Practitioners' News

The Dual Screen Experience and the Benefits of a Balanced Perspective

by John Stan | Nov 02, 2015


The speed at which technology is evolving is fascinating to witness. Internet technology, portable devices, and touch screen tablets make for easy access to data, anywhere and anytime. This hyper-flexible access to data has an interesting effect on different segments of our patient population.

Traditionalists (63-86yrs), Baby Boomers (44-62yrs), Generation X (28-43yrs) and Millennials (8-27yrs) all have different relationships to their portable devices and data. Surveys have shown that while many people in their 60s have smartphones, the majority of them only use the two or three features of the many that are available - the phone itself, the camera and the photo app. On the other hand, Generation Xers and Millennials are immersed in the technology/data ocean and freely surf from device to different data streams effortlessly.

While ease of use and integration of technologies into one's life varies between age groups, the machine of innovation is continually presenting the user with new features and options for their devices and data. The newest trend is called the "Dual Screen Experience". In this scenario, the user will watch a program on their large screen TV and at the same time use their laptop, tablet or smartphone to log into the TV station's website to access information that’s related to the program that they’re watching. For example, a popular show called The Walking Dead on HBO features this option. While The Walking Dead is playing, the viewer logs on to HBO's Walking Dead website and receives insider information on the characters and scenes. In addition to this, they can watch and contribute live to social media content made available on the site. In essence, the viewer can simultaneously access different layers of the show, the front-end drama, the back-end inside story and live viewer reactions.

Similar experiences can be had with sports broadcasts. Viewers can watch a game on their big screen, and then, on their tablet or laptop, stream all the game/player statistics, and participate in fan reactions to different plays happening real time. The advancements in streaming, the web and portable devices allows for this rich, multilayered, contextual data service. You choose how you want to experience the show: one screen only, alternating back and forth between screens, or maybe a bit of both.

Depending on your age group, you may be thinking “no way... too much information” (you’re probably a Traditionalist or Baby Boomer) or... you may think “yeah... I do this already and I’m cool with it, it makes the experience fun and I like the choices...” (you’re probably a Gen X or Millennial). In either case, regardless of your appetite for it, the technology is here and the choices are available.

What does this have to do with health and my patients, you may ask? Let's take a step away from technology and look at real life. For most of us, our lives are like a TV or movie drama. Depending on our family circumstances while growing up, and our cultural conditioning, each of us will process the data entering our brain in different ways. Data, as we all know, is just data. How it is shaped, what interpretations we make, and how we assign priorities to different segments of the data is all a part of our brain's conditioning. The resulting experience of the world around us is our "Story". Like the big screen TV, it dominates our experience. The question to ask ourselves, and ultimately, one that we would ask our patient, is: “How are we looking at our story?”

What determines whether our "story" is experienced as an amazing adventure, full of opportunity and growth, or one that is experienced as a struggle, in which at each turn of events another burden and obstacle is added?

As practitioners, we know that unhealthy responses to stress can keep our patient's nervous system locked in a sympathetic mode. The resulting effects of prolonged low-grade, unmodulated stress is cortisol depletion and adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately this state has becomes the norm for many in today’s world.

This is where the second screen becomes a hugely important, adding a second reference point and helping to modulate the primary screen's story. As we all know, our brain has two hemispheres. Thanks to the discoveries and research by Nobel prize winner Roger W. Sperry in the late 60s and 70s, we’ve learned that each hemisphere functions very differently.

While the complexity of the interactions between the two hemispheres is complex, research has shown that the left hemisphere dominates our logical, mathematical, and analytical processes, while our right brain processes space, shapes, and relationships (amongst others). As the logical and analytical processes are key to individual survival, the general evolutionary trend has been for humans to be more left-brain dominant. While right brain activity can also be key to survival, (ie navigating around obstacles), the higher functions of the right brain such as the creative, artistic, musical and spiritual aspects tend to be developed during quiet and stress-reduced times.

Creating stressed-reduced times is a huge challenge in today's world. While the proverbial sabre-toothed tiger is no longer stalking us anymore, the digital dragon is. The perception of not being totally up-to-speed, or never really being on top of everything is keeping us in the unnatural state of an extended low grade fight/flight situation. The ever-increasing technological advances in our personal and workplace environments (texting, emails, newsfeeds, twitter, Facebook, just to name a few) result in demands to do more – just because we can. The net effect results in overactivity and dominance of the left brain. The catch-22 is that due to the demands of time, we are less likely to take time to cultivate our right brain which creates the conditions for unhealthy balance to emerge between the two hemispheres.

As the right brain processes data in a different way, it would, if allowed, provide us with a different reference point and potentially different options in how we (and our patients) could experience the world. Many of us do not have the skill set of flipping from one brain and its frame of reference to the other brain. If we did, then we would be able to access data available on the other screen and be offered another perspective on our “story” which would help to modulate the experience.

I believe that self-cultivation techniques inherent in Chinese wellness philosophy can help us and our patients learn to switch screens regularly and change how we process stress in order to live healthier lives. I also would suggest that it is our duty as natural or integrative practitioners to learn these skills ourselves and then train patients as part of our long-term care plan.

A very powerful overview of left and right brain function is given in Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk.

She describes what happened to her when a stroke shut down her left brain. Her powerful experience detailed what the world became for her when the dominant data screen shut down and the only screen she was able to reference was data coming from the right brain. She reported a deep ease, a sense of connection, an overwhelming feeling of beauty and intimacy with life.

The states of being that Dr. Bolte Taylor reported during her dramatic one-brain experience are sadly - in my experience - less common in most of our patient's day-to-day lives. The skill set of taking a break from the "drama" on the "big screen" for a moment to focus on another set of data is one we as natural healthcare practitioners should be involved in helping our patients develop. I suggest, in the appropriate circumstances, we can do so by pointing out to our patient that the primary screen through which they are experiencing their drama is not the only window. We can explain that there is a second screen available and that in her wisdom, nature has provided us with this second window to help us modulate our stress.

We can talk to patients about our how our right brain is like this second screen and that this second screen provides the modulating information that allows us to move out of a stressed-out state. 

As it is expressed in Chinese health philosophy,

"Health is the active interplay and transformation of Yin into Yang and back again."

The simultaneous, multiple actions of cells contracting and expanding, muscles moving and being at rest, the nervous system regularly switching from sympathetic to parasympathetic and so on culminate into the orchestration of billions of Yin/Yang exchanges in the body and are the engine of life.
On a meta level, Yin can be seen as still and complete, where as Yang can be seen as motion and creation. They can also be equated to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Left brain - Yang, Right brain - Yin. If we think dual screens again, the Yang is the "Drama" Screen and the Yin is second screen providing context to the Drama screen. The second screen operated by the Right hemisphere streams the kind of data that balances the linear, analytical stress-prone tendencies of the left brain. Those messages, as described by Dr. Bolte Taylor, are that we are connected to nature in a profound way, that the universe is safe, that creativity finds solutions to obstacles, and complexity can be beautiful and empowering.

This is the importance and the huge value in learning to access the second screen as it provides context, meaning and attenuates the tendencies of the left brain. By tuning into the data on the second screen, we can learn to discharge building tensions and bring a more balanced perspective to the drama in life.

So whether or not you are attracted to the idea of using your portable devices to stream data to two screens at once, I am hoping that after reading this you will see the value of streaming the world from both sides of brain. By doing so, we can enjoy life with an enhanced Dual Screen experience!

In the next newsletter, I will discuss how to introduce these ideas into your clinic and the resultant health benefits of doing so. I will also introduce a technique that you can teach your patients. Doing this technique throughout the day will help patients develop the skill of switching frames of reference which will help reduce day-to-day stresses. I will also include a “For Patient” article for your waiting room that will discuss the above ideas in layperson terms and prompt the patient to ask you about techniques that can help them reduce stress and cultivate more ease in their lives.

Until then, here are some practical ideas that will help stimulate the data processing abilities of both left and right brain.

  • Develop or re-commit to a practice of doing Qi Gong and meditation as this will help in activating the right brain and balance out left brain dominance.
  • If you have not done so already, learn or go deeper into life-affirming philosophies like Taoism that give you new ways of looking at life. Like the psychologist Abraham Maslow said "if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail." Learning about philosophies or Spiritual traditions that help you connect to a deeper meaning in life will help strengthen right brain activities.
  • Make sure you are having acupuncture and/or TCM on yourself to balance out your system. A balanced practitioner is more able to help others.
  • Read books like the Rhythms of Change by Mary Saunders that inspire the reader to use the power of TCM philosophy and common sense to encourage healthful change.

Nature has provided us with a built-in Dual Screen ability, I hope this article has prompted you to tune into your own and also help you inspire patients to do the same.

Stay tuned for part two!

Yours in health,
John Stan, DrTCM


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