were possible somehow to reverse it, slow it or mask it, wouldn't you?

A few drugs that might do the job, known as "cognitive enhancement", are already on the market, and a few dozen others are on the way. Perhaps the best-known is modafinil. Licensed to treat narcolepsy, the condition that causes people to suddenly fall asleep, it has notable effects in healthy people too. Modafinil can keep a person awake and alert for 90 hours straight, with none of the jitteriness and bad concentration that amphetamines or even coffee seem to produce.

In fact, with the help of modafinil, sleep-deprived people can perform even better than their well-rested, unmedicated selves. The forfeited rest doesn't even need to be made good. Military research is finding that people can stay awake for 40 hours, sleep the normal 8 hours, and then pull a few more all-nighters with no ill effects. It's an open secret that many, perhaps most, prescriptions for modafinil are written not for people who suffer from narcolepsy, but for those who simply want to stay awake. Similarly, many people are using Ritalin not because they suffer from attention deficit or any other disorder, but because they want superior concentration during exams or heavy-duty negotiations.

The pharmaceutical pipeline is clogged with promising compounds -- drugs that act on the nicotinic receptors that smokers have long exploited, drugs that work on the cannabinoid system to block pot-smoking-type effects. Some drugs have also been specially designed to augment memory. Many of these look genuinely plausible: they seem to work, and without any major side effects.

So why aren't we all on cognitive enhancers already? "We need to be careful what we wish for," says Daniele Piomelli at the University of California at Irvine. He is studying the body's cannabinoid system with a view to making memories less emotionally charged in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Tinkering with memory may have unwanted effects, he warns. "Ultimately we may end up remembering things we don't want to."

Gary Lynch, also at UC Irvine, voices a similar concern. He is the inventor of ampakines, a class of drugs that changes the rules about how a memory is encoded and how strong a memory trace is -- the essence of learning. But maybe the rules have already been optimised by evolution, he suggests. What looks to be an improvement could have hidden downsides.

Still, the opportunity may be too tempting to pass up. The drug acts only in the brain, claims Lynch. It has a short half-life of hours. Ampakines have been shown to restore function to severely sleep-deprived monkeys that would otherwise perform poorly. Preliminary studies in humans are just as exciting. You could make an elderly person perform like a much younger person, he says. And who doesn't wish for that?


You are what you eat, and that includes your brain. So what is the ultimate mastermind diet?

Your brain is the greediest organ in your body, with some quite specific dietary requirements. So it is hardly surprising that what you eat can affect how you think. If you believe the dietary supplement industry, you could become the next Einstein just by popping the right combination of pills. Look closer, however, and it isn't that simple. The savvy consumer should take stalk of brain-boosting diets with a pinch of low-sodium salt. But if it is possible to eat your way to genius, it must surely be worth a try.

First, go to the top of the class by eating breakfast. The brain is best fuelled by a steady supply of glucose, and many studies have shown that skipping breakfast reduces people's performance at school and at work.

But it isn't simply a matter of getting some calories down. According to research published in 2003, kids breakfasting on fizzy drinks and sugary snacks performed at the level of an average 70-year-old in tests of memory and attention. Beans on toast is a far better combination, as Barbara Stewart from the University of Ulster, UK, discovered. Toast alone boosted children's scores on a variety of cognitive tests, but when the tests got tougher, the breakfast with the high-protein beans worked best. Beans are also a good source of fibre, and other research has shown a link between a high-fibre diet and improved cognition. If you can't stomach beans before midday, wholemeal toast with Marmite makes a great alternative. The yeast extract is packed with B vitamins, whose brain-boosting powers have been demonstrated in many studies.

A smart choice for lunch is omelette and salad. Eggs are rich in choline, which your body uses to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Researchers at Boston University found that when healthy young adults were given the drug scopolamine, which blocks acetylcholine receptors in the brain, it significantly reduced their ability to remember word pairs. Low levels of acetylcholine are also associated with Alzheimer's disease, and some studies suggest that boosting dietary intake may slow age-related memory loss.

A salad packed full of antioxidants, including beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, should also help keep an ageing brain in tip-top condition by helping to mop up damaging free radicals. Dwight Tapp and colleagues from the University of California at Irvine found that a diet high in nutrients and antioxidants improved the cognitive skills of 39 ageing beagles -- proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Round off lunch with a yogurt dessert, and you should be alert and ready to face the stresses of the afternoon. That's because yogurt contains the amino acid tyrosine, needed for the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin, among others. Studies by the US military indicate that tyrosine becomes depleted when we are under stress and that supplementing your intake can improve alertness and memory.

Don't forget to snaffle a snack mid-afternoon, to maintain your glucose levels. Just make sure you avoid junk food, and especially highly processed goodies such as cakes, pastries and biscuits, which contain trans-fatty acids. These not only pile on the pounds, but are implicated in a slew of serious mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to autism. Hard evidence for this is still thin on the ground, but last year researchers at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, California, reported that rats and mice raised on the rodent equivalent of junk food struggled to find their way around a maze, and took longer to remember solutions to problems they had already solved.

It seems that some of the damage may be mediated through triglyceride, a cholesterol-like substance found at high levels in rodents fed on trans-fats. When the researchers gave these rats a drug to bring triglyceride levels down again, the animals' performance on the memory tasks improved.

Brains are around 60 per cent fat, so if trans-fats clog up the system, what should you eat to keep it well oiled? Evidence is mounting in favour of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. In other words, your granny was right: fish is the best brain food. Not only will it feed and lubricate a developing brain, DHA also seems to help stave off dementia. Studies published last year reveal that older mice from a strain genetically altered to develop Alzheimer's had 70 per cent less of the amyloid plaques associated with the disease when fed on a high-DHA diet.

Finally, you could do worse than finish off your evening meal with strawberries and blueberries. Rats fed on these fruits have shown improved coordination, concentration and short-term memory. And even if they don't work such wonders in people, they still taste fantastic. So what have you got to lose?


Music may tune up your thinking, but you can't just crank up the volume and expect to become a genius.

A decade ago Frances Rauscher, a psychologist now at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, and her colleagues made waves with the discovery that listening to Mozart improved people's mathematical and spatial reasoning. Even rats ran mazes faster and more accurately after hearing Mozart than after white noise or music by the minimalist composer Philip Glass. Last year, Rauscher reported that, for rats at least, a Mozart piano sonata seems to stimulate activity in three genes involved in nerve-cell signalling in the brain.

This sounds like the most harmonious way to tune up your mental faculties. But before you grab the CDs, hear this note of caution. Not everyone who has looked for the Mozart effect has found it. What's more, even its proponents tend to think that music boosts brain power simply because it makes listeners feel better -- relaxed and stimulated at the same time -- and that a comparable stimulus might do just as well. In fact, one study found that listening to a story gave a similar performance boost.

There is, however, one way in which music really does make you smarter, though unfortunately it requires a bit more effort than just selecting something mellow on your iPod. Music lessons are the key. Six-year-old children who were given music lessons, as opposed to drama lessons or no extra instruction, got a 2 to 3-point boost in IQ scores compared with the others. Similarly, Rauscher found that after two years of music lessons, pre-school children scored better on spatial reasoning tests than those who took computer lessons.

Maybe music lessons exercise a range of mental skills, with their requirement for delicate and precise finger movements, and listening for pitch and rhythm, all combined with an emotional dimension. Nobody knows for sure. Neither do they know whether adults can get the same mental boost as young children. But, surely, it can't hurt to try.


If training and tricks seem too much like hard work, some technological short cuts can boost brain function.


Put your mind to work in the right way and it could repay you with an impressive bonus.

Until recently, a person's IQ -- a measure of all kinds of mental problem-solving abilities, including spatial skills, memory and verbal reasoning -- was thought to be a fixed commodity largely determined by genetics. But recent hints suggest that a very basic brain function called working memory might underlie our general intelligence, opening up the intriguing possibility that if you improve your working memory, you could boost your IQ too.

Working memory is the brain's short-term information storage system. It's a workbench for solving mental problems. For example if you calculate 73 - 6 + 7, your working memory will store the intermediate steps necessary to work out the answer. And the amount of information that the working memory can hold is strongly related to general intelligence.

A team led by Torkel Klingberg at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, has found signs that the neural systems that underlie working memory may grow in response to training. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans, they measured the brain activity of adults before and after a working-memory training programme, which involved tasks such as memorising the positions of a series of dots on a grid. After five weeks of training, their brain activity had increased in the regions associated with this type of memory.

Perhaps more significantly, when the group studied children who had completed these types of mental workouts, they saw improvement in a range of cognitive abilities not related to the training, and a leap in IQ test scores of 8 per cent. It's early days yet, but Klingberg thinks working-memory training could be a key to unlocking brain power. "Genetics determines a lot and so does the early gestation period," he says. "On top of that, there is a few per cent -- we don't know how much -- that can be improved by training."


Mind like a sieve? Don't worry. The difference between mere mortals and memory champs is more method than mental capacity.

An auditorium is filled with 600 people. As they file out, they each tell you their name. An hour later, you are asked to recall them all. Can you do it? Most of us would balk at the idea. But in truth we're probably all up to the task. It just needs a little technique and dedication.

First, learn a trick from the "memonists" who routinely memorise strings of thousands of digits, entire epic poems, or hundreds of unrelated words. When Eleanor Maguire from University College London and her colleagues studied eight front runners in the annual World Memory Championships they did not find any evidence that these people have particularly high IQs or differently configured brains. But, while memorising, these people did show activity in three brain regions that become active during movements and navigation tasks but are not normally active during simple memory tests.

This may be connected to the fact that seven of them used a strategy in which they place items to be remembered along a visualised route. To remember the sequence of an entire pack of playing cards for example, the champions assign each card an identity, perhaps an object or person, and as they flick through the cards they can make up a story based on a sequence of interactions between these characters and objects at sites along a well-trodden route.

Actors use a related technique: they attach emotional meaning to what they say. We always remember highly emotional moments better than less emotionally loaded ones. Professional actors also seem to link words with movement, remembering action-accompanied lines significantly better than those delivered while static, even months after a show has closed.

Helga Noice, a psychologist from Elmhurst College in Illinois, and Tony Noice, an actor, who together discovered this effect, found that non-thesps can benefit by adopting a similar technique. Students who paired their words with previously learned actions could reproduce 38 per cent of them after just 5 minutes, whereas rote learners only managed 14 per cent. The Noices believe that having two mental representations gives you a better shot at remembering what you are supposed to say.

Strategy is important in everyday life too, says Barry Gordon from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Simple things like always putting your car keys in the same place, writing things down to get them off your mind, or just deciding to pay attention, can make a big difference to how much information you retain. And if names are your downfall, try making some mental associations. Just remember to keep the derogatory ones to yourself.


Never underestimate the power of a good night's rest.

Skimping on sleep does awful things to your brain. Planning, problem-solving, learning, concentration, working memory and alertness all take a hit. IQ scores tumble. "If you have been awake for 21 hours straight, your abilities are equivalent to someone who is legally drunk," says Sean Drummond from the University of California, San Diego. And you don't need to pull an all-nighter to suffer the effects: two or three late nights and early mornings on the trot have the same effect.

Luckily, it's reversible -- and more. If you let someone who isn't sleep-deprived have an extra hour or two of shut-eye, they perform much better than normal on tasks requiring sustained attention, such taking an exam. And being able to concentrate harder has knock-on benefits for overall mental performance. "Attention is the base of a mental pyramid," says Drummond. "If you boost that, you can't help boosting everything above it."

These are not the only benefits of a decent night's sleep. Sleep is when your brain processes new memories, practises and hones new skills -- and even solves problems. Say you're trying to master a new video game. Instead of grinding away into the small hours, you would be better off playing for a couple of hours, then going to bed. While you are asleep your brain will reactivate the circuits it was using as you learned the game, rehearse them, and then shunt the new memories into long-term storage. When you wake up, hey presto! You will be a better player. The same applies to other skills such as playing the piano, driving a car and, some researchers claim, memorising facts and figures. Even taking a nap after training can help, says Carlyle Smith of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.

There is also some evidence that sleep can help produce moments of problem-solving insight. The famous story about the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev suddenly "getting" the periodic table in a dream after a day spent struggling with the problem is probably true. It seems that sleep somehow allows the brain to juggle new memories to produce flashes of creative insight. So if you want to have a eureka moment, stop racking your brains and get your head down.


Physical exercise can boost brain as well as brawn.

It's a dream come true for those who hate studying. Simply walking sedately for half an hour three times a week can improve abilities such as learning, concentration and abstract reasoning by 15 per cent. The effects are particularly noticeable in older people. Senior citizens who walk regularly perform better on memory tests than their sedentary peers. What's more, over several years their scores on a variety of cognitive tests show far less decline than those of non-walkers. Every extra mile a week has measurable benefits.

It's not only oldies who benefit, however. Angela Balding from the University of Exeter, UK, has found that schoolchildren who exercise three or four times a week get higher than average exam grades at age 10 or 11. The effect is strongest in boys, and while Balding admits that the link may not be causal, she suggests that aerobic exercise may boost mental powers by getting extra oxygen to your energy-guzzling brain.

There's another reason why your brain loves physical exercise: it promotes the growth of new brain cells. Until recently, received wisdom had it that we are born with a full complement of neurons and produce no new ones during our lifetime. Fred Gage from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, busted that myth in 2000 when he showed that even adults can grow new brain cells. He also found that exercise is one of the best ways to achieve this.

In mice, at least, the brain-building effects of exercise are strongest in the hippocampus, which is involved with learning and memory. This also happens to be the brain region that is damaged by elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So if you are feeling frazzled, do your brain a favour and go for a run.

Even more gentle exercise, such as yoga, can do wonders for your brain. Last year, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, reported results from a pilot study in which they considered the mood-altering ability of different yoga poses. Comparing back bends, forward bends and standing poses, they concluded that the best way to get a mental lift is to bend over backwards.

And the effect works both ways. Just as physical exercise can boost the brain, mental exercise can boost the body. In 2001, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio asked volunteers to spend just 15 minutes a day thinking about exercising their biceps. After 12 weeks, their arms were 13 per cent stronger.


If you don't want senility to interfere with your old age, perhaps you should seek some sisterly guidance.

The convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame on Good Counsel Hill in Mankato, Minnesota, might seem an unusual place for a pioneering brain-science experiment. But a study of its 75 to 107-year-old inhabitants is revealing more about keeping the brain alive and healthy than perhaps any other to date. The "Nun study" is a unique collaboration between 678 Catholic sisters recruited in 1991 and Alzheimer's expert David Snowdon of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

The sisters' miraculous longevity -- the group boasts seven centenarians and many others well on their way -- is surely in no small part attributable to their impeccable lifestyle. They do not drink or smoke, they live quietly and communally, they are spiritual and calm and they eat healthily and in moderation. Nevertheless, small differences between individual nuns could reveal the key to a healthy mind in later life.

Some of the nuns have suffered from Alzheimer's disease, but many have avoided any kind of dementia or senility. They include Sister Matthia, who was mentally fit and active from her birth in 1894 to the day she died peacefully in her sleep, aged 104. She was happy and productive, knitting mittens for the poor every day until the end of her life. A post-mortem of Sister Matthia's brain revealed no signs of excessive ageing. But in some other, remarkable cases, Snowdon has found sisters who showed no outwards signs of senility in life, yet had brains that looked as if they were ravaged by dementia.

How did Sister Matthia and the others cheat time? Snowdon's study, which includes an annual barrage of mental agility tests and detailed medical exams, has found several common denominators. The right amount of vitamin folate is one. Verbal ability early in life is another, as are positive emotions early in life, which were revealed by Snowdon's analysis of the personal autobiographical essays each woman wrote in her 20s as she took her vows. Activities, crosswords, knitting and exercising also helped to prevent senility, showing that the old adage "use it or lose it" is pertinent. And spirituality, or the positive attitude that comes from it, can't be overlooked. But individual differences also matter. To avoid dementia, your general health may be vital: metabolic problems, small strokes and head injuries seem to be common triggers of Alzheimer's dementia.

Obviously, you don't have to become a nun to stay mentally agile. We can all aspire to these kinds of improvements. As one of the sisters put it, "Think no evil, do no evil, hear no evil, and you will never write a best-selling novel."


You can be smart, well-read, creative and knowledgeable, but none of it is any use if your mind isn't on the job.

Paying attention is a complex mental process, an interplay of zooming in on detail and stepping back to survey the big picture. So unfortunately there is no single remedy to enhance your concentration. But there are a few ways to improve it.

The first is to raise your arousal levels. The brain's attentional state is controlled by the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin. Dopamine encourages a persistent, goal-centred state of mind whereas noradrenalin produces an outward-looking, vigilant state. So not surprisingly, anything that raises dopamine levels can boost your powers of concentration.

One way to do this is with drugs such as amphetamines and the ADHD drug methylphenidate, better known as Ritalin. Caffeine also works. But if you prefer the drug-free approach, the best strategy is to sleep well, eat foods packed with slow-release sugars, and take lots of exercise. It also helps if you are trying to focus on something that you find interesting.

The second step is to cut down on distractions. Workplace studies have found that it takes up to 15 minutes to regain a deep state of concentration after a distraction such as a phone call. Just a few such interruptions and half the day is wasted.

Music can help as long as you listen to something familiar and soothing that serves primarily to drown out background noise. Psychologists also recommend that you avoid working near potential diversions, such as the fridge.

There are mental drills to deal with distractions. College counsellors routinely teach students to recognise when their thoughts are wandering, and catch themselves by saying "Stop! Be here now!" It sounds corny but can develop into a valuable habit. As any Zen meditator will tell you, concentration is as much a skill to be lovingly cultivated as it is a physiochemical state of the brain.


Thought control is easier than you might imagine.

It sounds a bit New Age, but there is a mysterious method of thought control you can learn that seems to boost brain power. No one quite knows how it works, and it is hard to describe exactly how to do it: it's not relaxation or concentration as such, more a state of mind. It's called neurofeedback. And it is slowly gaining scientific credibility.

Neurofeedback grew out of biofeedback therapy, popular in the 1960s. It works by showing people a real-time measure of some seemingly uncontrollable aspect of their physiology -- heart rate, say -- and encouraging them to try and change it. Astonishingly, many patients found that they could, though only rarely could they describe how they did it.

More recently, this technique has been applied to the brain -- specifically to brain wave activity measured by an electroencephalogram, or EEG. The first attempts were aimed at boosting the size of the alpha wave, which crescendos when we are calm and focused. In one experiment, researchers linked the speed of a car in a computer game to the size of the alpha wave. They then asked subjects to make the car go faster using only their minds. Many managed to do so, and seemed to become more alert and focused as a result.

This early success encouraged others, and neurofeedback soon became a popular alternative therapy for ADHD. There is now good scientific evidence that it works, as well as some success in treating epilepsy, depression, tinnitus, anxiety, stroke and brain injuries.

And to keep up with the times, some experimenters have used brain scanners in place of EEGs. Scanners can allow people to see and control activity of specific parts of the brain. A team at Stanford University in California showed that people could learn to control pain by watching the activity of their pain centres.

But what about outside the clinic? Will neuro feedback ever allow ordinary people to boost their brain function? Possibly. John Gruzelier of Imperial College London has shown that it can improve medical students' memory and make them feel calmer before exams. He has also shown that it can improve musicians' and dancers' technique, and is testing it out on opera singers and surgeons.

Neils Birbaumer from the University of Tübingen in Germany wants to see whether neurofeedback can help psychopathic criminals control their impulsiveness. And there are hints that the method could boost creativity, enhance our orgasms, give shy people more confidence, lift low moods, alter the balance between left and right brain activity, and alter personality traits. All this by the power of thought.

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