It is simply fascinating to me that all of our sensations, feelings, thoughts, motor responses, emotional responses, learning and memory, and any other function or dysfunction of the brain can emerge from the electrochemical interactions of neurons. Neurons are just like other cells in the body except they have an axon, which allows for communication between neuron to neuron via an electrochemical process; therein lies the complexity of these basic building blocks. Additionally, unlike other cells, neurons stop reproducing shortly after birth and are not replaced when they die. Research shows that new connections between neurons form throughout life, which indicates to me that new behavioral patterns must be available to us throughout our lives, that our brains are malleable and that we are capable of breaking old patterns and adopting new ones that better serve us.
As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I am especially excited over the idea that our brains are malleable and adaptable and that brain research has supporting evidence that we can change the workings of our brains and create new neural pathways through mindfulness and meditation practices. Dr. Richard Davidson, world – renowned neuroscientist and leading expert on the impact of mindfulness/meditation practices has studied the brains of meditating Buddhist monks and has produced scans that show the ability of the brain’s ability to change its’ structure and function, otherwise known as neuroplasticity. From these studies, Richardson has concluded that the brain, of all other organs, is built to change in response to experience. This is an incredible new discovery in science since not too long ago, scientists believed that the brain was stagnant and fixed, unable to change into adulthood.
As I study and learn about neurons through this Biopsychology class, I can’t help but think about my own behavior and specifically my own reactions to certain stimuli and how my behavior is directly related to the inhibitory or excitatory processes that take place and how particular information is processed within my own brain chemistry. I am filled with curiosity around the idea of how I can break certain habitual behavioral patterns that no longer serve me, those so called “bad habits” if you will, through paying attention to when they are happening and then changing my thought patters.
Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and founder of the emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology suggests that we can in fact change old patterns through new neural connections, even though our earliest interpersonal experiences may have created detrimental or destructive repetitive patterns. Through Dr. Siegel’s research, he has concluded that change must happen in the mind in order for a person to change, that mental processes of attention and imagination change the firing in the brain which create new neural pathways or changes within the brain. The popular phrase “mind over matter” holds true to its’ long time usage! In fact, it is the mind that drives the mass, the idea of mind over matter, the evolutionary growth of the human mind!
It has been through my own experience with yoga, meditation, and other forms of mindfulness that I have been introduced to the concept that change can happen within the neural pathways of the brain. After years of struggling with depression and self – destructive behavior, I decided to make the dedication to paying attention to my body, noticing and focusing on breath, noticing my thoughts and committing to changing the negative thoughts into positive ones over and over again, cultivating awareness around my actions and reactions and learning to pause and breathe in order to choose to react differently as the need arises, and through the years I have began the process of neuroplasticity within my own brain and have realized that through A LOT of everyday practice, not only is change possible, but healing is as well! And the process all takes place within the neurons of the brain. Simply AMAZING!!
de Llosa, Patty. “The Neurobiology of We”. Parabola Magazine. Summer 2011: 4 pages. Parabola Magazine Web. 11 July 2014
Kaufman, Marc. “Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds”. Washington Post 3 Jan. 2005: 5 pages. Washington Post Web. 11 July 2014
Ryan, Denise. “Health: Mental Exercises Like Meditation Can Literally Change Our Minds”. Vancouver Sun. 25 September 2009. 2 pages. Vancouver Sun Web. 11 July 2014