Using Your Mind to Change Your Brain

Using Your Mind to Change Your Brain

Key facts about your brain

  • Shaped by evolution, especially of emotional and relational capacities; for example, the bigger the primate social group, the bigger the brain
  • 3 pounds, 1.1 trillion cells, including 100 billion “gray matter” neurons
  • Always “on” – 2% of the body’s weight uses about 25% of its oxygen
  • Average neuron has about 5000 connections (synapses), 500 trillion in all
  • Synapses fire 1 to 100 times a second; quadrillions of synapses activate each minute
  • Brain regions linked by neural pulses synchronized within a few milliseconds
  • Highly interconnected network full of circular loops: awareness of awareness . . .
  • Number of possible brain states: 1 followed by a million zeros
  • The most complex object known in the universe

 


 

Your mind changes your brain

  • Both temporarily, in electrochemical waves lasting mere milliseconds, and permanently, as existing synapses get strengthened and new ones get made
  • As circuits get used, they strengthen their connections; “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
  • Your experience matters, leaving an enduring trace behind.
  • London taxi drivers have thicker regions that create visual-spatial memories.
  • Mindfulness and concentration meditations activate different parts of the brain.

 


 

Your brain changes your mind

  • Brain activity generates mental activity (mostly forever outside awareness).
  • Trauma shrinks the hippocampus, which becomes less able to create new memories.
  • More active left frontal lobes foster positive emotions.

 


 

You can use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better.

In just one example, mindfulness practices:

  • Trigger patterns of neural pulsing that produce relaxed alertness
  • Activate positive emotion circuits, building resilience and resistance to depression
  • Increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that supports mood, sleep, and digestion
  • Thicken the anterior cingulate, strengthening attention and self-observation
  • Thicken the insula, strengthening internal sensing and empathy for others
  • Stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) for relaxed well-being
  • Strengthen the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, dampen chronic pain


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