Einstein Event Focuses on Gray Matters

Einstein Healthcare Network discussed the importance of our brains and updates in current research during the first of its Great Thinkers series, “Brain Waves,” at the Franklin Institute on March 10. 

The brain is the crown jewel of the human body, controlling our intelligence, senses, body movements and behaviors.


But every now and then, our brains need to take a break, too. 


Einstein Healthcare Network discussed the importance of our brains and updates in current research during the first of its Great Thinkers series, “Brain Waves,” at the Franklin Institute on March 10. 
The event was hosted by Dan Harris, Emmy award-winning ABC News anchor and New York Times bestselling author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works – A True Story.
The event was part of Einstein’s yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary; it began as the Jewish Hospital in 1866 with 22 beds and developed into the comprehensive network it is today, serving Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
The TED Talk-like cocktail event had about 250 people in attendance.
Several guest speakers — including John Whyte, director of the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute; Ike Reese, former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker and sports radio personality; Thomas Watanabe, clinical director of the Drucker Brain Injury Center at MossRehab; Monica Vacarro, project manager of the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania; and Madeline DiPasquale, clinical neuropsychologist and supervisor of the Ambulatory Programs of the Drucker Brain Injury Center at MossRehab — discussed the powers of the human brain in different stages of life and the importance of maintaining a healthy brain through techniques like meditation. 
They also discussed how advanced research in brain injuries has impacted the sports community. 
According to Einstein, scientists have made large strides in learning more about the brain in the past decade than ever before due to the increase in research of neurological and behavioral science.
Barry Freedman, Einstein president and CEO, said holding this night of learning and discussion was an, um, no-brainer.
 “We believe that we have more in common with [Albert] Einstein than just a name and that we strive to embody the same spirit of innovation and curiosity that he was known for,” he said. “Our deep commitment to developing new technologies and treatments and training the doctors and medical researchers of tomorrow is something that has been part of Einstein’s DNA since the very beginning.”
Harris added that this event felt very much at home for him. 
“Not only did I grow up in a Jewish context, but my parents are physicians and my wife’s a physician, so the combination of Judaism and science is a pretty comfortable one for me,” he said.
Harris added to the discussion with his own personal story of how he discovered meditation, though reluctantly, and how it changed his life and health for the better. 
His journey toward bettering himself began after a nationally televised panic attack, which has been viewed 5 million times. Though many who saw the clip, which he showed to the audience, did not think it was that bad, Harris said those who have had a panic attack or understand them know how severe it was.
“It feels like you’re having a heart attack, but your heart’s pounding and pounding, your lungs seize up, you can’t breathe, your palms are sweating, your mouth dries up,” Harris explained. “It’s fight or flight. It’s just a dump of adrenaline into your brain.”
He had experienced minor panic attacks before, but never a full-blown one like this.
“I actually had one after that that was more mild,” he added. “So I think once the brain has one experience of panic, it just learns how to do it. It changes the wiring.”
He had become a workaholic, and after covering events in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, the stress and psychological damage back home took a toll on him.
Due to that depression, he began self-medicating for a brief period of time with cocaine and Ecstasy — he emphasized that he never used while on the air — but his dependency on drugs increased the adrenaline in his brain, adding to the depression rather than relieving it.
He eventually got help for his drug use and depression, but a change in his journalistic beat — faith and spirituality — opened his eyes to additional self-help practices. 
He was not initially impressed by meditation — it took a lot of time and practice before he could feel its effects. 
Harris said many people don’t want to meditate because they don’t believe it can be beneficial, it’s a waste of time or they feel like they can’t actually do it. 
“Just look at the science,” he said. “It’s still in its early stages, but it really suggests there’s a lot to be gained from just a little bit of meditation, from lowering your stress to boosting your immune system to changing key parts of your brain. It’s hard to argue that it’s stupid anymore.”
He added that meditation takes practice and concentration, and it shouldn’t add stress to your life or become another difficulty on your to-do list. About 5 to 10 minutes a day is enough to get the job done.
“ ‘Give meditation a shot’ is my message,” he explained. “I also think just pointing out to people the thunderously obvious fact that you have a mind and are thinking all the time is a very useful thing to point out because it is obviously true, but most of us are unaware of it. Therefore, we get yanked around by our thinking process and do things we regret.” 
Contact: rkurland@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737


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