The Malleable Brain

April 16, 2018 07:39 AM PRAGHOSH CHHETRI

It is flabbergasting to know how the human body orchestrates a myriad functions so adeptly. It thinks, falls in love, digests foods, removes toxins, kills germs, and does many more tasks all at the same time without our knowledge of the complex and intertwined inner machinery. Behind these intricate tasks is the three-pound soft and squishy mass encased inside the dark bony container, the head. 

The physicality of our brain seems so at odds with the mental processes it creates and what really shapes our reality is an incessant firing of electrochemical pulses in a tangle of billions of brain cells and their trillion connections.

The knowledge of neuroscience has extended to new frontiers thanks to an unprecedented technological advancement. One such cutting-edge discovery is that the human brain can change itself, contrary to a long held concept that it doesn’t, after a certain age. The science behind “Neuroplasticity” explains that the brain is malleable and can reorganize itself forming new connections among nerve cells throughout life.

Neuroscientists from University College London scanned the brains of several London city cab drivers who underwent four years of intensive training to pass the knowledge of memorizing London’s extensive roadways, in all their permutations and combinations. The scientists discovered that the area of the brain called hippocampus, which is vital for memory, was visibly larger in the cab drivers than those in the control group and also that the longer a driver had been doing his job, the bigger was the change in that brain region.

A large body of research on the effect of yoga and mind-body effect on the brain shows that practices like yoga, meditation and breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya of the Art of Living Foundation not only changes our minds but also our brains. Studies using the advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have shown that long-term practice of meditation significantly increases the thickness of the brain cortex, particularly the areas associated with attention, interoception (the sense of the physiological condition of the body) and sensory processing. Long term meditators also have larger gray matter (collection of nerve cell bodies) in the brain areas that are associated with emotional regulation, response control and memory.

Every day, each one of us is shaping our brains with all the thoughts we are allowing to come to your minds, emotions we are feeling, and actions we are performing. The fact that our brains are plastic and malleable means that they literally rewire themselves depending upon what experiential inputs they are getting every day and in the long run. If the neuroplastic effects of long term meditation and wellbeing are beneficial, equally detrimental are the effects of constant stress and negativity.

This knowledge can prove revolutionary if we start choosing the experiences most healthy to our brain, encouraging a life style that enhances well being and learning techniques like meditation to ward off negativities. After all, what we experience shapes our brain and the brain in turn shapes our experiences.

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