MINDFULNESS MEDITATION & BRAIN PLASTICITY
THE SCIENCE OF REWIRING NEURAL CIRCUITRY
Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity or neurogenesis, refers to alterations in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions, which include bodily functions and pain resulting from illness and injury.
The brain has the ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells, and is continually reshaping itself based upon your experiences. Accordingly, when you change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, you are literally rewiring brain circuitry.
Brain plasticity is the ability to incorporate change in the following ways:
- Adopting and integrating new attitudes
- Challenging and expanding beliefs
- Modifying habits and emotional attachments
- Problem solving
- Mitigating pain and regaining body function
Altering attitudes, beliefs and behaviors requires challenging established neural network pathways developed by thoughts and acts which have been repeated countless times. These have become your subconscious ‘programming’, a physiological homeostasis that is resistant to change. This programming is far stronger than whatever your conscious goals and desires for change may be. As you start to form new attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, the freshly created neural pathways are competing with those established by the old thoughts and habits. To win this internal battle, it is necessary to practice the new attitudes, beliefs and behaviors over and over, and reinforce them with thought processes such as visualization and positive self-dialogue. The more you focus and repeat these functions, the more connectivity is created, until finally the change becomes your new default.
Outside The Comfort Zone
Part of the reason the subconscious mind is more powerful than the conscious mind is because it controls the autonomic nervous system that regulates impulse traffic in the neural pathways from the brain, including maintaining body temperature, composition of blood, heart rate, respiration, digestion, and interacting with the hundreds of chemicals and billions of cells comprising the human organism. Even when your blood pressure, pulse rate, and blood sugar become elevated due to stress, your reactions are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The homeostasis of the total functioning of your body, which is your comfort zone, is maintained within the subconscious mind.
Consequently, motivation is largely a function of the subconscious. You perceive what is needed to implement change and mentally map out the strategies necessary to achieve the desired results, yet this is merely a conscious exercise of thinking. The real challenge is repetitively integrating those strategies into your life so they imprint in your subconscious mind—meaning the rewiring of new neural circuitry—which requires experiencing a certain degree of emotional and physical discomfort in order to change your established patterns of behavior.
Mindfulness Meditation Is The Game Changer
One of the quickest and most effective ways to rewire yourself for change is through the practice of mindfulness meditation. In fact, there is a growing body of research demonstrating how mindfulness meditation promotes brain plasticity (see MeditationResearch publication ‘Meditation & Neuroplasticity: Five Key Articles’ here). Studies on meditation subjects have documented neuron growth in areas of the brain involving learning, memory, awareness, and emotional control, including increases in neurotransmission recorded by MRIs.
The manner in which mindfulness meditation biologically affects somatic, cognitive, and affective processes has become increasingly important in the areas of integrative medicine and holistic health. Research in neuroscience has shown enduring changes in baseline brain function—activity in response to specific emotional challenges—demonstrating brain plasticity and its effects on immune system function. (See Psychosomatic Medicine publication ‘Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation’ here).
Furthermore, over 1500 studies have been conducted by more than 250 independent research institutes showing mindfulness meditation to be clinically effective for the management of stress, anxiety and panic, chronic pain, depression, obsessive thinking, strong emotional reactivity, and a wide array of medical and mental health related conditions. Medical outcomes of 15,000 patients from the Center for Mindfulness Stress Reduction at the University of Massachusetts’ Medical School shows a 35% reduction in the number of medical symptoms and a 40% reduction in psychological symptoms.
Why It Works
Replacing old attitudes, thoughts and behaviors with new ones happens by focusing your awareness in the here and now. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to pay deliberate attention to the current moment, without attachment to outcomes predicated upon past experiences or expectations for the future, so that you become more present in your own life. You begin challenging limiting beliefs and casting aside ‘auto-pilot’ actions and reactions; you develop a more sensory-driven relationship with the world around you—an open minded and non-judgmental existence based on increased self-awareness—a connection of mind, body and spirit that enjoins the conscious and subconscious mind.
Mindfulness meditation invites positive insights and empowering realizations, inspiring your commitment to new behaviors and disciplines necessary to rewire neural network pathways. The practice engenders passion and excitement about achieving goals and making changes, helping you visualize your desired results while creating motivation to continue moving toward your image of success. This is why mindfulness meditation has been a catalyst of positive change for so many people.
©2015 Shawn Quinlivan, C.Ht. & Cathexis Therapeutic Imagery. All Rights Reserved.
Cathexis Therapeutic Imagery specializes in innovative approaches to workplace wellness, mindfulness training, and personal development. Via private coaching, presentations, workshops, training events, and our partnership in the unique online wellness community Your Wellness Room—used by Kaiser Permanente, EFactor and other notable companies—our nationally recognized programs and practices help people and organizations make positive changes. Please call for a free consultation at (818) 512-4371 or contact us via email.