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The three areas of modern science that have contributed to our current understanding of human intelligence, perception and their relationship to health and well-being are neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology and cardiopsychology. *Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary study of the nervous system which collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, linguistics, mathematics, biology and psychology. Psychoneuroimmunology is a study of the interaction between psychological processes and behaviours and the nervous and immune systems of the body, and cardiopsychology is the study of the neurophysiological, neurological and neuroanatomical aspects of cardiology, including the neurological origins of cardiac disorders. In short, a deepening of our understanding of the relationship of the brain and heart, their interaction with the immune system and how both can be considered to be organs of intelligence, that their co-operation is vital not only to health but to a balanced and harmonious experience of life.
This article sets out to give an understanding of firstly how your brain works, to help you to comprehend which bit of you is ‘You’ and which bit is, frankly, more akin to a computer programme.
The brain is faster and capable of carrying out far more complex processes simultaneously than a computer. It has infinitely more sophisticated features and can run many, many ‘programmes’ at once. Continuing the analogy, the physical brain has been likened to a CPU (the central processing unit is the part of a computer that carries out the instructions of a computer programme) and the Mind as the software programme.
The human brain consists of water, blood vessels, chemicals and around 100 billion neurons. Neurons are the specialized cells of the nervous system that use an electro-chemical process to relay messages to one another. For example, motor neurons carry information from the brain to the rest of the body, while sensory neurons carry information to the brain from the sensory organs, such as eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin.
The neurons connect or ‘wire’ to each other in ‘clusters’ that connect in a vast array of possibilities. These connections affect the way we think, move, learn and behave. As we learn new things, messages travel repeatedly between neurons creating new ‘pathways’. Once established, the new skill becomes ‘learned’ and thereby ‘easier’. Many Neuro-scientists believe it is important for a healthy, adaptive and active brain to maintain this ability to keep creating new neural pathways by introducing yourself to new experiences. Research shows that an active, healthy brain impacts directly on the efficiency and functioning of the rest of the body, particularly the heart and immune system and the old adage ‘healthy mind, healthy body’ bears this out.
Because of the way neurons connect, it is impossible to think one solitary thought with out it ‘firing’ other thoughts that you have learned to associate with it. The thoughts connect to the endocrine system which triggers feelings associated with the thought, influencing our moods. So if we encourage ourselves to focus on positive thoughts, the good feelings that accompany them place us in a ‘good mood’, which impacts on anyone who comes into contact with us and influences the outcomes of our deeds and actions.
Our bodies speak to us through the language of feelings. When we feel good, our body is telling us that all our autonomic functions are operating to the best of their ability. It also informs us of the condition of our immune system. Negative feelings have a negative impact on our immune system and positive ones have a positive influence. Therefore it is important not to let our external environment upset the body’s balance by dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings. Essentially, positive feelings are a result of a chemical chain reaction in the body and can be created in any moment, if we so choose.
Once we realise we can change our reactions and behaviours, and that our internal ‘moodscape’ does not have to be determined by factors such as the weather, the news, traffic jams or other people’s bad moods etc, we can start to re-programme our automatic responses to support us in having, in any given moment, a creative, joyful and playfully curious experience of life, which is our true nature and the one evidenced by most children, unless something has happened which has divided them from this inbuilt demeanour. The scientific evidence confirms this overwhelmingly, and to ignore it comes at a high cost to our health.
When people feel positive, they are able to make very different choices to when they don’t, and it is a person’s ability to believe that they have choice and that they are in control of the choices they make that determines everything from their code of ethics, their desire to live and work harmoniously among their contemporaries and a willingness to contribute for the good of all.
Most people are not aware that they are conscious creators of their experience because they are taught to believe that they are not. They are taught to react to what they see, which causes them to create more of the same experience, mainly due to a part of the brain called the ‘reticular activating system’, which we shall consider in the next article. This maybe fine if the person likes what they see. But if they don’t, the individual becomes locked into a world that deepens further and further towards the unwanted, which in turn triggers electro-chemical responses that lead to feeling overwhelmed, disempowered, frustrated, angry, despairing and, ultimately, depressed. Reaction is literally that: re-action. Repeating an old pattern.
The brain is made up of the forebrain, mid brain and hindbrain. The largest and most complex of these is the forebrain. It consists of the cerebrum, which has specific areas, called lobes, in charge of processing different kinds of information: frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital. The cerebrum is divided into two hemispheres, left and right, that are connected by the corpus callosum, which is a wide, flat bundle of neuro fibres beneath the cortex. The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that enables you to hold the concept of “Me, myself & I”. It regulates the other, older parts of the brain, is the most responsive to change and new ideas and is the part that allows you to ‘re-invent’ yourself. The cerebral cortex (or ‘grey matter’) is the distinguishing feature of human brains. It directs information from the five senses for processing by other parts of the nervous system.
The Cerebrum looks rather like a walnut, separated into two distinct halves. It is believed that these two hemispheres are responsible for different manners of thinking. The Left-brain tends towards logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective thinking that sees things in parts rather than wholes. The right brain tends towards intuitive, random, holistic, synthesizing, subjective thinking that sees things as wholes rather than in parts.
The two parts of the brain are operating all the time, communicating via the corpus callosum, however they are interpreting and evaluating the world in very different ways. And certain activities and behaviours appear to give one or other predominance. For example, research indicates that activities such as deep, lower diaphragm breathing, meditation, creative pursuits, engaging with nature etc stimulate the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere appears to be largely for problem solving, assessing situations and deciding on what action to take. Ideally, we are looking to get the two halves to work together and give a more balanced picture of ourselves in relation to our surroundings. According to Hazel Courteney in her book “Countdown to Coherence”: ‘when left and right become as one, the whole brain works as a synchronized single unit producing coherent brain functioning’. Coherence is a term used to denote a higher state of being, one that allows us to experience the fullness of who we are from a place of joy and equilibrium. And all this is available to us NOW.