Neuroplasticity and MindfulnessOct 13, 2021
Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness
Our brains are not static unchanging structures as once thought. Our brains are remarkable machines where neural pathways and networks can be remoulded and rewired. If a part of the brain dies or networks get damaged, we are able to train other parts of the brain and form new networks. This is called neuroplasticity – meaning that the brain can grow and change, moulded like plastic.
Isn’t your brain simply incredible!
Yoga has the ability to keep our neural networks firing on all cylinders.
If we live a very stressed life then our brain learns to respond more and more to the stress and the responses of stress, and our “muscles” that create calm become weak – the neural pathways to the parasympathetic nervous system waste away and we remain in a stressed out ‘flight or fight’ mode.
However, the more we engage in activities that calm the mind and body, the stronger these pathways become. Over time we naturally begin to over-ride the destructive thoughts, patterns and emotions and replace them with a more bliss-full state. This bliss-full state eventually becomes our default setting.
Isn’t that such a lovely thought – to be naturally attuned to bliss and calm, rather than to heightened levels of stress, as our natural state?
The physical practice of yoga asks the body and mind to work out how to create new shapes, movements and feelings that are perhaps quite unfamiliar to us. As we challenge ourselves to find balance, or move the left arm at the same time as the right leg, we are creating new neural connections. I often visualise new sparks flying at synaptic junctions in the brain when I move in yoga practice or sit in meditation (a synapse is a junction between two nerve cells across which impulses transmit).
Through yoga we begin to build the neural pathways towards bliss and calm, and we find our natural responses to situations and stimuli begin to change. Instead of flying off the handle when stuck in traffic, we begin to understand that there is no point in stressing out as we cannot change the situation. So take this time to tune into the breath and practice some mindful breathing until the traffic starts to flow again.
Being mindful means being aware. This is important in creating positive neural pathway changes. When practicing physical yoga postures, or meditation, start to become aware of what the mind is saying, how it is responding. If the self-talk is negative, or bored, or distracted, change it to focus on how you feel in this very moment.
Be mindful of every movement, every breath and it will change your life for the better. Over time the positive thoughts and feelings will become your default setting.
Learning to cultivate mindfulness is truly transformational. One study demonstrated that after a 2 week mindfulness training course participants were able to reduce a wandering mind and were far less prone to distractions. They also found that mindfulness was an efficient and effective tool to improve over-all cognitive functioning.
Do you want to learn more about movement, mindfulness, breath awareness, meditation and yoga? Join the Empowered Women's Wellness Portal - a monthly membership where you can access this and so much more.
 Mrazek M.D, et al. (2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychol Sci. May;24(5): pp776-781
Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash
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