The Power Within
Pinky and the ….
An area of the brain that is important for every day reactions, and decisions is the prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is involved in planning, decision making and social behaviour amongst other things and these are known as executive functions. It has connections with a lot of other areas of the brain such as the amygdala(emotions, memory), hypothalamus (hormone release, fear processing) and the pons (respiration, pain, hearing).
These connections integrate the executive functions (thinking, organising) with fundamental brain activities (that we dont have control over) such as emotions and autonomic functions such a blood pressure control. And all these connections are reciprocal, therefore backwards and forwards.
If you develop impairment in these ‘executive functions’ then you might develop impaired attention, poor working memory, poor decision making, poor problem solving, less ability to think abstract thoughts, blunted affect, anxiety, apathy, aggression.
So its fair to say the prefrontal cortex is important and that anything we do that helps it out is good and anything that inflicts stress on it is bad.
The state of meditation or meditating (when defined by brain processes) is characterised by active regulation of cognition or our thoughts and feelings. In meditating, beginners need to overcome the habits of (internally) reacting to changing emotions they feel and the result in the brain is greater prefrontal cortex activation ( better executive functions such as thinking, organising social behaviour) !
- Mindful emotional regulation strengthens prefrontal control mechanism. Brain scans have shown increased activation of the prefrontal cortex in those on a mindfulness course for anxiety (Jon Kabat-Zinn’s brainchild) .
- There is diminished activation of the amygdala in response to emotional stimuli during mindful mediation as seen on functional MRI’s (less emotional stress reactions).
Mild stress impairs prefrontal cortex function but improves functioning of the amygdala and the hippocampus.
In stressful conditions the amygdala(emotions, memory) activates stress pathways in the hypothalamus and brainstem which releases the hormones noradrenaline and dopamine … these impair the prefrontal cortex regulation but strengthen the amygdala resulting in a vicious cycle of for e.g, stress– poor decisions– more stress !
The reduction in prefrontal cortex functioning that occurs during stress is highly relevant to human mental and physical health.
Prolonged stress is a risk factor for depression and exposure to traumatic stress can cause post traumatic stress disorder as well as triggering the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The Lotus Pose …Don’t be afraid of it. Try it out at home in your bedroom.
The book below is a great guide for beginning mindfulness- it has a CD that you do brief mindful mediations whilst you read the book !
What if we could hack our own brain to perform and feel better ?
Maybe we can……
Dr C x
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