Six Things To Know About Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity Six Things To Know

Understanding Neuroplasticity can be key to good health and well-being. Here are six things to know:

1. The brain is flexible: Till recently it was standard dogma taught in medical school that there are fixed regions of the brain reserved for certain functions that cannot be replaced. There is a region in the brain that processes vision for example, and another region processes speech, and so on. If there is damage to say the region that services speech then we lose the ability to speak. What scientists are now discovering is that when there is damage to specific region, new regions can “learn” its tasks and take over that function. This ability of the brain to grow, adapt, and learn new things is known as Neuroplasticity.

2. It works both ways: The brain can both “learn” and “unlearn” based on the stimulus we provide. If we stop using a hand for long time then our brain loses its ability to control that hand for example. However if we challenge our brains with a task, then our brains grow in response to the needs of the challenge. The hippocampus of cab drivers of London is much bigger than that of the bus drivers. This is because the bus drivers go on the same route every day while the cab drivers rely more on their knowledge of the roads to do their tasks. The hippocampus stores spatial representations and its use is required to a greater extent by cab drivers, and it expands in response.

3. Brain decline can be reversed: Decline in brain functioning and shrinking of the brain due to aging are not a given any more. Age related shrinkage can be slowed down and in many cases it can be reversed. A key aspect of doing this is to first “calm the brain down” by doing meditation and/or yoga. This shrinks the portion of the brain associated with the stress response. When this happens it allows us to grow regions of the brain associated with reasoning and memory more easily.

4. The brain is a learning organ: Age related shrinkage might be more related to our “laziness” of not challenging the brain enough as we grow older than to the aging process itself. The brain is a learning organ and we need to “feed” the brain constantly by providing it with opportunities to learn new things. Neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to learn constantly at any age.

5. The brain is a whole organ: Though neuroscientists love to study different regions of the brain and how they are connected, it is important to not lose the big picture that the brain is interconnected. When we learn juggling for example, not only does the portion of the brain associated with complex visual motion expand, but it also has positive impact on all regions of the brain (and also the body). Neuroplasticity is not just about growing and improving specific regions of the brain, it is also about improving the whole brain.

6. Changes happens quickly: In as few as seven days, people who learned juggling for the first time showed significant changes in the brain structure. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is never too late for a brain to grow and learn. As soon as the stimulus is provided, the brain begins to learn and grow in response. Age is no barrier.

Our brain in an incredible organ that is able to grow, learn, adapt, and heal throughout our lives. This essay on Neuroplasticity should be a “wake up call” to be more proactive to grow and challenge our brain to realize its full potential.

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Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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The Case For Emotional Hygiene

Guy Winch, a psychologist, makes the case for giving the same importance to our psychological health as we do to our physical health. He provides statistics that poor “emotional hygiene” can make our lives miserable, it can shorten our lives, and can make it difficult to fulfill our potential. He believes it important that we all learn and also teach our children the simple techniques to deal with:

1. Loneliness- Understand our feelings when lonely and learn to counter it.
2. Failure – Know how our mind reacts to failure and learn to overcome these feelings.
3. Pain – Treating ourselves compassionately when in pain.
4. Adverse events – Ruminating over and over, thinking of adverse events.

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The Highest State

Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi

The two lady visitors were visiting the Saint known as Sri Ramana Maharshi.

The younger one asked: “Is the experience of the Highest State same to all? Or is there any difference?”

Maharshi (M): The Highest State is the same and the experience is also the same.

Devotee (D): But I find some difference in the interpretations put on the Highest Truth.

M: The interpretations are made with the mind. The minds are different and so the interpretations are different.

D: I mean to ask if the seers express themselves differently?

M: The expressions may differ according to the nature of the seekers. They are meant to guide the seekers.

D: One Seer speaks in the terms of Christianity, another in those of Islam, a third of Buddhism, etc. Is that due to their upbringing?

M: Whatever may be their upbringing, their experience is the same. But the modes of expression differ according to circumstances.

Credit: Talk 595, 16th December, 1938. Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Related: Yoga’s Ultimate State

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The Cookie Thief

Cookie Thief

A woman was waiting at an airport one night
With several long hours before her flight
She hunted for a book in the airport shop
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see
That the man beside her as bold as could be
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene
She munched cookies and watched the clock
As this gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock

She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by
Thinking “If I wasn’t so nice I’d blacken his eye”
With each cookie she took he took one too
And when only one was left she wondered what he’d do
With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh
He took the last cookie and broke it in half
He offered her half as he ate the other
She snatched it from him and thought “Oh brother
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude”
She had never known when she had been so galled
And sighed with relief when her flight was called
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate
She boarded the plane and sank in her seat
Then sought her book which was almost complete
As she reached in her baggage she gasped with surprise
There was her bag of cookies in front of her eyes
“If mine are here” she moaned with despair
“Then the others were his and he tried to share”
“Too late to apologize she realized with grief”
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

So quick to judge are we! It is only when get past our judging mind that we can reach truth. That is why Rumi said to those in search of truth:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Credit: The poem is by Valerie Cox, “A story of wrong perceptions” in “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, editor Jack Canfield.

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Beware Of False Memories

In this daring talk, Professor Elizabeth Loftus, brings to light the fallible nature of our memories. Rather than thinking of memories as recordings we must view them as “reconstuctions”. These reconstructions can be both creative and fallible leading to false memories.

This talk also highlights the fragility of the “stories” we tell ourselves. When we nurse hurts we build up a case mentally against our alleged perpetrators and how evil they are. We use our biases and selective recall of events to build up a “case” in our heads which may be largely fictional. This then continues to consume us and destroy our lives. That is why every religious and spiritual tradition advocates forgiveness and humilty so that we do not spend our lives and energies with false memories.

Forgive Them Anyway
The Power Of Forgiveness

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