Exercising your brain!
February 11, 2013 2 Comments
“Exercising the brain” struck me as a clever way of introducing this important topic. When I was an undergrad at Purdue I noticed an advertisement in The Exponent offering lessons in transcendental meditation. I decided to attend the seminar and eventually joined the instruction. I was into it for a while and remember feeling refreshed after meditating. Eventually, though, my hectic schedule got in the way and I gradually stopped meditating.
I had always been taught that it was difficult for nerves and the brain to be reformed however research has shown that that is not true. And, it seems, a scientist from the UW – Madison, Richard Davidson, is involved in the research.
Throughout life, even shortly before death, the brain can remodel itself, responding to a person’s experiences. This phenomenon, known as neuroplasticity, offers a powerful tool to improve well-being, experts say.
“We now have evidence that engaging in pure mental training can induce changes not just in the function of the brain, but in the brain’s structure itself,” Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told an audience at the New York Academy of Sciences on Thursday (Feb. 6) evening.
The brain’s plasticity does change over time, Davidson pointed out. For instance, young children have an easier time learning a second language or a musical instrument, he said.
“How many of you think engaging in certain kinds of physical activity will change the way the body works? Our cultural understanding now is that specific types of activity can alter the body in noticeable ways,” [Amishi] Jha said, adding that this cultural understanding may be shifting to incorporate the mind as well.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment, nonjudgmentally,” [Jon] Kabat-Zinn said.
There are many doors into mindfulness, said Kabat-Zinn. He gave two examples: A person can practice mindfulness by focusing on something, such as his or her own breath, and bringing his or her attention back to the breath when it begins to wander, Kabat-Zinn said.
It is also possible to practice awareness without choosing a particular object upon which to focus; however, “that turns out to be quite a challenging thing to do,” he said.
So, it’s challenging but the health benefits seem well worth it. Now, just how to be back into the mindfulness track.