Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations and changes in their environment. This process occurs at variable frequency throughout life depending on age and situation.
There are 2 distinct types:
- Functional plasticity: The brain’s ability to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas.
- Structural plasticity: The brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.
Functional Plasticity is how recovery is possible after brain injury: The neurons reconstruct to create new pathways in order to compensate for the damaged area and to recreate the connections required for specific functions.
Structural Plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to create these new connections as a result of learning. Learning is the byproduct of receiving new information either in the form of previously undiscovered facts or a change in perspective which alters the data previously understood.
Theories of structural neuroplasticity suggest that our brains have the capacity to change everything we know about living a happier and healthier life. Breakthroughs in neuroscience over the last decade have produced an understanding that indeed, we can alter our own brain’s physical structure. Basically, the brain is able to re-wire itself. Science now reveals that brain cells are able to regenerate, making new connections thereby forming new neural pathways. These findings are proving we can change our own emotional states as well as heal our own physical bodies. All we need is something we all have, our brains.
Neuroplasticity means changes in the synapses of the brain structure, basically, the brain is malleable. Thought formations occur within the brain structure. These thoughts travel along the synapses much like an electric current traveling down a wire. Science refers to this as feedback loops. These feedback loops consist of thoughts, stored in the form of memory. Interestingly, the brain seeks to match up that loop with its current experience of reality. It finds these connections and attaches to it, forming patterns. These patterns of thinking and behaving are all relative to prior and current life experiences. Simply put, a habit.
Therefore, when we input new information which changes our thoughts, habits are created and the practice of these habits results in new thought pattern formation.
We have always known that repetition of anything, such as playing a musical instrument leads to the mastery of it. But repetition of negative self- harming patterning is learned as well. An example of a negative pattern could be a repetitive reaction to fear, such as panic attacks, or even an addictive behavior. It could be said that those with addiction have achieved mastery of their negative patterns.
In his book, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, Dr. Michael Merzenich lists ten core principles necessary for the remodeling of your brain to take place:
1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it. (Motivation)
2. The harder you try, the more you’re motivated, the more alert you are, and the better (or worse) the potential outcome, the bigger the brain change. (Focus)
3. What actually changes in the brain are the strengths of the connections of neurons that are engaged together, moment by moment, in time. (Practice)
4. Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability. (Co-ordinated efforts)
5. The brain also strengthens its connections between teams of neurons representing separate moments of successive things that reliably occur in serial time. (Connections + Associations)
6. Initial changes are temporary.
7. The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways and involving precisely the same processes that control changes achieved through interactions with the external world. (Repetition)
8. Memory guides and controls most learning.
9. Every movement of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize.
10. Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is positive ones.
Sample mental exercises to assist in the forming of new neural pathways:
- Slowing of brain wave frequencies- practicing deep states of meditation on a regular basis. This allows for the practice of quieting the mind-chatter, allowing for focus and concentration.
- Creative Visualization-Using detailed imagery to create new experiences. These experiences could be real or imagined.
- Invoking of emotion- Emotions are felt within the body. The mind speaks in the language of the senses. It is important to feel with all of the senses, to experience it as if it is actually happening.
- Repetition- As stated, practice is the key, the mind must learn to form the connection through the recurrence of the desired intention.
Neuroplasticity provides an understanding of how we can literally change our minds. We are no longer the victims of our past circumstances. In fact, with dedication and perseverance, we have the ability to actively own and heal our brains; changing the filter by which we view ourselves.