The Art and Science of Mindfulness
our brains and neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is the new buzz word but what does it mean for us?
Previously it was thought that when brain cells die they will not be replaced but an exciting new discovery shows that not only can we make new brain cells but we can make new connections in our brain. These connections can be both harmful and helpful, so we can make the harmful connections less strong and build new helpful ones. And this means we actually can build better versions of ourselves.
Recent studies from Harvard and other prestigious institutions have shown that practicing Mindfulness for just 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks can show significant concentrations of brain cells in areas associated with sustained attention, emotional regulation and perspective taking that take place in the prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontol cortex is also an indicator of happiness and well being and can also boost the immune system meaning you are less likely to get colds and flu etc and can also help you to recover more quickly from illnesses you do pick up.
Thanks to new Brain Imaging techniques scientists can now see before and after pictures of new meditators brains and they can record the change in activity of these parts of the brain and what they are seeing is an increase of activity in these areas.
The world’s so called happiest man who has meditated regularly for many years also had his brain scanned and was found to have a level of brain activity in this area that was off the scale.
New neural connections can be made by sustained mediation and mindfulness in the same way as we learn to move as babies by repeating actions that work for us time and again until they become habitual. For instance we can put food into our mouths automatically without (generally ) missing whilst we concentrate on other things. We need these actions to be automatic it’s the way we drive our cars, wash our hair and perform a myriad of tasks a day .
But the danger comes when we form habits that are not helpful.
Our brains have adapted over millions of years to bring us out of the animal kingdom and into the world we live in today. This has been an evolutionary development based on the situations we face today but although new pathways have been strengthened there still remains basic elements that we share with the animal kingdom and many of the old pathways are at odds with our new ways of living.
When animals are faced with danger in the form of a lion perhaps they have to decide very quickly whether to fight the lion or run away. When this happens the part of the brain known as the Amygdala takes over. It activates the adrenaline system and adrenaline and cortisol flood the body making it ready to fight or flee. All other brain functions close down as the survival instinct kicks in. Digestion stops , the prefrontal cortex that provides perspective closes down and all our energies on focused.on whether to fight or run away. But nowadays it is not a lion we face but a difficult colleague or boss or partner or child. Nowadays we cannot fight or flee though that is our first instinct, our judgement becomes clouded as our body produces adrenaline and cortisol and our bodies are left tense and our emotions can be overwhelming as we struggle to make the right decision. This part of our brain was not designed for this day and age so we have to learn to work with the brain we have and try and strengthen certain connections that will help us in todays world and we can do that by breaking old habits and creating new ones.
FranceMindfulness is taught as an MA Course at Oxford and Bangor University and Ruby Wax has written a book about her experience studying at Oxford called Sane New World, Taming the Mind.
BBC Breakfast and Horizon have sent presenters on Mindfulness courses and modern technology has shown how changes have taken place in the brain cortex that show reductions in stress levels. The reporters themselves cannot stop extolling the benefits and their wish to carry on with the practice.
Courses and Holidays are offered so you can experience the benefits yourself and create your own mindfulness practice both at home and away where all you need to take with you is your breath, and an open and non judgemental attitude.
We offer one to one or group sessions and also workshops or taster sessions, in person and online, as well as retreat holidays in India France & Portugal.
Look around our website and if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us.
Mindfulness has been endorsed by the NHS as being effective for improving our physical and mental health. It offers us a means of coping with life’s challenges in a practical way and can lead you to a rich and fulfilling life. If you practice regularly you will replace scattered thinking and habitual patterns with calm and spacious attention allowing you to make the best decisions for yourself.