Change your brain, change your mind

We can change our brain patterns to become happier

The Brain Have you ever felt tortured by your own mind? You sit down to meditate only to see the same patterns repeating themselves; the same negative voices or emotional roller coasters swooping in again and again? Do you feel  a long, long way from the blissful, peaceful states so often spoken of in spiritual texts and by spiritual masters? Do you find it hard to find a distance or space amongst all the noise and confusion that seems to be going on in your head? Well, help is at hand. Neuroscience and eastern wisdom are beginning to converge revealing how we can change these patterns and become happier, more productive and, for those who are drawn to the spiritual path, walk it more surely. The mind and the brain Let's start by defining the terminology. Imagine the brain is electrical wiring and the mind is the electrical pattern that plays through and around the wiring. If you change your mind, this will be reflected in the wiring. This is the essence of "neuroplasticity". Also, if you change the wiring, for instance if you have an accident that injures a part of your brain, that will affect the patterns that are possible in the mind. So the two are interrelated, but not the same. [caption id="attachment_6658" align="aligncenter" width="721"]Brain plasticity Brain plasticity[/caption] Neuroscience and spirituality Discoveries about the brain have enabled us to find out so much more about how we function on the physical level, and this has challenged many assumptions about what it is to be human. For example, only a decade ago it was believed that, once you'd reached the age of around 21, your brain was pretty much set for the rest of your life, and neurons began to die off through adult life and more quickly in older age. Now it is known that the structure of our brains can change quite radically through our lives. There are not only neurons in our brains but also in our hearts and gut (so trusting your gut instinct is not an old wives tale after all) and there are many things we can positively do, including travel, complex forms of exercise such as running and yoga, learning new things and travelling, that can keep our brains and minds healthy, flexible and changing right into later life. Meditators have also been studied extensively by neuroscientists, because they can show a far higher degree of control over their minds than the average person. Scientists have been able to demonstrate and measure these differences and document the potential of the human mind. They have also shown how once a brain is balanced and functioning well, spiritual emergence tends to happen of its own accord. Yes, you did read that correctly, experiencing spiritual states has little to do with what we want or what we think, and lot to do with how well our mind and brain are functioning.meditation-brain So what does this mean for me? Well, these days you can train your mind to work differently by working directly with the brain. The most direct and effective way to do this is through neurofeedback, where sensors are put on your head to measure your brainwaves so you can see what your typical patterns are. This correlates to the kinds of experiences you have when you meditate. Then, using technology that feels a lot like your subconscious playing a computer game, you can gradually reward your brain each time it shifts its pattern towards a place of better balance. You can also do this is other ways, as the Eastern traditions such as yoga and meditation have been saying for generations. But if you know a little bit about what is happening in your brain it can help enormously in understanding the best practice to bring your brain into balance. This is rewarding work because bliss and peace comes more easily as we learn to control our minds and isn't that what many of us want? How to read your own mind In our brain we have different frequencies. Here is a very brief summary.brain waves [caption id="attachment_6651" align="alignright" width="128"]Delta Wave -1Hz_1 Delta Wave -1Hz_1[/caption] Delta waves are slow, low frequency waves like a drumbeat. They are found during deep sleep, when healing and regeneration take place, and are the strongest, loudest waves in the brain, which is why it is so difficult to concentrate when we are tired. .   [caption id="attachment_6652" align="alignleft" width="128"]Theta Wave -5Hz_1 Theta Wave -5Hz_1[/caption] Theta waves are still slow frequency, quite dreamy, connected with the subconscious and looking within. There is a lack of being present, being in the real world as these are usually only found fleetingly as we enter or leave sleep, but are associated with imagery, intuition and repressed or remembered emotion. .   Alpha Wave -10Hz_1Alpha waves are mid-range and present during quietly flowing thoughts, similar to the early stages of meditation. This is where our brain will borrow from when we want to consciously move into different states, so being able to access present moment awareness is key to bringing flexibility to our mind. .   [caption id="attachment_6654" align="alignleft" width="128"]Beta Wave -20Hz_1 Beta Wave -20Hz_1[/caption] Beta waves are a higher frequency wave and faster than the previous ones. They dominate our normal waking state, and is typified by forward planning, calculating, cognitive tasks and the outside world. Beta states take a high degree of energy to maintain over long periods. .   Gamma Wave - 40Hz_1Gamma waves are very quiet, high frequency waves that are hard to hear. Gamma modulates perception and consciousness, disappearing under anaesthesia. Gamma gives access to spiritual states if not drowned out by all the other noise going on! .   So next time you sit quietly and watch your mind, notice the patterns arising. See if you tend to get stuck in Beta, or drift into Theta, or if you are able to sit comfortably in Alpha. And it can also be really helpful to know that these patterns are not set in stone, and by doing simple exercises, as simple as sitting quietly and watching your breath (cultivating Alpha), visualising something (cultivating Theta) or building a positive feeling within you (cultivating Gamma) you can change the way your mind and brain works. This has benefits not only for the individual, who begins to know themselves better, but once we begin to see how our mind, which so many of us identify with as our identity, is something in a constant state of change, it begins to open us up to the bigger question at the heart of all spiritual seeking, of what and who we really are. Instead of further identifying with our past stories, personality traits and the patterns of our mind, by beginning to see, directly and for ourselves, how our mind works we can go beyond our individual attachment (ego) to begin to experience the interconnectivity of what lies beyond it all. Where east and west meet This is where neuroscience and eastern traditions point towards the same conclusion: we are not our psychological patterns, nor our thoughts, nor indeed our brain (nor the other neurons in the body) which are always changing. We discover our true nature (which some might call divine consciences, oneness or love... but which of is always much more than words can express). We are the space between all these patterns. In those moments when the mind and brain are quiet and balanced,  when the natural peace and bliss present within each of us can be heard and felt; we can know ourselves as we really are - boundless. This is an experience that each of us can discover for ourselves. It is out of this space that the wisdom, energy and deep compassion to truly be of service to others emerges. Then the mind, instead of torturing us, becomes a tool to help us live full, productive and useful lives. KateBy Kate HewettCoaching, facilitation and yoga Kate Taylor Hewett has been interested in the mind since she realised hers was running her life (and not in a good way!). After leaving corporate life, she has explored and has taught yoga and other spiritual practices for fifteen years, and works as a leadership coach and mentor with professionals and entrepreneurs leading positive change in the world. Transformational Retreats Bendy Kate Live your values