Sunday, April 17, 2016


Leading-edge science and research on the plasticity of our brains is showing us that just like muscles, our mental muscle responds to exercise. It’s a matter of which exercises we do. Are we choosing exercises that relate to mindfulness, self-regulation, compassion, kindness and empathy so that we strengthen our mental muscle to notice the connections, possibilities and opportunities around us. Or are we choosing exercises that promote fear, resentment and distrust? Just like fitness training - whatever exercises we repeatedly do for our muscles will eventually dictate our overall movement patterns, the mental exercises we practice will establish our overall thought patterns. And research is showing that over the long term, it's both our movement patterns and also our thought patterns that have dramatic physiological impacts on our health, performance and well-being.

I recently read a transcript from an interview with Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery from Stanford University Dr. James Doty MD.  Below is an excerpt from that interview related to exercising our mental muscle. 

“Even after brief periods of meditation, we actually can study the epigenetic effect of how our genes are changing the expression, even with brief periods of meditation, in the context of inflammation markers. And it’s extraordinary, because even with people who have meditated in this manner for as little as two weeks (20 minutes a day), you can see effects in regard to their blood pressure, in regard to the release of stress hormones, and effects on the immune system. And one of the big things that people don’t appreciate is that a lot of disease is actually a manifestation of inflammation. And that is a manifestation of your immune system not functioning well, and these types of practices can decrease that inflammation.”

“The brain doesn’t distinguish between an experience that is intensely imagined and an experience that is real. The brain will always choose what is familiar over what is unfamiliar, which becomes such an amazing way to think about the point of practicing, that you make another kind of presence, another kind of being in the world, familiar to your own body, to your own mind. And this is what people don’t appreciate - the power of their intention to change everything.”

“And it was this understanding that deep emotions are expressed in the heart, and that there is this, if you will, mind-heart connection that’s extraordinarily powerful. And we now know through anatomy and a variety of studies that there’s immense amount of neural innovation that comes from the brain, the brain stem into the heart. And it’s a two-way street, and they can have powerful effects on each other.” Dr. Doty

The take away for me from all of this amazing science is the importance of training our brains with the same dedication, commitment and consistency as we do our bodies. Analogous to learning a sport like tennis, it's not an all or nothing game. It's not a weekend warrior approach. It's incremental steps, daily and purposeful practice sessions, and occasional peaks and valleys. It's a skill we must learn and develop, each of us at our own pace. And just like playing in a tournament match, our performance in life will be determined by our practice. The why, the what, and the how, we practice.  It's our choice. It's our responsibility. It's our life. It's our muscle! 

Time to exercise!!!


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