The Brain and Neuroplasticity?
Our amazing brains through the process of neuroplasticity can form new neural connections or pathways. We can literally rewire our brains… It sounds amazing, but by understanding neuroplasticity and coupling this understanding with mindfulness can be life changing. Science has proven that the brain and thoughts work synergistically. Your brain is like the hardware of your computer and thought is the software. What if we can reprogram the software. Well we can, through mindful conscious awareness. And, our amazing brain through the process of neuroplasticity can reorganise itself, forming new neural (nerve) connections or pathways. In fact Neuroplasticity is happening naturally inside our brains everyday as we encounter new experiences.
Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is a new and exciting buzz word in the world of mindfulness and science. Scientists are linking this ability of our brain to build new neural pathways to the practice of mindfulness and meditation. This means that by creating new neural pathways we have the possibility to ‘develop a greater capacity for happiness’ and to overcome the ‘depression program’.
Reprogramming the Brain
Mindfulness assists us in developing greater AWARENESS and learn to observe bodily and mental experience while remaining calm. This lessens the automation of our stress or reactive triggers and responses. In turn this allows to learn and build new pathways of being rather than reactivity. By developing the capacity to feel, notice and observe from a perspective of loving kindness and non-judgement we can build resilience. This in turn opens us to greater emotional contentment and presence.
Rick Hanson is a Neuroscientist and he says in his book ‘Buddha’s Brain’.
“The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences; when they happen, they happen. Rather, it is to foster positive experiences—and in particular, to take them in so they become a permanent part of you.”
Neurons that Fire together Wire together
We can build up and strengthen a muscle groups by exercising regularly. In the same way we can strengthen neural pathways by using them. And in fact build and nurture fresh neural pathways through new experience. And then strengthen those pathways by repeating that positive experience, such as the practice of gratitude and fostering an attitude of loving kindness.
Awesome Possibilities for Transformation
Science has now proven what yogis have talked about for thousands of years: that Meditation not only changes the mind’s responses it also changes the Brain itself.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) has revealed that experienced meditators had thicker cortex than non-meditators. This was particularly true for brain areas associated with attention, interception and sensory processing.
So what does this mean to us?
In a positive light this means we can change ‘our responses to life’ in positive ways on purpose.
As a mindfulness and meditation teacher and practitioner for 40 years, I have noticed with myself and students who practice meditation regularly, experience;
- Less emotional reactivity to stressors.
- A greater sense of relaxation during daily duties.
- Greater ability to focus on tasks.
- An increased ability to adapt to changes.
- An increased sense of peace and Joy.
- A greater sense of self-love and compassion.
Offering Hope and Fostering Transformation
Understanding this offers hope. Knowing we can alter the way we react to life and foster deep transformation.
We have developed habitual neural patterns, often from childhood, family patterns, trauma patterns. This old patterns of response that may have served us once. But now are often inappropriate and can cause much suffering. In fact they may deepen and reinforce old trauma patterns, inner disharmony, fear and thus damage our relationships and ability for happiness.
Developing Greater Presence
Meditation and active Mindfulness teaches us to develop the ability to witness or observe. Together with the understanding that ‘we are not our thoughts and emotions’. In active mindfulness we allow thoughts, sensations, emotions and experiences to arise and pass away without need for judgement and identification. Choosing to identify with every thought (50,000 as day) will create confusion and will ignite negative patterns of looping thoughts and feelings.
The mantra “This Too Shall Pass” can be a great reminder as we develop the ability to let go and remain in the present moment.
From here we can begin to consciously choose which thoughts to grow, and which to let pass, thus giving us the choice to be happy or to remain stuck. We can begin to ‘Choose Happiness’. So let’s build ‘neural pathways to foster happiness‘ by shifting our focus to gratitude, loving kindness, acceptance and the ability to let go of that which no longer serves our highest good. Choosing self-care and self-loving-kindness in daily life is a great place to start.
Mindfulness helps Retrain the Brain
Through the practice of mindfulness we stop living on autopilot and begin to live more consciously. It takes time and effort to grow new neural pathways of happiness but it can be done. Mindfulness is not a quick fix, it requires a conscious effort and commitment. The best place to start is a daily practice and begin to work with a teacher if possible. See my free meditations here
Soraya Saraswati – is a Mindfulness Teacher, Trauma Informed Yoga Therapist & TRE trauma release practitioner who supports people in awakening to live in peaceful presence.
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