The Brain; Tis A Mysteriously Complex And Beautiful Organ.
Let’s dive deep to find out more.
It is estimated that the human brain has 100 billion neurones and each neurone may have as many as 7,000 synaptic connections.
Just take that in for a moment
this is what 100 billion looks like: 100,000,000,000.
This extraordinary number of neurones communicate with each other using electrical signals. These signals emanating from the brain are measured as brainwaves. The frequencies of the brainwaves tell us a lot about the state of the brain at a given moment. All of the things you do everyday require different states of consciousness and awareness; from being alert and focused all the way to being asleep.
For the science-y or science-curious folk reading this, here is a glimpse of the common ‘brainwave frequencies’ in everyday experiences:
Delta: restorative sleep (0-3 hz)
Theta: drowsiness, meditation, daydreaming (4-7hz)
Alpha: relaxed focus, cognitive efficiency (8-12 hz)
Beta: problem-solving, cognitive activity (13-22hz)
So, back to plain English - why is this important?
Well, it was once thought the brain was fixed and unchangeable, we now know this not to be the case.
While your brain is magnificent, and has the capacity to change, it lacks awareness of its own dysregulation or dysfunction. It needs a bit of help.
Let me use a simple analogy to explain;
someone may be walking around all day, with their shirt on inside out and back to front, totally oblivious and unaware - till somebody lets them know, or they look in the mirror and realise!
Yes, ignorance may be bliss, but not always optimal
... or as harmless as this fashion faux paus.
Enter Dynamical Brain Training Technology.
Neurofeedback is one of the ways we've figured out how to communicate with the brain. We can now "speak" to the brain in its own language - its own beautiful neuronal dance. This is done by interacting with the brain and offering it the information it needs to function more efficiently. The way Neuroptimal® Neurofeedback works is by training the brain to be more flexible and resilient.
You can learn more about the NeurOptimal's technology by visiting Zengar.
So, with the right information, feedback and intention, the brain has the capacity to reorganise, repair or renew it’s neuronal pathways and connections.
This self-regulating ability of the brain is well accepted by the medical and neurological professions and is known as ‘neuroplasticity’.
For a quick, clever Brain Tour, check out The Sentis' video illustrating neuroplasticity.
Neuronal pathways; inter-connected by electrical impulses, serve to communicate information from and to all parts of the body through the central, peripheral and enteric nervous systems.
Your could think of it as the ‘motherboard’ or control tower for your central nervous system.
Good question: What are the applications of "neuroplasticity"?
Put simply. Change is possible.
Dr. Paul Bach-Y-Rita pioneered the field of neuroplasticity, some of his work is featured in the movie "The Brain That Changes Itself”.
In this video you will see how he worked with patients to rewire the brain so that one ‘sense’ could potentially compensate for another that was damaged or absent; working to help the blind acquire a certain form of 'sight' using the sense of touch, and also help ‘wobblers’, people with damaged vestibular function, so their brains might create a new mode for having balance.
And in this empowering message, Dr Lara Boyd describes how neuroplasticity gives you power to shape the brain you want!
Understanding Neuroplasticity is Empowering
A cognitive neuroscientist scientist in this area, Dr Caroline Leaf, looks at how the mind and brain dance together. Sometimes these concepts may seem counter-intuitive, we may think, surely the hardware governs the software - but her research into neuropsychology, like many others, has found
our thoughts are way more powerful than we ‘think’
... Did you catch the pun there?!
If you would like to take a few moments, to reflect on these questions -
Ask yourself: how often do your thoughts feel like ultimate truths? If you could describe the thoughts, what would they look like? Fluid, flexible, supportive, or rock solid, fixed, rigid? A maze? A gentle pathway? Steps in a ladder?
Explore the qualities of the thoughts: do they feel like good friends? There to support? Patiently wait, encourage you? Remind you of reality? Help you see things as they are? Or more like foes, there to attack? If your thoughts were characters from film, who comes to mind?
If they were an animal, what would they be? Imagine what they look like, give them a name, and imagine the qualities you would associate with them?
Do the thoughts sometimes feel “sticky” and hard to “shift”, "ancient"; like they have been around for as long as you can recall? Or are they flexible, flowing, and resilient?
If you are stuck in a thought pattern, does thinking of a new thought, sounds “great” but seems really “hard” to do in that moment?
Are your thoughts generally positive, but when you get down, they seem different altogether? Or are they more frequent and intense in certain situations and with certain people? Take a moment to gently explore why this may be?
Take a moment for yourself. You may like to journal some reflections. As you think of these patterns, pay attention to where those thoughts (and subsequent feelings) get experienced in the body, e.g. head, chest, neck, belly - you may even want to emphasise the shape they generate - say some of the thoughts out loud and see what posture, movement, speed, pressure they evoke in you. Without judgement, the point here is to observe and become aware of what's there.
Whatever answers came up for you, whether surprising, familiar, sobering, energising.
You are not alone.
We all have patterns; some helpful and some that are less than helpful.
Staying in unhelpful patterns without a reprieve - especially if they are not reflective of reality - can cause real and unnecessary suffering. But the story does not have to end there.
Things can change.
The brain can be "re-written" ...
Imagine this - Every time a thought or emotion is repeated in the brain, an actual neural pathway is reinforced
Visualise: tracing a groove with your finger in the sand.
And at the same time, with each new thought, we begin to create a new path
Visualise: drawing a ‘new line’ in the sand.
But don’t take my word for it, see this beautiful talk “We are what we think: Valerie Mason-John” where she explores what she calls her ‘stinking thinking’ in an honest, thought provoking way.
This challenged me to visit (and re-visit) any toxic thinking happening in my own mind and invited me to move towards compassion, it is a practice, therefore, needs revisiting over and over.
And because we are talking about "a practice" and making a new neural pathway - we often need re-visit, re-mind and re-member new ways of being often till they feel like second nature; till they are incorporated and integrated.
That is completely normal.
When learning a new skill, it is important to be kind to ourselves.
I often say to my clients I would like them to try 3 things in the following order:
I think this is why it is so important -
Repetition helps our brains especially when are trying to learn a new skill.
These small changes, frequently enough repeated, lead to changes in how our brains work.
In his presentation, Dr Joe Dispenza demonstrates this point elegantly and in live-action, with recorded brain electrical activity and all.
It is so interesting to watch in real-time, how pathways disappear and new ones are consolidated.
So, the bottom line is, science tells us clearly, our thoughts can grow or undo.
And what we feed, grows.
See my future blog post on the ‘Two Wolves’ to explore this concept a little further and give you some tips to catch out unhelpful thoughts and replace them with 'upgraded' thoughts.
The understanding of neuroplasticity has led to an explosion of interest in the power of brain training to improve wellbeing including focus, memory attention and performance.
Neuroplasticity is the 'muscle building' part of the brain; the things we do often we become stronger better at, what we don’t use fades away.
That is the physical basis of why making a thought or action over and over again increases its power.
"Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together"
- Donald Hebb, Canadian psychologist
Over time, it becomes automatic; a part of us.
We literally become what we think and do.
Just think of the ramifications of this for our health and our relationships!
Since the brain is pivotal to all we think and do, by harnessing neuroplasticity we can improve;
Neurofeedback works with these fundamental principles of neuroplasticity.
And like going to the gym, as training progresses your brain becomes optimal - “fit" and resilient.
Like a “Buff" Brain!
As James Redfield says,
‘where attention goes, energy flows’
And our brain pathways light up to prove it.
I am trying to recall when the brain first captivated my imagination.
I think it was through the writings of Oliver Sacks, a British neurologist, who died in 2015.
Some of his best known works include Musicophilia, Awakenings, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Aside from being a beautiful writer, he teaches us a lot about the brain in action through his work but importantly for me, as a psychotherapist, brain transformation in his work occurred in the context of a caring therapeutic relationship.
Here is the trailer for the film adaptation of his book, Awakenings, a moving and hopeful portrait of healing.
Sacks' Ted Talk captures the heart warming and humane way he relates to his patients.
“It turns out that neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to experience — abounds, and nonjudgmental, agenda-less presence is the soil in which healing and meaning grow.”
- From Bonnie Badenoch, PhD article, A Symphony of Gifts from Relational Neuroscience
3 Take Homes Points
Our thoughts can change our brains - for better or for worse.
It is possible to create new neural pathways in the brain.
Neurofeedback is a learning process that works to support neuroplasticity - NeurOptimal does this by effortlessly training the whole central nervous system in dynamic, safe way, to function more gracefully and efficiently.
Personally, I feel that holding the hope for and believing change is possible, goes hand in hand with the science of neuroplasticity. And truly believe the neurobiological understanding of attachment and trauma is exploding because we are seeing science reflecting what we know to be intuitively true about human connection and transformation.
We grow with feedback, we grow with a mirror to test out what is real and what is not, what is 'grow-ful' and what isn't.
The way humanity and science meet together like this, sits at the core of what we do at Living Neuro. If you feel led to explore and harness the inherent capacity for change and growth within, feel free to get in touch.