What on earth is Neuroplasticity?

“Life is half delicious yogurt, half crap, and your job is to keep the plastic spoon in the yogurt.”

Scott Adams

 

Something I have come to realize through my own practice and reading on Mindfulness is that our brains are not fixed and unchanging. Society has taught us that by the time you get to be an adult your brain’s structure; even the way we think; is fixed and unchanging for all of our lives.

In fact, it is not the case at all.

Our brain; like the rest of our bodies; can be consciously changed by our actions. Think for a moment, have you taken up a new sport or hobby as an adult? All of us have done so at some point. Whether it is cycling, running, swimming, golf, tennis, etc. Or perhaps, a new interest, such as learning a new language; learning to cook exotic meals, etc. Or even, if we have stopped something. For instance, smoking, drinking or eating meat. Throughout all of our lives, we are constantly changing habits and our bodies adapt.

So do in fact do our brains. Even our identities are not fixed, they change over time. Falling in love. Having children. Changing jobs.Moving to a new city or country. Everything has an impact both on our bodies, as well as our brains. Our memories. Our perceptions of the world around us.

The term, for the ability to flex and change the structure of the brain, is called Neuroplasticity.

Neuroplastic change can occur at small scales, such as physical changes to individual neurons, or at whole-brain scales, such as remapping in response to an injury. Behaviour, environmental stimuli, thought, and emotions may also cause neuroplastic change, which has significant implications for healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage.

Scientific research has shown that the very structure of the brain can be changed in even a relatively short period of time.  

A number of studies have linked meditation practice to differences in density of the  gray matter that makes up certain parts of the brain. One of the most well-known studies to demonstrate this was led by Sara Lazar, from Harvard University, in 2000.

Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has led experiments, working with a number of Buddhist monks, including Matthieu Ricard, on effects of meditation on the brain. In fact, Matthieu has been called the Happiest Man alive. His results suggest that even short-term practice of meditation results in different levels of activity in brain regions associated with improvements such as: improved attention; reduced anxiety levels; a reduction in levels of depression; feeling less fearful; significant reductions in anger, and even the ability of the body to heal itself. Some of these results can be seen in as little as seven weeks.

I have always been fascinated at how the brain works, and what we, as humans, are capable of. I watched a great programme from the BBC, that I would recommend it to you. if you get a chance, check out:

The Brain with David Eagleman 

David explores how the brain conjures up the world we take for granted. This episode shows how the brain gives rise to thought, emotions, memories and personality. We Do not “see” the world around us, rather we reconstruct it moment by moment, based on our sensory perception, our brains ability to chunk together information, and even the ability to delete and distort reality.

 

I leave you with the following quote……. which made me laugh at the modern world we have.

“She got her looks from her father. He’s a plastic surgeon.”

Groucho Marx