Healing Yourself–Forming New Neural Pathways
Our brains are very powerful organs. The brain is responsible for regulating our thoughts, behaviors, abilities, and quality of life. As we grow and mature, our experiences, the way we are nurtured by our parents, friends, and teachers, and even the places we live and travel to all ingrain themselves into our being. Every thought you think and feeling you feel strengthens the circuitry in your brain know as neural pathways. Neural pathways are the basis of your habits of thinking, feeling, and acting. They are what you believe to be true and why you do what you do. Neural plasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life. You and I have the power inside ourselves to do differently and to think differently through neural plasticity.
Think about this: would you eat something if you knew it contained a substance that was poison to your body? We would say, “of course not, that would be crazy”. But many of us do this just about every day. We consume processed foods that contain chemicals and preservatives that were not meant for human consumption. And too much salt and way too much sugar. Yes, all of these things have been “tested” and shown to be “generally recognized as safe” for us to eat. We may not see the bad effects right away after eating these foods, but we do see what they are doing to us as time goes by. We as a culture are obese, diabetic, hypertensive, depressed, sleep-deprived, and anxious. And sometimes we don’t know how bad we are truly feeling until we make changes and start to feel more like ourselves again. I remember when my oldest daughter returned from a mission trip to Congo. She came with me to the grocery store. Even though she had been to this store many times, the minute we walked through the doors she said, “Mom, we have so much food!” It’s true, here in the U.S. we do have an abundance, for which we should be thankful. But it is up to us to sort through what is REALLY food and good for our bodies and what is junk, poisoning our bodies. How can you form a new neural pathway to good eating? Make up your mind to start now, eating organic, non-GMO, non-processed foods. If you do this and do not stray from your intent, you will form a new neural pathway. You will form a new habit and the more you eat well, the more you will WANT to eat well. You will soon feel the good effects from your new neural pathway!
Have you tried meditation? I wrote an article about this awhile ago, and I intended to start practicing some daily meditation, but I never seemed to be able to make the time to do it. I recently attended a new meditation group. The group leader explained some things of which I was not aware. She said that when you start to meditate and you are focusing on your breath, your body/mind will be bothered about this and you will feel that you need to stop or cannot concentrate. This is the point at which many people discontinue trying to meditate. But, she said that you should push through this and in several more moments this uncomfortable feeling will go away. Also, she said, you will find that your mind will wander and that is normal and OK. Just bring your focus back to the breath. I thought, OK, I will try this again. The leader then said that she was going to set a timer and it would go off in 30 minutes. I wondered if I could really sit there for 30 minutes just concentrating on my breath, but I was not going to give up now. The uncomfortable feeling began soon after I started concentrating on my breathing. I kept going, and the uncomfortable feeling went away. My mind wandered, several times, but each time I went back to my breathing. At some point not long after this, it was like someone had flipped a switch in my brain. I had no sense of time. Before I knew it, the timer was going off. I could not believe that 30 minutes had passed. I felt calm and serene, and I had a sense that everything was as it should be. I had started to form a new neural pathway in my brain. I found that I wanted to return to this place again and again.
When you form a new neural pathway, it is like when you ride a bike or walk repeatedly over the same patch of grass, forming a visible path that is worn down. You can do this for your feelings. If you focus on stress with your thoughts and feelings, you strengthen stress pathways. But if you focus on happiness with your thoughts and feelings, you strengthen happiness pathways. When you engage in practices that increase feelings of happiness, you increase activity in your brain’s left prefrontal cortex. As you continue to feel happy, you strengthen this activity and solidify brain pathways that make it easier to replicate feelings of happiness. The same thing happens when you feel gratitude or do something good for someone. Neuroscientists have identified circuits in the brain that reward us for altruistic behaviors and feelings of gratitude. Our bodies release a hormone called oxytocin when we do something nice for others, which gives us a feeling of happiness and well-being. The same thing happens when we truly feel gratitude for everything we have and all that we are made to be.
YOU have the power to change your brain and to change your life!
Happy Thanksgiving and Blessings to you,