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Posts Tagged ‘Brain’

Our brains are composed of a left and right hemisphere connected by the corpus collosum, a small number of neural circuits located deep in the brain where energy and information is sent back and forth between the two sides. The left hemisphere is the more analytical, conceptual, fact based side that loves logical, linear, linguistic and literal communication. The right side of the brain is the more image-based side that processes non-verbal eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and timing. It sees the whole picture whereas the left sees the world in terms of either/or. The right is characterized by autobiographical memory which is non-language based whereas factual memory is dominated on the left. (more…)

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Increasingly we are hearing in the popular press the axiom “neurons that fire together, wire together”. In 1949 Canadian behavioral psychologist Donald Hebb proposed that learning linked neurons in new ways. He proposed that when two neurons fire at the same time repeatedly (or when one fires, causing the other to fire) chemical changes occur in both, so that the two tend to connect more strongly. Hebb’s concept was neatly summarizerd by neuro-scientist Carla Shatz: Neurons that fire together, wire together.” (from Norman Doidge’s book “The Brain that Changes Itself“)

What this means in practical terms is that each time you repeat a particular thought or action, you strengthen the connection between a set of brain cells or neurons. As neuroscience expert and psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson says, “the mind and the brain are a unified system. As the brain changes, the mind changes. As the mind changes, the brain changes. This means that you can use your conscious mind to make lasting changes to your brain to bring about greater well-being and happiness in your life.”

In her now classic book, Train Your Mind to Change Your Brain, author Sharon Begley states it succinctly, “The power of neuroplasticity to transform the emotional brain opens up new worlds of possibility. We are not stuck with the brain we were born with but have the capacity to willfully direct which functions will flower and which will wither, which moral capacities emerge and which do not, which emotions flourish and which are stilled.”

The science of neuroplasticity is both optimistic and hopeful. As we set the intention to register what is good in our lives and allow the good feelings to permeate our bodies and our minds, we are making underlying changes to the neural circuitry of our brains increasing the probability that the same neural connections will fire in the future.

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Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love (COAL) is an acronym invented by Dr. Daniel Siegel to describe the qualities of mindfulness. Interestingly, COAL are also the qualities present in secure parent/child attachments and between psychotherapist and patient in successful healing outcomes. It is a loving and openly accepting relationship between parent and child that determines how well the child will grow into a successful and mature adult.

In his book “The Mindful Brain” Siegel states that “the interpersonal attunement of secure attachment is paralled by the intrapersonal attunement of mindful awareness. Both interpersonal and intrapersonal attunement develop the capacity for intimate relationships, well being and resilience.”

When the child’s world is understood by the parent, the child feels good, connected and loved. This is attunement. Similarly, when we are mindful of our moment to moment experience with a kind, and open-hearted presence, we become our own best friend.

Siegel also states that “both forms of attunement share common neural pathways particularly those found in the pre-frontal cortex. The development of these regulatory circuits in the brain is associated with emotional resilience, compassion for oneself and others. Seigel lists nine prefrontal functions that overlap with mindfulness practice and secure parent/child attachments. “They are regulation of body systems, balancing emotions, modulating fear, responding flexibly, attuning to others, exhibiting insight, empathy, intuition, and morality.”

Seigel states “Another important dimension of looking toward the mindful brain is that by understanding the neural mechanisms associated with mindful awareness, we may be in a better position to identify it’s universal human qualities and make it more accessible and acceptable to a broader audience.” Seigel invites the reader to “imagine a world in which this health promoting, empathy-enhancing, executive-attention developing, self compassion nurturing, affordable, and adaptable mental practice is made available in everyone’s life”.

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Rick Foster & Greg Hicks in their wonderful book Happiness & Health, write about the power of intention in shaping our lives – “it’s a powerful message we give ourselves, creating the positive emotions that propel us upward on the spiral staircase to good health. By repeatedly setting positive intentions like looking for joy or appreciating family members rather than being frustrated by them, you set up and strengthen new neural pathways to allow these healthy choices to become automatic or default settings”.

The implication of this exciting and reassuring news is that anyone can train their brains to become healthier and happier through the power of their own thoughts. These new findings tell us that we each have the innate ability and power to be happier by changing our mental habits.

According to Foster & Hicks, first thing in the morning is a good time to create healthy intentions because this is the time when the body is most primed to receive instructions from our mind. The mind is ready to accept new instructions and hold on to them throughout the day.

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In the last 20 years, neuro-scientists have made a remarkable discovery – the adult brain has neuro-plasticity, which means that it has the ability to change its structure and function to our experiences and thoughts. We are literally what we think. This discovery shatters the previously held deterministic view of a fixed program unfolding in the brain set at birth by our genetic inheritance.

The implication of this important discovery is that my own well being and happiness is within my control and that it is based on the choices I make and how I respond to the events unfolding in my life. It puts the responsibility of the kind of human being I choose to be squarely in my lap.

I highly recommend reading Wall Street Journal science writer, Sharon Begley’s book entitled Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, a fascinating account on how cutting edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds.

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In the article, Seven Fact about the Brain that Incline the Mind to Joy, author Rick Hanson points out that the brain naturally emphasizes negative experiences. The term survival of the fittest means that those who successfully passed on their genes over millennia paid a lot of attention to negative experiences. Constantly on the alert, our ancestors were quick to freeze or bolt or attack depending on the situation thereby ensuring their survival.

Rick states that “the brain’s circuitry for the positive is like Teflon whereas negative experiences are like Velcro even though most of our experiences are either neutral or positive”. When you look back at your day, does your mind tend to focus on all of the good things that happened during the day or the one bad thing that happened? I know that my mind tends to revert to the latter.

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