Training Your Mind Changes Your Brain

Neuroscience is really coming of age since the introduction of technology (functional MRI’s especially) that can actually see into the inner mechanisms of the brain. Many traditional assumptions about the role and effect of the brain have since been superceded. One of them is the view that there is a one way effect from the brain to consciousness: that the brain produces consciousness and not vice versa. There has been a view that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain; which is to say that consciousness is a result, a by-product only, of the brain’s functioning. This view contends that without a brain there would be no mind. Research has discovered, however, that the mind also affects the brain. Through conscious intention, the mind has an impact on the biological function of the brain.  One example of this has been training people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to intentionally resist urges and think differently.  The results show that through the conscious, intentional use of attention, neuronal pathways in the brain do change course, and symptoms of OCD in these cases improve as people train their brains to think differently. The intentional use of attention is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the conscious direction of our attention, the skill to use attention in an intentional way. When we train our minds, our brains do change.

For details on this OCD research see The Mind and the Brain (Chapter 7-Network Remodeling), by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. and Sharon Begley.

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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is being consciously aware of what you are doing.  It is the opposite of mindlessness. A lot of our activity is conducted on autopilot.  Much of the time we don’t think about what we are doing. We let automatic habit patterns take over, and then we find ourselves in the same old predicaments, with the same old problems. From an evolutionary point of view, it is important that once a skill is mastered, such as riding a bike, that it be transferred to autopilot so we can engage our efforts in new challenges. But when dysfunctional habits prevent progress in our lives this autopilot mode becomes a problem, and we can feel out of control and disempowered. When this happens, we need to enlist our awareness again to rework old habit patterns. Mindfulness is the method to rework old habit patterns by shedding light back on to our dysfunctional modes of thinking, feeling, and acting.  We bring consciousness back into our activity so that we can choose alternate options from the ones we typically engage.  With this intentional awareness, new behavioral vistas are opened up and we can reengage in life with a new outlook and new choices.  Instead of living a preprogrammed life,  mindfulness allows us to live the life we want.

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Welcome to Minnesota Mindfulness

Welcome to Minnesota Mindfulness, a blog exploring the intersection of mindfulness practice and mindful psychotherapy.   Mindfulness-based psychotherapies such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Hakomi Therapy and programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBST) combine the knowledge of Western psychology with the wisdom of contemplative practices.  Contemplative practices are nearly universal and exist in all or most of the world’s cultural traditions.  Whether through prayer, movement, work practice, or meditation they all share in common the element of bringing attention into the activity of the moment.  Being in the here and now is an essential element to personal and psychological growth.  As the saying goes, you have to be present to win!  Psychology is adapting to this ancient truth and developing techniques and approaches that make psychotherapy more effective.  This blog will explore this new cutting edge integrating timeless knowledge with the latest in Nueroscience.

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