Your Brain Health Episode 3

Introduction: This is Your Brain Health with noted Neuroscientist, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Your Brain Health explores strategies to maximize your cognitive functions through life. Here’s Dr. Kristen Willeumier.

Dr. Kristen Willeumier: So I’d like to welcome everyone to my new podcast, Your Brain Health, and I’m your host, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For those of you who are new to the program, I’m a UCLA trained Neuroscientist with a PhD in neurobiology and my area of expertise is in the fields of neurology and psychiatry. I have an avid passion for continuing the pursuit of knowledge in the brain health space, so I’m going to use this show as a platform to interview friends and colleagues in academia from neurology to neurosurgery, as well as a variety of notable people in the worlds of sport, nutrition and fitness who are making valuable contributions to the field of neuroscience and mental health in order to improve our overall brain health and fitness. The goal is to have these experts share their wisdom from their respective fields in support of healthy brain aging and optimizing cognitive function for life.


Today’s guest is someone who I’ve been friends with for close to eight years now. At the time we met, I was involved in running a clinical research study in professional football players, specifically looking at the impact of concussions on long-term brain function. I’d been invited to a conference being held by a notable fitness coach for NFL players, and this is where I met John Spencer Ellis, who’s an expert in the coaching and fitness space. Each week, over 1 million people enjoy a fitness coaching and personal development program John developed. His systems are used in the top resorts, spas, and fitness centers. John is the CEO of the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association, Personal Trainer Hall of Fame, Fitness Hall of Fame, the Spencer Institute for Life Coaching, the International Triathlon Coaching Association, and the Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Association. John has created the Adventure Boot camp and he’s also co-created intense mixed performance, accelerated cross training, Kung Fu fitness, Tactics, and he’s co-developed Survival Combat Fitness.


His programs are used by Cirque de Solei, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, the US Secret Service, the FBI and Coast Guard, and he’s consulted the UFC. John’s courses have been used by over 55,000 fitness and coaching professionals in more than 50 countries. And if that weren’t impressive enough, he is the author of several books including, The New Rules of Success, the Compass, the Code, How Badly Do You Want It?, Peak Vitality, Power of Champions, The Wellness Code, among others. John has collaborated on books with other leading experts such as Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra, and Dean Ornish and he’s been featured on several media outlets including ABC, NBC, Fox Sports, ESPN, Business Week, Oprah Radio and Bloomberg to name a few. So I’ve had the pleasure of meeting John again several years ago at this small meeting for training professional athletes. Upon connecting, we had a meeting of the minds and we’ve been friends ever since. He was kind enough to invite me to create a brain health and fitness course for his Spencer Institute and we’ve had many engaging dialogues on brain health as it applies to both fitness training and high performance coaching. So John, thanks so much for joining me today. It truly is a pleasure to have you on the show.

John Spencer Ellis: Well thank you. And then after hearing you read the bio, I just realized that I’ve been doing this stuff for a very, very long time. I assure people that didn’t happen in a year.

Host: When I was putting this together, I thought, my God, I could take 10 minutes up just going over his bio, which I just touched on. There’s so much more that you’ve done, but I’m really so impressed by your background and given your vast experience in the world of health and wellness, I’d love for you to share some of your experiences on what type of mental training and mindset you found is required to be a successful coach and entrepreneur.

John Spencer Ellis: Well, there’s absolutely crossover between sports performance, fitness performance, non-competitive, but in enhancing your physical wellbeing and then entrepreneurship and overall success. Some of that has to do obviously with neuroplasticity more oxygenation to the brain. But also it’s a sense of self efficacy. There’s cross patterning techniques which help balance out the brain and calm the brain. And then, you know, when we get into the martial arts, it’s you know, that personal development aspect of the martial arts that absolutely transfers over. And I do want to talk about that cause obviously there’s the head injury consideration with martial arts, which we can touch on for sure.

Host: I would love to that.

John Spencer Ellis: There’s something else that is fascinating to me because years ago, years and years ago, there was a huge disproportion between young men and young women involved in youth sports and athletics. And now it’s much more balanced. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s better than it was.

Host: And why do you think that is?

John Spencer Ellis: Well, I think there’s just more opportunities for women and the young girls are taking more opportunities and also realizing the benefits. So I think it’s fantastic. The difference is that this is part of the reason why, and I’m not saying it’s the only reason I’m not saying this is, you know, there’s a larger scope to this, but years ago, because young boys learned competition, comradery, teamwork and that sports work ethic, that helped perpetual propelled them in their careers because of the mindset. And what they learned. And I’m not saying there is equality, I think there’s a lot of work to be done. I think because there were so many sports activities in the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies even into the eighties or young men that weren’t available and may still not be available to young women. Young women didn’t learn those competitive strategies, which then later as adults translate into career success. So it was really a buddy of mine did his dissertation on this cause he was so taken by it. And so, you know, there is that, obviously there’s other considerations and that that’s going down an entirely different rabbit hole.

Host: I can actually make up a premise based on the way people’s brains are wired as to why certain women tend to go into competitive sports just like men. And that could be a program that we could do another time cause there’s the male brain is typically wired to go out and compete, has to do with frontal lobe function. So the frontal lobes help planning and judgment and decision making. And typically when we look at the brain function of the male versus the female brain, men have lower perfusion or lower function in the frontal lobe. So they are more wired to go out and compete. That competitive edge helps to stimulate the frontal lobe. So there’s actually sort of this inherent perhaps tendency maybe in the male brain to go out and do those things. And it’s not as wired in the female brain, but we’re now seeing more females doing it, which I think is really extraordinary. And you, because you coach, not just athletes, but entrepreneurs, you’re probably starting to see again, the crossover, these female athletes going into that female entrepreneurial space. Would you agree?

John Spencer Ellis: Absolutely. What would be interesting is to do a long-term study and to see if the activity in the frontal lobe in the women actually changes over time because of the activity.

Host: Oh, because of the sport that they’re performing. That’s actually a great, that’s, that’s actually a great idea. Can I ask you something? You know, and again, this is how our brains are wired and I can go off into these various topics. I found something that you’ve talked about called hemispheric integration. And I think you even touched on it when you were talking about your intro. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

John Spencer Ellis: Yeah. Well, and in full transparency. I am not the leading expert in it. Al Sergeant and Marilyn Sergeant, who are two of my mentors develop the technology. Some people liken it to different processes that are used in psychotherapy and different neurosciences, but it is completely unique and the way that I can best describe it, because you know, everyone has a different flavor in taking all this stuff and it’s, even though there’s, there’s scientific basis for it, there’s also individual flavor and perception of the efficacy of these different strategies. So here’s the best way to describe it is obviously when we have a peak experience in our life, we code that experience and the amygdala interprets that and creates a story associated with it. However, what happens is that in each hemisphere, the amygdala encodes it differently based on the unique experience in that hemisphere.


And then people would say, well, you know, our brain communicates from left to right and, and you know, you just need to be balanced and you’ll be able to get the information you need to get the result you desire. That’s not always the case. What happens is it’s not dominance of left, I’m left lead, I’m right lead. There is some of that. But it’s a matter of sequencing. So if you recall an experience, maybe it’s something traumatic in your childhood and it has caused you to have phobia X, it is highly likely that is, it is coded completely different in one hemisphere as compared to the other. And when you go through this process of looking through each eye corresponding to the opposite hemisphere, of course you can and you ask a series of questions provoking a visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory responses and associations with that experience. And you cross reference it with the other hemisphere, you will find that the person has two completely different life experiences of that traumatic event coded differently in each hemisphere. And until you can understand, see, appreciate and get an understanding of the meaning and the symbolism and the interpretation of that data. Until you do, you’re not able to gather the image and the perception and the experience that serves your best going forward.

Host: Well, and I bring it up because I saw the video that you had done with her. And so this hemisphere integration is really integrating the right and left hemispheres of the brain. So we think of the left brain as the logical side and the right brain is your creative side. In your coaching space, you talk about sometimes you might lead with your left brain logical side or you may lead with your creative side and you did something very unique where it was how you put your hands together. One thumb, however you clap your hands depending on if the right thumb is over the left or left thumb over the right tells you how you lead in communication. And I thought that was fascinating.

John Spencer Ellis: And you know, the thing is it holds true always. So just for the listeners, clasp your hands together as you normally would and just let whatever thumb crossover how it will because of what you’re going to have. For everyone. You can do this. And so whatever thumb is on top, the direction that points to, as you look at it in front, that’s the hemisphere you lead with.

Host: So for me, let’s take me as an example. I’m crossing my hands now. My right thumb is over my left thumb.

John Spencer Ellis: And you’re looking at, so you’re looking at, so it’s pointing towards the left?

Host: Correct.

John Spencer Ellis: So, okay, so that means you would be a left hemisphere lead. And you’re more analytical.

Host: And I’m more analytical. I’m a neuroscientist. So does that surprise you?

John Spencer Ellis: Go figure. And so this always, now here’s the thing, that that unto itself is different than the hemispheric integration. Meaning you have a different interpretation. That’s not always the hemisphere that would be dominant with an experience. That’s how you like to gather data. And it’s how you like to share data or an experience. But the difference is if you have a significant other in your life and you are always coming at it from a logical, linear perspective because that’s your interpretation of the world, and they are the opposite. They’re creative, imaginative, colorful, more organic and shape. And you’re trying to give them facts and figures. They’re like, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. Just give me the big picture. Paint it for me, man. You know? And that’s enough to have a communication breakdown in a relationship.

Host: But I think this is fascinating. So this element of coaching, whether you were working with couples or if you’re an executive working with people in your office and everybody did this and you recognize where your strengths were. And then in trying to improve communication style between people, you’d want to learn how to phrase something so that somebody else could listen. So if I’m left hemisphere dominant and I’m with somebody or have a partner that’s left hemisphere dominant, we would probably understand one another well, would that be appropriate to assume?

John Spencer Ellis: You need to. It’s kind of like if someone’s visual and the other person is auditory and they say, don’t you see what I’m talking about and the other person says, you’re not listening to me. It’s kind of the same thing. If someone is more of a visual or auditory or kinesthetic lead, it’s the same as if someone is more linear versus organic and more factual versus more big picture. When you can understand your significant other, your business partner, whoever, how they interpret the world you, it’s you better understand how to deliver the information to them sequentially and it’s rather than just saying dominance, let’s just say sequence sequential because we all have all these senses obviously, and we all have the ability to do all these things. It’s just what is our preference as to the order of the information and how we like it perceived. A big picture person has to first perceive the big picture, then they want the details. If you give them the details first, they’re like, wow, I have no idea what you’re talking about and that seems too technical.

Host: I love this. I love this.

John Spencer Ellis: But yet it’s all important.

Host: It is, and so with that, John, I’m so grateful to have you here just to teach us a little bit more about the communication of the brain and we would love to have you back to delve into so many other topics, but for our listeners, how can they find you and learn more about what you’re doing?

John Spencer Ellis: Absolutely., and if they’re interested in the hemispheric integration, that’s part of the Life Strategies Coach Certification,

Host: Wonderful. John, it is such a pleasure speaking with you. I just adore you and thank you so much for being a guest on my show today.

John Spencer Ellis: You are welcome. Thank you.

Host: Our guest today was John Spencer Ellis, who shared with us information on hemispheric integration. This is a reminder of how brain coaching can be used to enhance our communication skills in both personal and professional relationships. I’m Dr. Kristen Willeumier and thank you for listening.

Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, visit that’s D, R, E, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E,