Reviewed by Dr. Siegfried Othmer www.eeginfo.com
This book could be said to have had a forty-year gestation period. It is a collaborative effort of Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins, and one suspects that Robbins’ recent involvement likely played a catalyst role that finally got the book to happen. The bulk of the book could equally well have been written decades earlier, as Les Fehmi’s model for his kind of neurofeedback has been consistent throughout.
Fehmi’s approach revolves around alpha training, but the salient hypothesis is that the synchrony of our neuronal assemblies strongly influences our state. By enhancing neuronal synchrony in the alpha band, we move to a calmer state of reduced arousal level. Our Western lifestyles tend to move us toward higher arousal level, and toward what Fehmi calls narrow and focused attention. This is energetically and physiologically costly. Practicing movement toward alpha synchrony allows us to explore the space in which our attention is more diffuse. We are more immersed in the experience. The work still gets done, but at a lower level of effort and with much less drain on our resources.
The world moved on past alpha training soon after it became all the rage in the psychedelic age in the late sixties. Academic research had not been able to replicate the results and thus disparaged the work. The flaws in those experiments were apparent to experts at the time, but no matter. The world had moved on. Fehmi stepped right into the problem himself in his earliest attempts to train his own alpha activity toward higher amplitudes. Hours and hours of effort yielded no measurable benefit. It is only when he gave up at the very end that the alpha amplitude suddenly popped up on the chart paper. It was state-dependent! One should not expect to train alpha in the abstract. The observed alpha amplitude would always be a reflection of the state of the person in that moment. This indeed had been the implication of Joe Kamiya’s earliest research into the subject. A trained subject could blindly identify the presence of alpha in his EEG simply by tuning into his own instantaneous state. Fehmi observed additionally that the objective criterion of success was not so much alpha amplitude per se as it was alpha synchrony. This became the organizing principle of his subsequent research.
In order to promote alpha synchrony a multi-channel system was needed, which Fehmi had to build himself in the prevailing state of the field. No funding was forthcoming for this work, even though Fehmi had an academic position at Stony Brook from which to pitch his proposals. Fehmi then went into private practice, where he had more latitude to pursue his interests and an ongoing funding source as well. The technological approach has remained largely unchanged since those early days, demonstrating a remarkable tenacity in the face of all that has happened in the field since. Moreover, Fehmi would argue that essentially everyone can benefit from this kind of EEG training, which places this approach into the very small category of “universal” protocols. Now we know that others have reported negative effects when some people are subjected to amplitude reinforcement in the alpha band. We have seen that ourselves as well. This strongly suggests that the greater benefit found with Fehmi’s approach (and the greater immunity to negative effects) must derive from the explicit training of synchrony as opposed to mere reinforcement of amplitude. The enhanced control of phase moves the brain toward better self-regulation.
Another important outcome of Fehmi’s work is that one can equally well achieve these objectives through the training of one’s attention. He calls it “paying attention to attention”. By bringing awareness to how we engage with our environment, we can readily alter the experience. Over time Fehmi discovered specific exercises that efficiently move people toward the state of “Open Focus”. Most efficient was the invitation to imagine space. It has no edges, no content, no physical properties that the visual system can concretize. There is nothing to engage with for the forty-two places in our association cortex that process visual imagery. So the brain goes into whole-brain alpha.
Colossi of Thebes: A good many years ago Sue Othmer and I visited Les and Susan Shor Fehmi in their home office in Princeton, N.J. to participate in their Open Focus workshop. On that occasion I replicated Les Fehmi’s own prior experience. I tried alpha training with his synchrony trainer and couldn’t get anywhere with it. Obviously my goal-directed left hemisphere was getting in the way of the experience. When later it came time for Les to lead the group in an Open Focus exercise, however, I went into state immediately along with the others. When the verbal pathway is accessible, it is very effective indeed. At one point during the session the blissful silence was interrupted by someone barging into the room. This brought me out of a twilight of consciousness into the awareness that we had all been sitting there immobile like the colossi of Thebes. We had been there for hours and I had lost any sense of time.
This experience takes the stuffing out of the argument as to whether instrumental reinforcement or the power of suggestion is responsible for the desired state shift, or the desired clinical effects in neurofeedback. When it comes to something like alpha synchrony training in a functional brain, one can get there either way, or most likely by a combination of both. Had Les been present when I was coming to terms with his instrument, he would have guided me to success with a few suggestions; the instrumental response would have signaled my success; and things would no doubt have progressed nicely from there just with me and the instrument.
We have here a technique that can be helpful in guiding people out of a lifetime of living in anxiety states, out of panic, and out of living in pain. None of these were relevant to Les personally when he was first drawn to this approach. The greatest benefit for him and for others’ lay in the enhancement of quality of life that is made possible by moving toward Open Focus and of learning to live there. Even such a profound emotion as love can be understood in the language of attention as attending to the other with our entire selves, including in particular our emotional being. Love is an immersive experience. Unsurprisingly, alpha synchrony training can be magical for couples work. It provides a complement to verbal psychotherapy where one is drawn toward narrow and objective focus.
As I attempt to appraise what Fehmi has accomplished here in comparison with our own work, I suspect that our latest techniques are most likely quicker for symptom abatement, but they are much less likely to achieve a comparable end-point of training. There is added value in targeting EEG synchrony in the alpha band, and in the Open Focus exercises, that goes beyond what can be routinely achieved when targeting symptoms. Whereas in the past we have looked to Alpha/Theta training to move us in a similar direction, it is likely that even that approach falls short unless EEG synchrony is explicitly targeted with multi-channel training. Even then, for continuing benefit the ongoing Open Focus exercises are to be recommended. The book comes with a CD of sample exercises to initiate the reader.
By Robert Kall Rob Kall of Opednews.com (Newtown, PA)
This review is from: The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body (Hardcover)
This is an important, groundbreaking book that promises to become a classic that could very well become more and more widely read over the decades.
More than any other book, it reminds me of Herbert Benson’s RELAXATION RESPONSE. Just as Benson took a simple concept– relaxation– and created a landmark book on how to do it… simply, Les Fehmi, with co-author Jim Robbins, has laid out an approach to attention that is remarkable in its simplicity and power to change lives.
As Fehmi points out, our lives, our experiences, all we know, are determined by how we pay attention. The process of paying attention is usually something we ignore. Yet, Fehmi teaches, we can easily learn how to become aware of how we are paying attention and then voluntarily pay attention as we choose to.
Fehmi walks us through the ways that narrowed, inflexible attention leads to stress and stress disorders, depression, reduced performance, even diminished relationships. The good news is he provides practical, easy to learn and implement techniques which work– and quickly, at that.
I first learned the Open Focus technique from Les Fehmi 30 years ago. I’ve used them ever since in my life and as a trainer and consultant teaching newcomer physicians, psychologists, counselors, educators, etc. the field of biofeedback and self regulation. I’ve taught hundreds of practitioners this technique because I believe it is very effective and powerful.
This book has been long overdue and will be highly valuable to both lay readers and professional psychologists. Fehmi’s co-author Jim Robbins is an extraordinary writer who has helped Fehmi to take his ideas and put them into a fun and fascinating to read language that makes this book almost as engaging as a great novel.
Dr. Fehmi has been a consultant to the Dallas Cowboys, Golf Pros, there US Olympic team and so many others who have benefited from these techniques. He’s polished and fine tuned them with biofeedback and brain assessment technologies. This means that, unlike many techniques, Open Focus has been objectively measured and tested with brain wave technologies such as neurofeedback devices and brain maps.
Ask yourself. How much thought have you given to the way YOU pay attention. What are the parameters you assess? What "handles" do you have for modulating and adjusting your attention for different situations? Most people don’t have good answers to these questions. This book provides them.
Some people will approach this book as a self-help book for healing disorders caused by stress, anxiety, etc.Some will, like the pro teams and players who have hired Dr. Fehmi, approach this book as an aid to help improve performance, to reach peak performance and optimal functioning.Some will seek out this book to help their personal relationships.Some will approach it as a map for achieving higher consciousness and or spiritual deepening.All will find answers that will make a difference in their lives and work.
As the founder organizer of one of the world’s largest biofeedback meetings, my job has been to bring together the best and the brightest leaders. Les Fehmi has, with his wife Susan, always been one of the best. The presentations have always drawn big crowds of other experts and leaders in the fields of biofeedback, peak performance, positive psychology, neurofeedback, stress management, meditation and relaxation. The experts come to hear Fehmi because he combines science and solid theory with practical, easy to use techniques. This book does the same thing.
This is one of the few books I’d like my adult children to read, and I’ll be passing on copies to any of my employees who want to read it too. Do I sound enthusiastic? It’s a real joy to see that the life work of one of the scientist practitioner psychologists I’ve come to respect has been put on the printed page in such a stunning, powerful way. You do yourself a great disservice if you fail to avail yourself of the unique, original ideas and life strategies you’ll find in this book.
Last but not least, I was amazed to see that the book includes a CD with guided Open Focus exercises on it. They’ve always sold separately. Fehmi has given his all on this.