Rewiring the Brain

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The brain is superior to most advanced computers; it can execute very complicated and elaborate tasks with seeming ease. It is not hard-wired and we are not trapped with the brain we had at birth. But like all else, it needs energy to function at an optimum level so that in turn it can make all physical functions possible. Shernaz tells us that the neurones that fire together, wire together, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Do you need to re-wire your brain? It can be difficult, uncomfortable and a long drawn-out process, but it is possible because of our brains, like plastic, are malleable – adaptable to change. Under normal conditions, it is up to us to ensure that the change is always a positive one that fires our brains to keep performing at their maximum best. From before birth until the day we die, the neural pathways in our brains keep reorganising themselves according to our needs, allowing us to learn from and adapt to different experiences. The brain is superior to most advanced computers; it can execute very complicated and elaborate tasks with seeming ease. It is not hard-wired and we are not trapped with the brain we had at birth. But like all else, it needs the energy to function at an optimum level so that in turn it can make all physical functions possible. This energy is the life force without which it would become incapacitated.

The human brain consists of about 100 billion neural cells. Earlier, it was believed that the brain became static after the age of twenty and was incapable of neurogenesis – the generation of new cells and the building of new neural pathways; that dead cells could not be replaced. Today, neuroscientists are excited about the inroads research has made through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), overthrowing that dogmatic belief and authenticating Yoga’s claim that the brain has an amazing ability to morph functionally and structurally, dependent on one’s environment, thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. This fantastic feat of the brain is termed Neuroplasticity – coined from two root words – neuron and plastic. I chanced upon this term recently but the mention of neuroplasticity goes back to the 19th century.

Although takes place only in specific areas of the brain, ‘rewiring’ of the connections between the cells makes it possible for an undamaged part of the brain to take over the functions of a damaged part. This definitely is very encouraging news for those suffering from brain trauma due to various reasons.  Research is being conducted to identify those areas of the brain where new cells develop, to discover how neurogenesis can be promoted or inhibited and to learn how new neurones can become part of the working brain in the hope that this discovery will better help people to recover from brain damage.

The brain is so pliant that we can work on it to improve our problem-solving skills, re-learn what we may have forgotten due to brain trauma, and regain physical functions lost because of an accident or as the result of a stroke.In short, the brain is remarkably capable of retuning itself to adjust to our needs. Just as the consistent exercise, over time, slowly enhances physical health and reshapes the body, the science of neuroplasticity helps change the brain. Like any other muscle, it also needs exercise and training to keep it going. We need to hone the brain on a daily basis – challenge it by learning/doing something new every day, fresh air workouts like walking, outdoor games; staying with a healthy diet, getting proper sleep, living with awareness….It is our thoughts and attitude that continue to shape the brain.

That the brain is not hard-wired has been proven again and again by Dr. Michael Merzenich, co-founder of Posit Science (BrainHQ) and author of Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life

Norman Doidge writes, “The brain Merzenich describes is not an inanimate vessel that we fill; rather it is more like a living creature with an appetite, one that can grow and change itself with proper nourishment and exercise.  Before Merzenich’s work, the brain was seen as a complex machine, having unalterable limits on memory processing speed, and intelligence. Merzenich has shown that each of these assumptions is wrong.  The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.

“Cognitive calisthenics” has been developed by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young. She was learning disabled and her teachers called her stubborn and slow. Fortuitously she engaged in research that inspired her to devise cognitive exercises to ‘repair’ her deficient brain. These are exercises that take advantage of neuroplasticity and through repeated activities, invigorate the brain to make permanent, physical changes so it can perform again at normal levels. She founded the Arrowsmith Program in the early 1970s, which till now has helped numerous persons with learning disabilities to change the way their brains function and optimise their aptitude. The mental tasks and activities are specifically targeted to work and challenge the under-performing parts of the brain that correspond with the difficulties or behaviours exhibited.

Another unique concept is Brainpaths®, which has developed a special tool* for the direct stimulation of the brain. It is based on the fact that each of our fingertips contains more than 3000 nerve receptors that connect directly to our brains. As the grooves in the discs are traced repeatedly with the fingers, those receptors send messages to the somatosensory cortex in the parietal lobe of the brain. The somatosensory cortex processes signals coming in from all parts of the body to create “touch” perceptions**

Yoga and Neuroplasticity

With yoga having become mainstream worldwide, a lot of research has been done and the efficacy of the system has been undisputedly accepted. Brain scans now prove that yoga actually changes the chemistry of the brain. It helps the brain focus and improves memory. Yoga advocates “Mindfulness,” (persistent, engaged attention) which play a noteworthy role in rewiring thebrain.  A study of senior adults with signs of diminishing memory has shown that yoga helps prevent cognitive decline. So, even as we age, we can create new neural pathways with committed, sustained brain stimulation to ward off Alzheimer’s, senility and other age-related problems, continuing to live a fruitful, mindful, beautiful life.When practised regularly, yoga and meditation act positively on other mental health issues such as ADHD, schizophrenia, stress-related problems, and anxiety. In short, under proper guidance, constant practice of yoga can act as a mind booster, brain developer, anti-depressant and emotional/psychological therapist. Its benefits are said to outweigh those of standard brain training.

Timothy Maccall, M.D. writes in The Scientific Basis of Yoga Therapy, “Repeated thoughts and actions can rewire your brain, and the more you do something, the stronger those new neural networks become. Almost 2,000 years ago, Patanjali was onto this when he suggested that the key to success in yoga is dedicated, uninterrupted practice over a long period of time. The resulting neural networks or sanskaras, as yogis call them, get stronger and stronger as you stay with the practice. Slowly but surely, these healthy grooves of thought and action help guide people out of the ruts in which they’ve been stuck.”

A word of caution will not be out of place here. If neuroplasticity can make the brain resourceful, its suppleness can also leave it vulnerable to negative influences, both inner and outer. This means we should be continually fine-tuned to our inner and outer worlds staying in control of our thoughts and actions, guarding ourselves from negative onslaughts.

Notes: *A Brainpath Tool is a device constructed of durable plastic, with grooves or raised lines that form a path. Fingertip movement along the path, complete the exercise. Paths are either laser cut or moulded into the plastic. Since fingertips are a superhighway to the brain, fingertip movement along the paths provides tactile exercise that stimulates the brain.


 ©Shernaz Wadia

Photos from the internet.

#Brainwaves #Yoga #Neuroplasticity #RewiringTheBrain #ADHD #schizophrenia #YogaTherapy #DifferentTruths


To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing poems has been one of the means to embark on an inward journey. She hopes her words will bring peace, hope and light into dark corners. Her poems have been published in many e-journals and anthologies. She has published her own book of poems “Whispers of the Soul” and another titled “Tapestry Poetry – A Fusion of Two Minds” with her poetry partner Avril Meallem.