Neuroplasticity Behaviors And The Human Heart
Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to change your behaviors and habits? Have you ever asked yourself, why do I continue to come to the same results in my relationships with myself and others? Or even possibly asked yourself why are my views on religion, politics, health, finances, etc so different or even the exact opposite of others? The answer may lie in an amazing neurological phenomenon that our central nervous system (Brain and spinal Cord) has called Neural Plasticity.
What is Neural Plasticity? Neural plasticity has evolved as the study of the plastic and malleable nature of the brain. Rewiring your brain is a dynamic process that happens within the relationship of your mind, brain, and body. They are intricately interconnected as a sophisticated system to ensure your survival and homeostasis. What happens to one of these systems has a direct impact on you and the world around you.
People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.
— Abraham Lincoln
According to Michael Merzenich from the book, “The Brain that Changes Itself”, practicing a new habit under the right conditions, can change hundreds of millions and possibly billions of the connections between the nerve cells in our neural pathways. The human brain is made up of an estimated 100 billion neurons making a total of 100 trillion neural connections.
Let’s look at a demonstration of neural plasticity from brain science research. 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. People who are optimistic have more activity in their left prefrontal cortex than people who are pessimistic.1 & 2
The study of neural plasticity has opened doors of new possibilities for transforming mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, for changing unhealthy habits, and for increasing the potential of every individual to experience lasting happiness. 3
Brain plasticity appears to be the physiological basis for the possibility of transforming our minds. By mobilizing our thoughts and practicing new ways of being, we can reshape our nerve cells and change the way our brains work.
Mental activity strengthens the neural pathways in your brain associated with what you focus on with your thoughts and feelings. To oversimplify this—but, nonetheless, clearly state what is happening—if you focus on happiness with your thoughts and feelings, you strengthen happiness pathways. If you focus on stress with your thoughts and feelings, you strengthen stress pathways. Every thought you think and feeling you feel, strengthens the circuitry in your brain known as your 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.4
An analogy of Neural Plasticity that may let you see the simplicity and complexity of this neurological process. Hiking trails are similar to your brain pathways. Just as a grassy path becomes flattened, matted and worn away every time a hiker walks over it, as you focus on something with your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, you strengthen your brain pathways. Over the days, months and years a well-traveled hiking trail becomes a well-worn pathway. Compare this to a trail that is not well-traveled or perhaps a faint trail made by small animals. These trails might be noticeable to the naked eye, however their visibility pales in comparison to the trails that get higher foot traffic.
This is great news for making life altering changes and begin to attract exactly what you desire into your life.
However, this is also why the habits you have had for many years are the most challenging to change. They have carved the most well-worn grooves, or deepest trails, in your brain.
Donald Hebb’s landmark discovery in 1949, “neurons that fire together wire together,” best explains the process of forming, strengthening, and solidifying neural pathways. We experience these pathways as our patterns in important areas of our life such as relationships, food, money, career, health and happiness levels.
Practicing “Heartfulness” thus creating “Mindfulness”.
How do I change my behaviors, actions, thoughts, that are not working for me in my life?
As you practice traveling down new pathways, you naturally weaken old pathways.
As you think similar thoughts and feel similar feelings, you are either creating new habits and beliefs or solidifying old ones. Eventually, through repetition and feeling intensity, your new habits run on autopilot.
Research from the HeartMath Institute shows that when we shift into a coherent state the heart and brain act synergistically like two systems that mesh into one. As you begin to activate and maintain the synergy between the heart and the brain, stress reducing patterns become actualized and mental clarity and decreased stress response are established. As you engage in synchronizing your heart and brain, the rewiring of your neural pathways (neural plasticity) allow for the development of healthy balanced habits, ways of being and new possibilities in your life. The heart and brain begin to act in concert with one another to form new potentials new possibilities and to shift old paradigms and ways of being that have been dysfunctional for you.
Planting your garden
How do I begin to practice Heartfulness?
An analogy of planting a garden feels like a proper analogy to describe living Heartfulness. In order to create the most beautiful garden one must first clear a space by removing any debris, rocks, weeds, or anything that would prevent healthy growth of the flowers or vegetables that you would like to grow. You then till the ground and add nutrients to the soil that will allow for the perfect balance for your plants to develop. The next step is to create rows or areas that you would like your plants to grow in. These rows allow for organization, healthy growth patterns, beauty, simplicity and coherence to your vision of what your garden will be. You then choose what you would like to grow in your garden. It may be a beautiful flower garden with roses, orchids, mums, and daisies. It may be an herb garden or the a beautiful vegetable garden with wide varieties of delicious veggies. Once you have chosen what will be growing you, plant them, water them, allow for perfect sunlight and you trust that your garden will grow. As your plants begin to pop up from the soil, there may be some weeds that show up, so you pull those weeds and maintain the perfect growing environment for your beautiful garden. You “tend” your garden, you consciously go out and check on the health and growth of your plants and you know and trust that nature will create the most perfect outcome for you.
To begin to practice and create your garden of Heartfulnes and Mindfulness in a synchronized cohesive way, you must first clear the space of debris. This debris may be pain (emotional or physical), victimization, beliefs about yourself or your body, recognizing relationships that are not working for you, addiction (both thoughts and actions), etc. Some of this debris may be deep rooted and may require great “tending” or great moment to moment consciousness to eradicate from your garden.
This removing of old paradigms and creating new paradigms is the process of neural plasticity. You may have worn deep grooves, possibly as deep as the grand canyon, in your nervous system that cause you to arrive at specific conclusions in your life that have been emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually destructive to you. The beauty of neural plasticity is that as you remove the debris, tend your soil, plant your garden, water and allow for sunlight, you develop new ways of being, new neurological pathways and new potentials and possibility for your life. To be the master gardener of your life it takes great consciousness and commitment to what you are creating. As you practice heart and mind coherence the old paradigms (neural circuits) will soften and give way to new beautiful paradigms and new pathways of possibilities.
Will the old neural pathways still be there? They will be there but they are simply a beautiful reminder of how far you have come, what you have learned, and the expansion and creation of your beautiful life. Always remember you are the master gardner, and It is your garden and you can change it anytime you want.
For many years we have been taught that the brain is leading the show in our lives. Science is now beginning to recognize that there is another major player in the formation of our life paradigms. That player is the human heart. The intuitive intelligence of the heart is directly linked to your path of personal, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. The heart intelligence opens the door for social and global coherence. It is the connective source to all relationships and most importantly the relationship with yourself.
According to the HeartMath Institute, “heart intelligence is the flow of intuitive awareness, understanding and inner guidance we experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the heart. It can be activated through self-initiated practice. The more coherent we are and the more we pay attention to this deeper intuitive inner guidance, the greater our ability to access this intelligence more frequently. Heart intelligence underlies cellular organization and guides and evolves organisms toward increased order, awareness and coherence of their bodies’ systems. heart coherence, heart-rhythm coherence, physiological coherence, social coherence and global coherence. Coherence, in any system, from the human body to social affairs, refers to a logical, orderly and harmonious connectedness between parts of a system or between people.
When we speak of heart-rhythm coherence or physiological coherence, we are referring to a specific assessment of the heart’s rhythms that appears as smooth, ordered and sine-wavelike patterns. From a physics perspective, when we are in a coherent state, virtually no energy is wasted because our systems are performing optimally and there is synchronization between heart rhythms, the respiratory system, blood-pressure rhythms, etc.
Among the many benefits of personal coherence are increased composure, more energy, clear thinking, enhanced immune-system function and hormonal balance. Each of us is capable of achieving, increasing and maintaining our personal and social coherence. One of the simplest and quickest paths to personal heart coherence is through the intentional self-generation of positive feelings such as compassion, care, love and other renewing types of emotions. In contrast, we can quickly become incoherent when we experience attitudes and emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety.”
Many Cultures and people have practiced heart and mind coherence. Meditation, yoga, prayer, exercise, healthy sexual relationships, nature and breathing have all been a dynamic pathway to open the door to heart and mind connection.
I invite you to take a look at your life, your dysfunctional paradigms, those areas where you would like to experience abundance and practice the art of Heartfulness. The key word in that last sentence is to “practice”. The word practice implies that you will always be learning and expanding your ability to create your life by leading with your heart, by listening to your intuition and engaging in life with your beautiful mind with clarity and purpose.
To me life is an ever expanding circle of possibilities, much like a pebble in a pond, it expands out in perfect symmetry as I practice my Heartfulness. I would love to see what you create as you engage from your heart.
1Davidson, R. (2004b). What does the prefrontal cortex “do” in affect: Perspectives on frontal EEG asymmetry research. Biological Psychology. 67(1–2), 219–233.
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3Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself. Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. New York: James H. Silberman Books.
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