When my favorite Cranio teacher – think Eckhart Tolle meets the Dalai Lama – told me that the brain was malleable, pliable and that it has a tremendous capacity to heal and grow, I thought “really”? “Aren’t we born with a brain that is static and am I not defined by the genes that I am blessed with”? Nope, it turned out it is called neuroplasticity and refers to the brains ability to create new neural pathways.
My teacher went on to say that we are all driven by the needs that we have. In order to meet those needs our brain has developed a preference to do things, as we have used it in a certain way for 20, 30 or 40 years and it was really a matter of rewiring it. Retraining that muscle – like in the Gym – as the brain is in a constant state of flux and adapts itself based on the input we give it. Neuroplasticity can break old unsustainable habits by making new thoughts, patterns and ultimately new and more productive habits. As with everything, it is a matter of practice and repetition, the more you do something, the more your brain responds to support that activity and embeds it in your nervous system.
We were shown a video where brain synapses were being pruned away as a pattern of thought or behavior was literally unlearned and we saw how new brain synapses were created, primed and strengthened by retraining, by learning a new skill or habit. As the saying goes in neuroscience: “ what fires together, wires together” in other words: what you put your attention on, grows.
That same night, all of us students had to put it to the test and do something positive that we had never done before, observing how it felt in our body and in our mind and repeating the behavior, as we were literally going to create new neural connections and synapses ourselves. Our teacher sent us off with the words: ”Hug the unknown, we suffer from expectations”.“You may just have an incredible experience you always wanted but never had before”.
I decided to step out of my comfort zone, approaching and chatting to people I would normally never dare to approach as I, well lets just say for the better part of my life, I was very good at hiding myself away. So I did. I took the first step on that path, doing something new, creating and hard wiring new neural connections and in doing, with repetition over the following years, changed my brain chemistry.
Recently I had the pleasure of quite unexpectedly experiencing neuroplasticity again. Ever done those Louise Hay type of affirmation cards, where you find yourself standing in front of the mirror having to say a quote like “I am beautiful” for 24 times? But really sarcastically thinking “yeah right” “not really feeling this one”?
Well, whilst meeting Mrs. V from Mrs. V Society for the first time, she showed me her personally developed V shift affirmation cards. The instructions were: Shuffle the cards, pick a random card, read the affirmation on the card and add your own “first come to mind” sentence to the word to complete the sentence. The card I randomly picked said “I am Grateful because:” and a sentence immediately popped into my mind.
And there it was, as I was adding my OWN sentence, my own reason and emotion to complete the affirmation, for the first time I could actually feel being grateful. I could feel that despite all the good, bad and very ugly, I felt really grateful for all that had come my way.
As I was doing that, scientifically speaking, I was probably changing my internal chemical environment, creating happy hormones by boosting my Serotonin levels. All I know is that for the remainder of that day, it left me with a smile on my face, a warm feeling and with a deep sense of achievement and gratitude. Neuroplasticity at its simplest and neuroplasticity at its best.
The words of my Cranio teacher popped back into my mind and how right he had been: The brain is an organ that develops itself based on how its used and its experiences. It is an organ that is (re)programmable, whilst this is necessary for our survival, our growth, our development and ultimately our health.