Neuroscience, Mindfulness, and Neuroplasticity
The neuroscience of mindfulness: in a simple way, without religious connotations, from a scientific perspective.
There is a lot of talk about this concept, but what is mindfulness, also called Mindfulness?
We usually think of mindfulness as an idea that has been around for thousands of years and originally emerged from Buddhist traditions. At the same time many researchers are conducting large studies showing that mindfulness has an impact on many aspects of human experience.
Mindfulness, in a way, is simply the opposite of unconsciousness, unconsciousness being the cause of human suffering. Attachment.
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There is therefore value in analyzing mindfulness from a secular approach.
When we are focused on the ego, in a non-associative lifestyle, it is known from neuroscience that brain circuits such as the medial prefrontal cortex tend to be underdeveloped. There is therefore a correlation between the associative life and the evolution of our brain.
Any activity that goes out of our comfort zone demands a cerebral effort that however if carried out helps the plasticity of our brain. The neuroplasticity of our brain grows with the changes.
There is a lot of resistance to understand that in reality everything is correlated, something that science already shows us. It could be said that if you “open your eyes wide” it is an evidence to see how spirituality and science go hand in hand. In reality most of us are blind.
The key is to be able to explain neuroscience so that many more will understand it.
Here are some of the highlights of how mindfulness affects the brain:
Mindfulness and the brain
It is known that people have two distinct cognitive ways of interacting with the world, using two different sets of networks. One network for experiencing experience, which involves what is called the “default network,” which includes regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, along with memory regions such as the hippocampus.
This network is called the default network because it is activated when things happen on autopilot and we think in a non-associative, egocentric way. If for example we are sitting on the edge of a pier in summer, with a nice breeze caressing our hair, instead of enjoying the beautiful day, we may find ourselves thinking instead about the dinner we are going to prepare later.This is your default network in action.
It is the network involved in planning, daydreaming, also known as our autopilot.
This default network is also activated when we think about ourselves or other people, as it holds together a “narrative”. A narrative is a story with characters interacting with each other over time. The brain has a wealth of information about your story and other people’s stories. When the default network is active, we are thinking about history, now and future future and our whole immense world.
When you experience the world using this narrative network, you take in information from the outside world, process it through the filter of our interpretations. Sitting on the dock with its active narrative circuit, a cool breeze is actually a warning, a sign that summer will end soon, which makes us think to prepare for the near future. This is called futurization.
The default network is active during most of our waking moments and does not require much effort to operate. There is nothing wrong with this network. The point here is that we should not limit ourselves to experiencing the world through this network for our emotional well-being and the neuroplastic evolution of our brain.
There is on the other hand a completely different way of experiencing reality.
Scientists call this type of activity a direct experience. When the direct experience network is active, several different brain regions are activated. This includes the insula, a region that is related to the perception of bodily sensations as well as other parts of the brain in charge of shifting attention.
When this direct experience network is activated, you find yourself experiencing information that reaches your senses in real time. Other studies have found that these two circuits, narrative and direct experience, are inversely correlated.
In other words, if you think about an upcoming meeting while doing chores around the house, you are more likely to be distracted and make mistakes, because the brain map involved in visual perception is less active when the narrative map is activated.
We are not as attentive to our senses when we are lost in these thoughts. We don’t even enjoy the moment; it’s harder to savor the moment.
One positive thing is that this scenario works both ways. When you focus your attention on incoming data, such as the feel of water on your hands as you wash yourself, you reduce the activation of narrative circuits.
This explains why, for example, if your narrative circuit is worrying about a stressful upcoming event, it is helpful to take a deep breath and focus on the present moment. All of our senses “come alive” in that moment if we return to the so-called direct experience of peace.
In short, you can experience the world through the narrative loop, which will be useful for planning, goal setting and strategizing. On the other hand we can experience the world in a more direct way, which allows us to better perceive sensory information.
Experiencing the world through the direct experience network allows you to get closer to the reality of any event. By being more present, taking note and more real-time information, this allows us to be more flexible in how we respond to the world. Feeling less imprisoned by the past, habits, expectations or assumptions and more able to respond to events as they unfold.
Knowing how to be present is the key to connecting with the “holy” instant of the moment we are living, and we now know this from a scientific perspective as well. There is only the present, everything else is really a creation of our mind.
This is not just a theory. It has also been found that people who are on a high scale of mindfulness are more aware of their unconscious processes. In addition, these people have greater cognitive control and a greater ability to shape what they do.
When you make this shift in your attention, you change the way your brain functions, and this can also have a positive long-term impact.
Mindfulness is a habit, it is something that the more you do, the more likely you are to be in that positive mode with less and less effort. Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned. It is actually accessing something that we already have, that we already are.
Mindfulness is not difficult in itself, what is difficult is remembering to be mindful. It is really wonderful to realize how in reality we are already abundant, now without the need to look for anything and that this is also corroborated by neuroscience. We are already abundant and we only have to open our eyes to realize it.
We all have access to this ability and we can practice it without the need for rituals or ceremonies. If anything, these are tools to indirectly reach the moment of mindfulness, but in reality we all have the ability and access to it is available throughout our lives.
The key to practicing mindfulness is to practice, to focus our attention in a single sense, in the “here and now” and to get used to it.
You can practice mindfulness at any time of the day even when planning, while eating, walking, talking, etc…. Just flow in the present moment, let yourself be carried by the presence of life experience.
Developing mindfulness does not mean that you have to sit still and watch your breath. You can find a way that suits your lifestyle. You can create your own tailor-made ritual with something as simple as taking a few mindful breaths before eating or engaging in any activity. The point is to connect with Source, with consciousness, and to do that we must become aware.
The added benefit is that we will be able to savor life in its true dimension, the present moment.
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