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Mending The Mind : Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

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We can use our own mind (which, for the sake of not over-complicating matters, I’ll define here as our conscious thought processes, feelings and experiences) to physically alter our brains, which, in turn, alters how our mind works.

This can lead to a positive feedback loop or a negative feedback loop (as well as anything inbetween). In this article I want to concentrate upon how we can develop a positive feedback loop.

HOW THE PHYSICAL BRAIN CAN BE CHANGED :

The physical brain is in a constant state of flux. Changes to it can be both TEMPORARY and LONG-LASTING. Let’s look at each of these types of physical changes in turn:

TEMPORARY :

a) changes in how the brain’s neurons (cells) are firing at any given time

b) the concentration of different types of neurochemicals (eg. a low concentration of the neurochemical serotonin is associated with the mental experience of depression)

c) changes in the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that the brain is receiving (this is why taking deep breaths, or learning deep breathing exercises, helps to make us feel calm and why hyperventilating makes us feel even more panicked than whatever it was that led us to hyperventilate in the first place).

d) changes in glucose levels being delivered to the brain

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LONG-LASTING :

Through therapies such as repeated self-hypnosis, the regular practice of mindfulness and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), we can make long-lasting, beneficial, physical changes to our brains (like the title of this article, this is known as SELF-DIRECTED NEUROPLASTICITY).

In effect, such techniques ‘feed’ particular brain regions with an increased level of blood/nutrients, which, in turn, has a positive effect upon our state of mind (eg reducing feelings of depression and anxiety).

In other words, non-physical thoughts and feelings induced by the therapies mentioned above have a beneficial, physical effect on the brain which, in turn, improves how we feel – this is the POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP I referred to earlier in this article.

Ways in which this happens include :

a) NEURONS THAT FIRE TOGETHER WIRE TOGETHER. By increasing neural activity in specific brain regions (through our chosen therapeutic technique – see above) the neurons’ connections (synapses) are strengthened, and new connections (synapses) are formed

b) Over time mental practices like mindfulness etc can thicken the part of the brain known as the CORTEX

c) Therapies like mindfulness etc can increase the level of activation in the LEFT PREFRONTAL LOBES

d) Such therapies can also lower the production of CORTISOL (cortisol is a stress hormone – if, when we are under great stress over an extended period of time, too much of it is produced it can damage a part of the brain known as the HIPPOCAMPUS which, amongst other functions, is involved in memory)

e) GAMMA RANGE BRAINWAVES can be strengthened by therapies like mindfulness

f) Such therapies can also thicken a small region of the brain known as the INSULA, which is involved in how we feel about our existence.

NEUROPLASTICITY LEADS TO INCREMENTAL, RATHER THAN SUDDEN, CHANGE IN THE BRAIN :

When we use therapies like repeated self-hypnosis, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the purposes of self-directed neuroplasticity the changes in the brain occur incrementally (proceeding gradually in small steps which build upon one another), rather than suddenly and dramatically.

RESOURCES :

– Mindfulness Training MP3. CLICK HERE.

– My book below, entitled ‘How Childhood Trauma Can Physically Damage The Developing Brain – And How These Effects Can Be Reversed’ is now available on Amazon for immediate download. $4.79. CLICK HERE.

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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