From the Ventura County Star, January 6, 2008
Isela Vasquez asks a lot of herself; working alongside autistic children demands even more from the 32-year-old Sylmar woman, who puts in about 60 hours a week.
“It’s fulfilling. I love it, but it’s draining,” she said. “There is a level of physicality involved with the job. I have to chase after kids sometimes, and just the frustration level, the tolerance level “.
This week, she added a graduate school curriculum in occupational therapy.
Sleep was the first casualty of her busy schedule. As her head hit the pillow each night, her thoughts continued to ricochet, causing insomnia at least three nights a week. When she did fall asleep, she slept fitfully, waking up exhausted.
“It’s just so extremely hard just to relax these days,” she said. “You’ve got to it seems like you have to, like, plug out. And I just can’t do that.”
Vasquez tried sleep aids, and they worked, but she wanted to address the underlying chronic anxiety causing her insomnia.
“I just think sleep aids, that’s kind of a Band-Aid,” she said. “I know that there were other things contributing to my stress and anxiety.”
Then, her mom spotted a newspaper ad for something called “brain music therapy.” Vasquez had never heard of it but was willing to give it a try.
About six months ago, she made an appointment to see Beverly Hills psychologist Orli Peter, the first of two in the state to offer brain music therapy; the other is in Northern California.
Vasquez was in for a curious experience involving a rubber cap, electrodes and her own unique brain-wave pattern.
After taking Vasquez’s psychological history, Peter instructed her to lean back in the armchair where she was seated in Peter’s office and to relax. Peter then squeezed a bit of conductive gel out of a tube and applied it to various spots on Vasquez’s head.
“Just begin relaxing. Just close your eyes, which is the quickest way to get into the alpha state,” Peter said, referring to the point when people are relaxed but awake.
Peter then applied flat, adhesive discs to the spots where she had rubbed gel on Vasquez’s skull, completing the ritual by fitting a rubber cap over Vasquez’s head.
A tangle of electrode wires snaked out from the cap and fed into a breadbox-size machine designed to read Vasquez’s brain waves. The machine began recording brain signals, then transmitted the wave pattern into Peter’s laptop computer.
After repeating some soothing phrases designed to encourage a relaxed state for Vasquez, Peter sat down quietly at the computer and the two sat in silence for the next 15 minutes. Vasquez relaxed in the chair, eyes closed, while Peter watched her brain waves etch a spiky path across the computer screen.
Creating mental music
“We took her EEG (electroencephalogram), which is the electrical output from your brain,” Peter explained later. “Your brain gives off different electrical currents based on all different kinds of things. If you think differently, if you feel differently or if you’re stressed, there will be a different brain output.”
Peter’s job is to create two CDs for her clients. One is designed to energize; the other is designed to relax.
Creating the relaxation music requires isolating the waves Vasquez’s brain gives off when relaxed.
“It’s just like an orchestra playing its instruments,” Peter said. “What we’re doing is looking at her relaxing brain waves. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the orchestra is doing. We’re just going to pay attention to the tuba section, or the low-frequency brain waves, and convert those to an auditory frequency.”
Conversely, creating the energizing music requires focusing on the shorter-frequency brain waves.
After Vasquez’s brain waves were recorded and isolated, her information was sent to a center in New York where a patented computer program digitally converts the brain waves into music. It was e-mailed back to Peter, who made a CD for Vasquez with instructions to listen to it three or four times a day.
“When she listens to her brain (through music), her brain will recognize it (the pattern) and her brain will become what we call entrained,'” Peter explained. “It will start to fall into that same frequency and she will be able to make more relaxing brain waves.
“When she listens to the activating tape, it helps her concentrate,” Peter said. “It helps her activate more so she can focus better.”
It worked for Vasquez. After three weeks of listening to the roughly 10-minute relaxation tape, she’d fall asleep; she’d often awake the next morning to find her earbuds still in, her MP3 player still on.
As Peter instructed her, she listened to the recording about four times a day, and found it had added benefits. “It kind of minimized stress throughout the whole day,” she said. “It calmed my body.”
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