HOW TO TRAIN A HAPPIER BRAIN
Posted by Nicola Elliott
You’ll know from the term ‘brain training’ that we can exercise our brains to improve memory. But a body of scientific research shows we have even more control over our brains than previously thought...
We’re actually able to ‘train’ neural pathways – the highways that regulate thoughts, emotions and reactions. It means we can learn to rewire our brains to override negative emotions and reactions in favour of compassionate, optimistic and grateful responses instead.
A 2005 Harvard University study proved that meditation can change the brain’s structure – allowing for more positive neural pathways. First step, block knee-jerk reactions. If you lose your temper when your child throws something or your partner frustrates you – close your eyes,breathe deeply and reclaim perspective. Then – without anger – respond calmly, in control. Do this repeatedly and your brain automatically responds with a deep breath and calm reply, not yelling.
The neural pathways we use most often become the brain’s strongest shortcuts. Try to think positively – even if you feel desperate, bewildered or uncertain –and your brain recognises it. It’s like faking a smile: your brain registers happiness with the movement of the muscles and responds by feeling better. Just like riding a bike, once positive neural pathways are ingrained, they’ll never be forgotten. So your future will,scientifically, be significantly brighter.*
*A study led by scientists at UCSF found that schoolteachers who underwent a short, intensive meditation program were less depressed, anxious, and stressed, while also experiencing greater compassion and awareness of others’ feelings. The study was published in the April issue of Emotion. In study released in March 2013, researchers at UCLA found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification (folding) of the brain’s cortex, specifically in the area of the insula – an area of the brain whose many vital roles include emotional awareness, attention, self-recognition, decision making, and sensing. The researchers found a direct correlation between the number of years study participants had practiced meditation and the amount of brain change, offering further possible evidence of the brain’s plasticity. A groundbreaking study led by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011 found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people experience decreased anxiety and greater feelings of calm; it also produced growth in the areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation.