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Keeping Your Prefrontal Cortex Online: Neuroplasticity, Stress and Meditation

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    Keeping Your Prefrontal Cortex Online: Neuroplasticity, Stress and Meditation Jeanne Ball Writer, David Lynch Foundation Posted on the Huffington Post 8/11/10
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 16, 2010
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      Keeping Your Prefrontal Cortex Online:
      Neuroplasticity, Stress and Meditation
      Jeanne Ball
      Writer, David Lynch Foundation
      Posted on the Huffington Post 8/11/10

      As we go through life, our brain is always
      changing and adapting, say neuroscientists.
      During the first 18-20 years of life the brain
      is developing circuits that will form the
      basis of decision-making for a lifetime. Brain
      researchers have found that unhealthy lifestyles
      can inhibit normal brain development in
      adolescents and lead to impaired judgment and
      destructive behavior that carries over into
      adulthood. Traumatic experiences, alcohol and
      drug abuse, growing up neglected in a broken
      home, living in fear of violence and crime,
      or even a bad diet can interfere with development
      of the frontal lobes, the brain's executive
      system. This can cause behavioral problems. Brain
      researcher Dr Fred Travis explains: "When a
      person's frontal lobes don't develop properly,
      he lives a primitive life. He doesn't -- and can't
      -- plan ahead. His world is simplistic, and he
      can only deal with what's happening to him
      right now. Thinking becomes rigid: 'You're
      either with me or against me,' or 'Me and my
      gang are good, and everyone else is bad.'"

      The good news: meditation improves brain function
      Brain researchers have also found that the brain
      can be changed in a positive direction through
      healthy lifestyle choices. This ability of the
      brain to reorganize its network of neurons is called "neuroplasticity." Studies recently
      published in Cognitive Processing show that
      brain development can be enhanced -- not only
      during adolescence but at any age -- through
      the practice of meditation, and that different
      meditation techniques have different effects
      on the brain. For example, during the
      Transcendental Meditation ("TM") technique
      there is increased alpha coherence in the
      brain's frontal areas. "Within a few months
      of practice of the TM technique," says Travis,
      "we see high levels of integration of frontal
      brain connectivity. And interestingly, that
      integration does not disappear after meditation.
      Increasingly and over time, this orderly brain
      functioning is found in daily activity."

      When the different parts of the brain are better
      integrated they work together more harmoniously
      -- our brain is healthier. Higher levels of brain
      integration are associated with higher moral
      reasoning, emotional stability and decreased
      anxiety, according to a 1981 study in the
      International Journal of Neuroscience. Research
      shows that world-class athletes have higher
      brain integration than controls. Brain
      integration is important because one's
      environment and circumstances are constantly
      shifting, and you need a flexible, integrated
      brain to successfully evaluate where you are,
      where you want to be and the necessary steps to get there.
      Keeping your prefrontal cortex "online"

      The prefrontal cortex -- said to be the brain's
      executive center or "CEO" -- plays a crucial
      role in higher judgment, discrimination and
      decision-making. When we are overly tired or
      under intense mental, emotional or physical
      stress, our brain tends to bypass its higher,
      more evolved rational executive circuits,
      defaulting to more primitive stimulus/response
      pathways. We respond to challenges without
      thinking, making impulsive, shortsighted
      decisions. When the brain's CEO goes "offline,"
      strong emotions such as fear and anger can
      adversely color or distort our perception
      of the world. Interestingly, the brain's
      crucial frontal area is where the highest
      levels of EEG coherence are typically recorded
      during TM practice, indicating improved communication between the prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain.

      When a person transcends during meditation
      (goes beyond the active levels of the mind),
      the experience is commonly reported as a
      state of deep silence and inner wakefulness,
      without particular qualities or attributes --
      just pure consciousness. According to research
      studies, such as the previously mentioned
      study in Cognitive Processing, it is this
      'transcendental' experience that creates
      the more efficient, integrated brain functioning
      seen during TM practice. While focused
      attention and other mental processes activate
      local brain areas, the experience of transcending
      activates the whole brain, enabling different
      parts of the brain to function together better as a whole.

      Helping kids grow healthier brains
      Fortunately, transcending is easy -- we're
      hardwired for it. With proper instruction
      and right practice, anyone can do it, including
      students with ADHD. Experiencing the quiet,
      transcendental field of orderliness deep within
      the mind doesn't mean conjuring up a new outlook
      on life or accepting new beliefs, nor does it
      require an attitude change. It's a natural,
      universal experience that produces a healthy
      response in the brain.

      With help from the David Lynch Foundation
      and other private benefactors, thousands of
      at-risk students are now learning meditation
      during structured, in-school programs around
      the world. Researchers monitoring the results
      are finding that meditation improves learning
      ability, memory, creativity and IQ. Findings
      such as these may be opening a new frontier
      of research -- establishing an expanded,
      more enlightened view about what is possible
      for the human brain.
      ----------------------------------------------------------------------This is being shared for non-commercial use only and thus is under the provisions of the Fair Use Statutes.
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