Mindfulness, Neuroplasticity, & Bodyhacking
Your brain isn’t static. It isn’t fixed in its capacity or finite in its synaptic connections. It can even compensate for damage. At one time, the brain was thought to be an organ that was all one would ever have once at maturity. And from that point it was in a continual, gradual state of decline until The End.
That view is dead. More and more, science has come to understand that the brain is actually quite adaptable. Science defines the brain’s ability to change and adapt as “neuroplasticity.” Neural connections not only can be made through experiences, but they can even be intentionally influenced by certain techniques. I’ve applied one of those techniques in my own life: Mindfulness meditation—my own bodyhacking.
Studying in Madrid at IE Business School, a friend and colleague was working on a professional services startup idea around mindfulness. Super busy at the time, I was intrigued enough to at least look up some of the research, which was compelling. It turns out that specific kinds of meditation training, focused on being present and not judging one’s thoughts and emotions and, thus, lessening inner tension regarding stressors, has been shown in research to physically shrink fight-or-flight parts of the brain. Moreover, it increases blood flow to and size of the more analytical parts of the brain like the pre-frontal cortex, while lessening the connections to that fear-response center, the amygdala.
After graduation, there was tremendous change in my life. From relationships to relocation across an ocean and finally cross-country for a new career—all in a matter of a few months—much was underway in my life. Remembering what I’d looked at via a friend in Madrid, I’d adopted a mindfulness meditation practice early on during this period of time. After only a couple of days I sensed that I was easing through stressors in a subtle-but-noticeable way.
Happy in the face of great change, it was time to make the move to a new city. The process of staying with friends and leasing a house, along with work and the fun of being in a new city and with friends old and new, saw me unintentionally moving away from this generally positive daily life routine. It took some time, but after a couple of months I noticed it: I was somehow subtly-but-noticeably a bit more stressed during drives, for example. If it looked like I might be a few minutes late I wasn’t as calm and relaxed as I’d like to be. As I should be. And multitasking behind the wheel just isn’t a healthy option.
So a few days before I decided to write this article I’d thought, “Christopher you need to pick that up again.” So I did. The change was subtle, but noticeable, and almost immediate. A sense of calm and being centered is there for us and accessible, particularly when we train our brains with a new response pattern.
The brain’s neuroplasticity is quite real and science is really only just beginning to understand the potential. In my practical experience, though, the scientists can continue their work while I take just 15 to 20 minutes each morning for myself. Because it just works. That’s a small investment for a whole bunch of calm in the face of circumstances that might otherwise be needlessly stressful.