Sunday, November 18, 2007

The power of thoughts

Lately I have been entranced by an emerging concept in neuroscience called 'neuroplasticity.' The implications of this discovery are so amazing that neuroplasticity has been named "one of the most extraordinary discoveries of the twentieth century."

Neuroscientists had always thought that the mind (a collection of thoughts, hopes, beliefs, and emotions) is a result of the chemical mechanisms and circuits in our brains, and, that these mechanisms are immutable after a certain age. In other words, they thought that the physical brain governs our mind.

The Dalai Lama asked one of these scientists if the mind could act back on the brain and change its physical characteristics. The scientists answered that this could not be possible. However, they were open to experimentally test this theory.

Buddhist monks meditate many hours every day, and during their meditation, they think about love and compassion. Scientists discovered that "adept" monks (who have meditated for at least 10,000 hours), have an abnormally high amount of gamma brain waves. These waves are associated with perception, problem solving and consciousness. They also observed that parts of the brain linked to the self have lower activity, "as if during compassion meditation the subjects opened their minds and hearts to others", and areas linked to positive thoughts and happiness became more active.

There is more to this. It turns out that attention has a very important role in shaping our brain. The things we pay attention to every day physically mold our brain. This is backed up by other scientific experiments (for details, see links below). So as one scientist at the University of California (San Francisco) put it:

"[Through attention] We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves."

So, how is this related to running, walking, triathlons...? If our mind can shape our brain, and our brain controls our can run a marathon by just thinking that you can do it (plus training, of course). The mental barrier is the biggest obstacle most of us have.

If you are as geeky as I am, you can read more about this here:

- How Thinking Can Change the Brain: an easy to read Wall Street Journal article
- Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice: a published science article from Princeton University

Well, that is my blog for today. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, and remember, think positive!!!



Laura H said...

Thanks Iliana - that's a great blog! It's so cool to see the power of the mind in action!

Speaking of...congratulations to you and Eric on your race last Sunday! You guys really did well!

iliana said...

Thanks Laura! I am happy that you enjoyed the blog.
The day was perfect for running the Seattle marathon. Eric had to push me a little towards the end so I didn't slow down too much. I discovered that running a little faster sometimes eases the tiredness.

Laura H said...

Yep - I wonder if it's beacause your posture straightens up (i.e., gets better aligned) when you go faster. It's like a burst of energy from within!