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How Does Our Consciousness Change The Structure Of The Brain And Then Our Life?

Posted: 01/20/12 11:05 AM ET

Meditation and Neuroplasticity

After spending time interviewing Tibetan monks while in Beijing, China, at the Lama Temple, correlations between their rituals and how they aligned with modern neuroplastic science began to surface. I was able to spend time with the Dalai Lama himself and found that he was curious about the question "Does consciousness in and of itself, force changes in the structure of the brain? " Does the mind create physiological change in the brain and then thereby alter life situations in the natural? I decided to find out.

In addition to the brain giving rise to thoughts, hopes, beliefs and emotions that add up to this thing we call the mind, could it be that the mind also acts back on the brain to cause physical changes in the very manner they were initiated? If so, then pure thought (our consciousness) would change the brain's activity, its circuits or even its structure. Joe Dispensza suggests in his book "Evolve Your Brain" that if we choose to rely soley on our inherited circuits (DNA) we are stuck with those traits and patterns, good, bad or indifferent.

There are two ways to make new synaptic connections in the brain: to learn new things and to have new experiences. I am suggesting a third, and that is through observation of our thoughts and refining our consciousness. Hence, not only are our brains plastic enough to keep adapting though learning and experiences, but we can choose how to sculpt our minds by altering our perceptions intentionally. This supposition has also led to the discovery that neuroplasticity cannot occur without attention. So, if a skill becomes so routine that you can do it nearly automatically -- like walking, for instance -- then practicing it will no longer change the brain. And if you take up mental exercises to keep your brain young, they won't be as effective if you find yourself able to do them without paying much attention. Like any good exercise, you need to change it up every so often. This, according to researcher Michael Merzenich.

How we choose to sculpt our minds has actual physical measurable changes etched within the grey matter of our brains. Such practices as meditation and Chi Gong can keep the old mental circuits active and form new ones, leading to a cycle of continual self-improvement. Of course, practitioners of meditation have been saying this for centuries. I asked Erdijanzi (age 23) a third-generation Tibetan Monk, "How much time do you spend in mediation per day?" He said he did not know. It turned out that almost any free moment, even in between interview questions, he would turn to his Mala Beads to quiet his mind. This practice was his chosen method of brain sculpting. It also occurred to me that once the mind was quieted and an intention was inserted that the effect of this intention at the quantum level would be magnified and crystal clear, allowing for more effective manifestation.

Professor Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin in Madison has been working with the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist monks for quite some time, hooking some of them up to machines to see how their brain waves differ from those of student volunteers. In such experiments, eight monks and ten volunteers are wired up to an electroencephalograph to record their brain waves. The volunteers had no previous experience in meditating, save a quick crash course as they walked in the door. The type of meditation used is called "nonreferential compassion," and involves the meditator focusing on unlimited compassion and loving kindness toward all living beings. The monks, on the other hand, had decades of experience in the practice. The researchers chose this type of meditation because it focuses on a transformed state of being instead of concentrating on particular objects, memories or images.

For the student volunteers, as they meditated their brain waves began to alter; specifically, their gamma waves showed a slight but significant increase. For the monks, their gamma signal kept rising and rising, which was not surprising given their greater experience with the practice. However, in between the meditation sessions when they were at rest, the gamma signal of the monks never fell. Even when not meditating, the monks' brain waves displayed increased activity associated with perception, problem solving and consciousness. Furthermore, the more hours of meditation a monk had under his belt, the stronger his gamma signal -- his Faith Wave. This sort of response, in which higher doses of a drug or activity lead to a greater effect than for lower levels, is what researchers look for to determine a positive cause and effect. This proved to Professor Davidson that mental training could instill lasting traits into the brain. The way we think actually changes the structure of the brain itself. Observe your thoughts. As you change the way you look at a life situation, you are setting yourself up for the next one. Even your brain is adjusting itself and recreating itself to follow your thinking, in alignment with your desires or not. Approach all human transactions from a point of love, compassion, inspiration, and watch how the movie of your life begins to change accordingly. As you do you etch this into your cerebral hardware and create your future.

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"Think Yourself Young" now for sale - I discuss diet and meditational techniques according to the Tibetan Monks that I was able to interview living amongst them while at the Lama Temple in Beijing China. These folks appear to be able to stop physiological time dead in it's tracks with the net result being a high quality life beyond 120 years.

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