Mindfulness and Neural pathways
A complex organic computer of mindfulness and neural pathways
Your brain contains 1.1 trillion cells, including 100 billion neurons. On average, each neuron receives about 500 connections, called synapses from other neurons (Linden 2007)
Mindfulness and neural pathways are the electrical wirings of the brain. Yet another important facility is as a tool of the mind, which allows you to be aware of your present state of consciousness, feelings and emotions. A natural ‘overview’ of ‘what’s going on’.
A typical neuron fires 5-50 times a second. In the time it takes you to read this point, literally, quadrillions of signals will travel inside your head.
Mindfulness is achieved through the regular focusing of the conscious attention of the mind, single-pointedly, nonjudgmentally, for a period of time. This habitual practise allows the mind to become less scattered and more focused, akin to a laser, where the natural attention ability increases, allowing less stress and more internal mental spaciousness.
The brain weighs 2% of the body weight but it uses 25% of the oxygen and glucose.(Lammert 2008)
Mindfulness increases your emotional intelligence, allowing you to be aware of and choose how you react to your emotions. It creates a Meta-Awareness, which can have a clear overview, non judgmentally of yourself. This increases and lays the seeds of Emotional Awareness, which is an essential quality to have when wanting to improve your life, happiness, and fulfillment.
Conscious mental events are based on temporary coalitions of synapses that form and disperse—usually within seconds—like eddies in a stream ( Rabinivich, Huerta, and Laurent 2008).
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and awareness gives you a handle on :
The more you practice mindfulness, the greater your Emotional Intelligence becomes!
Mindfulness is the practice of deliberate, non-judgmental consciousness of the present. Ancient communities have practised mindfulness. It has been applied in various forms to enhance well-being in people’s lives throughout the centuries. Modern science has confirmed that this practise changes the brain structure and is beneficial to your mental and physical health.
Try something new.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
– Albert Einstein
To understand mindfulness, it is best to begin by understanding the brain and how it works. The advent of fMRI scanning and EEG monitoring has made it possible to track and see the changes in the brain under different conditions. There are now volumes of research data reporting the brain activity changes before, during and after mindfulness meditation practice.
By understanding the Brain, we can understand how our thoughts create our reality.
The Neural Scientific Foundations of Mindfulness
Being mindful means having good control over your attention: you can place your attention wherever you want, and it stays there; when you want to shift it to something else, you can.
Consequently, developing greater control over your attention is perhaps the single most powerful way to reshape your brain and thus your mind. (Hanson and Mendius 2009)
The Brain is designed for storing, retrieving and rearranging information: It can action commands from the conscious thought and the sub-conscious regulatory mechanisms within itself, maintaining and optimizing health and well being.
- Conscious mental events are based on temporary coalitions of synapses that form and disperse—usually within seconds—like eddies in a stream ( Rabinivich, Huerta, and Laurent 2008).
- Your brain interacts with other systems in your body, which interact with the world—which is shaped by the mind. The mind is made by your brain, body, the natural world, and human culture and by itself! (Thomposon and Varela 2001)
- Your brain regulates itself— and the other bodily systems—through a combination of excitatory and inhibitory activity: green lights and red lights. It learns through forming new circuits and strengthening or weakening existing ones. ( Hanson and Mendius 2009)
Simplistically, the Brain can be seen to have three major areas;
Reptilian: This is the oldest part of the brain. It is responsible for muscle movement, balance, and our basic autonomic functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. It includes the brain stem and the cerebellum, which tend to dominate in reptiles.
In terms of behaviour, this part of the brain is aggressive, territorial, compulsive and doesn’t learn from mistakes.
Limbic: This is the primary seat of emotions, attention, and emotionally charged memories, and it tends to be predominant in mammals. Instinct such as feeding, fighting, fleeing and sexual behaviour are rooted here. As well as our instinctual, social and emotional needs to feel connected, calm and cared for.
The limbic system includes:
- The Hypothalamus controls oxytocin and adrenalin production.
- The Hippocampus compares external images to stored memories.
- The Amygdala controls the messaging of the memories throughout the body.
The Triune Brain as proposed by Paul Maclean in 1990
Frontal neocortex: It is responsible for what we think and our higher cognitive functions such as abstract thought, reasoning language, enhanced learning, memory, introspection and insight.
Each part of the brain stores memory which relates to it’s primary purpose.
Each part shares the memory information with the other two parts of the brain.
We have evolved three survival criteria that underpin our habitual patterns (Dr Martin Rossman 2009)
Stability: in a changing world, we long for predictability and security
Safety: We feel separated but long for interconnectivity and community
Avoidance of pain: we want to avoid threats, and we want to create opportunities
Over a period of 650 million years, these three criteria have made the brain what it is today. We are designed to survive! That is why we tend to hold on to and remember the negative thoughts and memories more easily than the positive thoughts and memories!!
Due to these three criteria there is a negative bias of the brain to interpret the external stimulation as more of a threat than a support.
When it receives external information or internal thoughts or information presented to it from below the RADAR of consciousness, the different parts of the brain will automatically check the new information for signs of perceived threats or negatively judged memories from the stored information in the brain.
This all happens between the Reptilian brain and the brain’s limbic section, interpreting the feeling part of your senses. This function happens more rapidly than you can think! In effect, your feeling memories will protect you from a threat before you even know a threat is apparent.
It is considered that 96% of the thoughts you have today you had yesterday!
Sources of information for the brain
External: Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch.
Internal: The conscious mind creating simulations of the future and ruminations of the past.
The subconscious bringing up information to the mind. Memories.
The subconscious receiving bodily sensations and feelings. Emotions.
In every situation during the day or night, it is considered that you are only 5% in control of your conscious reality. The subconscious has 95% control over everything you do, think, act or say. This indicates that for a large part of your life, you are living through past, remembered memories, which arrive in the mind as thoughts, and feelings projected into the future, generating emotions, feelings and worries. Memories change every time you think of them!
Memories do not stay the same.
A memory is altered every time you recall it to mind. The experience at the time of the recall will effect and distort the memory, this is called Neural Plasticity.
Neural Plasticity is the function mindfulness adopts to stimulate change in your habits. It takes between 8- 10 weeks to create a new Neural Pathway in the brain, a new Neural Pathway is a new habit, a new habit is a new way of thinking and being! (These could be fears, phobias, anxieties, worries, stresses, depressions or habits) (Monfils et al 2009)
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training is a positive way to utilize this flexibility function of the brain to alter our predominantly negative memories, which create our attitudes and desire to ruminate and think to an excessive degree.
Mindfulness training achieves this by focusing the ‘awareness of the mind’ into and onto the present moment, the NOW of life.
By practising MBSR mindfulness, you train your mind to pay attention to the specific experience you are witnessing at any given moment, a moment.
Your brain can only focus your mind’s consciousness on ONE ASPECT, ONE PERCEPTION AT A TIME.
Therefore by definition, if you focus your mind on what is happening now in your life, you are not thinking about the past or the future. When you are not thinking about the past or the future, you are not creating emotions of anxiety, worry or stress!
You consciously learn to choose to respond to a situation, thought or emotion, rather than rely on the pre-learned reaction stored in the mind’s memory and subconscious.
With practice, you can consciously alter and reshape your subconscious memories and responses so that the new way of responding becomes the new reaction.
Neural pathways; the brain and how it works.
Dealing with the blues. To notice the feeling of your mind as it is reflected in your body. The subtle tension in your throat. The tightness in the top of your breath. The edge of anxiety in your attitude, colouring all you think and do.
The indecision, the drop in energy. The difficulty to focused and driven, low in passion, just a desire to obscure, the tightness in your body. The push to sleep or avoid do something else, have a drink coffee, eat something sweet, chocolate, the heart speeds up, Adrenalin begins to build. The anxiety pushes up and deepens. Avoidance is rampant.
The emptiness inside. It cascades and ponders, creates and projects. Making us unhappy and dissatisfied. What if we sit with it?
With Mindful attention.