by Andrea Hartley
Reprogramming the Brain
A Path to Healing Disease, Happiness and Well-being
Few people would question the value of maintaining a physical fitness program. Increasing numbers of people are finding that their health and quality of life improves as they increase their physical activity by walking and working out. Health experts encourage people to maintain a regular a fitness program and this has become an important goal for many people. Some people are finding that a fitness program for the brain has incredible benefits as well and this may also soon become a common goal.
Scientists have recently discovered that certain techniques that retrain the brain can result in personal transformation in behavior and even heal disease. It was previously thought that the adult brain was unable to change. Neuroplasticity is the concept that the brain continually changes as a result of experience. (Controlling Stress and Tension, P.412) . According to Spectrum’s 8th grade Science Standardized Test Preparation Guide, Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to physically change its structure and function in response to experiences and thought.
Bruce Lipton writes in The Biology of Belief, “ New connections between neurons may be formed even brand-new neurons generated.” Modalities that reprogram previously learned behaviors are called energy psychology, a new field which is based on the New Biology.”
Some of the diseases that are being treated and even reversed by reprogramming the brain include, heart disease, cancer, depression, dyslexia, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, multiple chemical sensitivities, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic, addictions and even the effects of aging.
Thought, which is the mind’s energy, directly influences how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology. Bruce Lipton in The Biology of Belief writes “Thought energy can activate or inhibit the cell’s function-producing proteins … (That is why) I actively monitored where I was expending my brain’s energy. I had to examine the consequences of energy I invested in my thoughts, as closely as I examined the expenditures of energy I used to power my physical body.” He went on to write “The fact is that harnessing the power of your mind can be more effective than the drugs you have been programmed to believe you need,” and that “research has proven that energy is a more efficient means of affecting matter than chemicals.” He added that he is not talking about simply thinking positive thoughts. “It is important for our health and well-being to shift our mind’s energy toward positive, life-generating thoughts and eliminate ever-present, energy-draining and debilitating negative thoughts, BUT the mere thinking of positive thoughts will not necessarily have any impact on our lives at all.” He explained that while the conscious and sub-conscious minds work together, they are separate and distinct. The subconscious has been programmed by what we have learned from others as a child and our experiences and environment throughout life. If the desires of the conscious mind conflict with the programs in the subconscious mind, he subconscious mind wins, until the mind is re-programmed.
There are several ways that this can be accomplished; however neuroplasticity is impossible without attention and mental effort according to Sharon Begley author of Train Your Mind Change Your Brain. One technique is visualization. “Harvard researchers performed an experiment in which they had volunteers practice playing a short piece of music on the piano for two hours a day. After five days, the researchers found that the section of the brain responsible for the motion of the fingers had grown. These findings, while not groundbreaking, supported what other recent research had found-the brain, like muscles in your arms can grow when it gets a workout. In the second part of the experiment, the new volunteers did not physically play the piano. Instead, they were told to imagine that they were practicing the piece of music. They did not actually move their fingers, they just thought about how their fingers would move. When the researchers hooked up the subjects to the machines they found that the same part of the brain that had grown in the first group also grew in the second group. Just the power of though had changed the structure of their brains.”
Visualization techniques always require repetition and feeling. These subjects not only “saw” themselves playing the piano, more importantly they “felt” themselves playing the piano.
Visualization is one component used in Gupta Amygdala Retraining program; which was developed by Gupta for those suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome. fibromyalgia, and multiple chemical sensitivities. The patient is instructed to “see” himself as well. The patient is asked to see and feel what they would be doing and feeling if they were well, in a visualization which is repeated at least two times a day.
Gupta writes, “Your subconscious is a combination of all your memories, bodily functions, emotional reactions, your beliefs and much more. It could also be defined as all the intelligence in your body that makes things work, which is outside your conscious awareness or control. In your subconscious brain, there is a brain structure called the amygdala. It’s a small almond shaped structure in what is called the limbic system of the brain.” He adds that the amygdala’s main function is to protect the body from danger. It interprets stimuli obtained from your five senses and decides if there is a threat. Gupta says that the three disease processes mentioned above are real physical illnesses that are outside of the patient’s control but that they are caused or worsened by inappropriate programming of the amygdala. The amygdala, which is on high alert, is constantly stimulating the brain and over stimulating the nervous system. This causes fatigue, muscle aches and allergic type reactions in people with those illnesses. There is much more to the Amygdala retraining program than visualization and Gupta claims that it has helped him and many others heal from these disease processes.
Neuropsychiatrist Jeffery Schwartz of the University of California was able to help patients with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by retraining their brains. According to Sharon Begley in Train Your mind Change Your Brain, with this disorder, patients are constantly barraged by unwanted, upsetting thoughts. Swartz used Mindfulness meditation which is the practice of observing one’s inner experiences in a way that is fully aware but nonjudgmental. “You stand outside your mind and observe thoughts and feelings as if they were happening to someone else. “His goal was to have his patients experience an OCD symptom without reacting emotionally and to realize that the feeling that something is amiss is just the manifestation of a wiring defect in the brain, over activity in the OCD circuit….that has no reality in itself,” Begley writes. “He also showed the patients their PET scans to emphasize that their symptoms came from a faulty neurological circuit. Patients could then realize that it was not them, but the dendrites of brain circuitry and they could be reprogrammed. He instructed his patients to handle the unwanted thoughts by self talk. For instance if a patient was getting the urge to wash his hands obsessively, he would say to himself, “This thing that feels like an urge to wash my hands, is really just a brain-wiring problem.” After one week of patients relabeling their symptoms as manifestations of pathological brain processes, they reported the disease was no longer controlling them and that they felt they could do something about it,” says Schwartz. Then UCLA scientists launched a study in how the mind can shape the fundamental biology of the brain. Begley writes, “They performed PET scans on eighteen OCD patients before and after ten weeks of mindfulness-based therapy. None of the patients took medication for their OCD and all had moderate to severe symptoms. Twelve improved significantly PET scans after treatment showed that activity in the orbital frontal cortex, the core of the OCD circuit, had fallen dramatically compared to what it had been before mindfulness-based therapy.
Schwartz said that the study offered striking evidence that “willful, mindful effort can alter brain function and that self-directed brain changes-neuroplasticity-are a genuine reality.” The mind can change the brain!
Michael Merzenich has developed a neuroplasticity-based intervention for normal age-related cognitive decline. Older people don’t see, hear, feel, taste or smell as accurately as teenagers and the memory may decline. His training targets these age-related changes. In Train Your Mind Change Your Brain Begley writes, that in 2005 he (Merzenich) had “volunteers, ages sixty-one to ninety-four years old, undergo eight weeks of computer-based training to improve the brain’s ability to discern the sounds of speech. ..Similar auditory retraining has been shown to rewire the auditory cortex in dyslexic children. The older brains, too, both processed speech better and remembered things better.” (after training) Merzenich said that eighty-year-olds had developed the memories of seventy-year-olds. “I expect we could reduce neurogognitive age by twenty-five years.” He said. He added that the day was soon coming when a “brain-fitness culture” would recognize the need to “Exercise your brain as you exercise your body.”
Mental training which engages many of the brain’s cognitive circuits can change its emotional circuitry because thought has been linked to emotion in the brain. Deliberately cultivating and focusing on a thought for the well-being or healing of another can increase the gamma waves of the one doing the thinking. Increased Gamma waves are associated with increased ability to feel optimistic, compassion and to process things that we learn.
During a study where a man was engaging in meditating on compassion and loving-kindness toward all living beings, it was found that his gamma waves increased. It was found that Buddhist Monks who participate in this type of meditation regularly (compassionate Meditation) had increased activity in the left prefrontal which is associated with positive mood and it had changed permanently.
We have seen that re-training the brain can include visualization, self-talk, various types of meditation, using computer programs and require a dedicated self-effort. We have also seen that those who re-train their brains may recover all or part of their health, have a happier life, and become better human beings.
Begley, Sharon. Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. New York: Ballantine
Books, 2008. Print.
Girdano, Daniel A. Controlling Stress And Tension. Pearson Education, Inc, 2009.
Gupta. Gupta Amygdala Retraining. Harley Street Solutions, Ltd, 2009. Print.
Lipton, Bruce H., Ph.D. The Biology Of Belief. Hay House, Inc, 2005. Print.
Unnamed author. Spectrum Science Standardized Test Preparation. Carson-Dellosa
Publishing, LLC, 2008
My mission is to live in love and help others to do the same. Why is this my mission? Because I have discovered through much research that love really is the answer. Answer to what? Our problems! Regardless of how trite that sounds; it is true. (For scientific proof, see my paper )
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Most religions extol the virtues of love of God, neighbor and self; but what IS love? Theologians, philosophers and every day people have debated that for centuries. Is it a feeling? Is it an act? Well from my perspective it is both and you can cultivate the feeling if you choose to and know how. I once read a very interesting letter in Dear Abby. The woman wrote that she absolutely detested her husband and wanted to hurt him in the worst possible way. She decided that she would be sooo nice and kind to him for a period of time and just when he was used to this loving treatment, she would have her revenge and divorce him. Guess what? He responded to her loving actions with loving actions of her own and she fell in love with him again and the divorce was off! They now had a happy, loving marriage.
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