Your Ever Changing Brain

Central nervous systemFor much of the last century it was the accepted scientific view that the brain did not change beyond the critical learning period of seven years. It was thought that the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) were hard-wired nerve connections that were immutable, and if injured, could not heal.


This thinking changed in the 1990s thanks to neuroscientists such as Michael Merzenich who showed with research that the brain could in fact change, that it can and does grow new nerve connections in response to certain sensory stimulation from the environment.

From these discoveries the term Neuroplasticity was coined. This essentially means: Neuro = Nerve and Plastic = changeable.

The Stress Response

It’s important to know that not all plastic changes are healing or good for you.

In the 1950s Hans Seyle became famous for his work looking at how humans responded to stress – the so-called flight/fight response. Historically if we came across a threat (say a sabre tooth tiger!), the brain would send nerve messages to the adrenal glands to release adrenalin. As a result the following changes occur in the body:

  • The flow of blood is diverted away from digestive organs into the major skeletal muscles
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Sugars are released from the liver into the blood stream

Central nervous systemIn Australia, chronic diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hypertension and diabetes are common and many researchers believe these conditions are in part linked to the stress response.

Problems also occur when we are exposed to extreme stress, or more commonly, to repetitive low-level stress. When this occurs, the nerve pathways for the stress become better at initiating the flight or fight response’¦the brain becomes plastic for stress.

Now, with stress receptors pre-primed and ready to go, it only takes a minor event to activate a large stress response. Like the sleep-deprived parent who flies off the handle when their child spills some milk! This is an example of negative neuroplasticity.

Making your mind matter

1. Movement

Almost all movement is good movement, but the best movement is the type that brings you into an upright postural position, working against the force of gravity. This utilizes the extensors muscle (those at the back of the spine), taking you out of the typical sedentary hunched position. Activating these muscles is very good for the cortical (higher) areas of the brain.

Enjoy life2. Novel experiences

The brain loves now experiences and will respond by making new nerve connections. Try and do something new or different every day. Drive a different way home from work, brush your teeth with your opposite hand, or try a new recipe. Avoid the mundane. Don’t worry about being frustrated’¦.this is just the brain working out new ways of doing things.

3. Stop chasing Happiness. Start pursuing Fulfillment.

We can never be happy all the time, nor should we be. An enriched and full life is all about experiencing and learning from all emotions’¦.even the negative ones. Seek to have a socially and spiritually rich life. Learn from your negative experiences, but don’t become attached to them. Without judgment or prejudice, let them go.