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Neuroplasticity And Healing | A Dialogue With The Dalai Lama
Eastern Philosophy Meets Cutting Edge Neuroscience
By Marina Rose, QDNA®
The Magnificent Human Experience™ | Epigenetics |
May 01, 2015
“Self-correction is not only the key to improved health and healing, but the key to personal growth as well, and the techniques that we develop through the blending of East and West allow us to optimize all areas of our life, both personally and professionally."
--- Dr. Norman Doige, Author, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.
In the West there has been a long history of embracing the wisdom of Eastern traditions and philosophy. From some of the twentieth century’s best creative, technical
and business minds, such as the late great Steve Jobs, to iconic cultural heroes like the Beatles, Eastern philosophy has had a profound influence on the Western culture.
Today, modern medical science is now taking notice with a host of new and compelling research that supports the many documented health and wellness benefits of ancient Eastern contemplative practices like meditation and yoga.
In many ways, modern science is just catching up with the wisdom of early Eastern teachings, and increasing we seem to be witnessing a meeting of the minds between East and West.
In a perfect testament of this, Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, hosted a lively discussion on the healing power of the brain at a groundbreaking Scientific Symposium entitled, “Neuroplasticity and Healing,” featuring presentations by leading brain plasticity experts Dr. Edward Taub and Dr. Michael Merzenich, and moderated by Dr. Norman Doidge M.D., renowned Neuroscientist and best-selling author of “The Brain That Changes Itself”.
The symposium highlighted groundbreaking research and treatments demonstrating how brain plasticity is now being used to transform the lives of people with a variety of neurological challenges—as well as techniques that can be applied to improve everyday life as well.
The Dalai Lama noted that Neuroplasticity techniques such as mindfulness and meditation that draw from Eastern Traditions “work from the inside out,” which is why he feels that Buddhist psychology and modern neuroscience can work together to inform and complement each other. He spoke about his lifelong interest in science, dating from his earliest childhood experiences.
“My mother was extremely kind. As I grew up my brain faced no fear or anxiety, it had the opportunity to develop to the fullest extent. That’s why I can use it to inquire into other things. If I’d grown up in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, my brain might not have developed so well. Because I have the name Dalai Lama I began to study very early in a system that values taking a logical approach. We apply reason, following the Buddha’s advice not to take things at face value, but to investigate and experiment”, the Dalai Lama said.
Each panel member gave outlines of their research with the aid of slides and videos, with the Dalai Lama posing questions on such topics as memory loss, states of consciousness, training the mind, and the confluence of Eastern and Western science. This lively interchange allowed for ideas and information to flow freely between Eastern and Western perspectives on the subject.
"The purpose of this study is to expand our knowledge and further our understanding, deeper, deeper," said the Dalai Lama. "Training the mind is not for the next life or heaven, or what Buddhists call Nirvana. These things are simply for our present life" --a statement that most hard scientists in the room could easily agree with.
Dr. Merzenich told His Holiness it was a pleasure to be with him and that he admired his work. He explained that brain plasticity is the basis for creating different models of the world. The brain is massively specialized because it changes itself, physically, functionally and chemically. Reading changes the brain and he said it is relatively easy to give a non-reader a reading brain. The key is the ability to translate word sounds into letters. The brain is built to make relations. However, a crucial aspect of plasticity is that it is also reversible. It can be deployed to improve or degrade any ability. Plasticity is thus a two way process.
The Dalai Lama asked how you turn an old experienced brain into what appears to be a more capable young one – and Merzenich answered, “by training it”. Th e panel mentioned several targets for research and training including autism, learning impairment, addiction, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and depression as part of an effort to improve the lot of humankind.
Dr. Doidge remarked that the meeting of East and West is very much a collaboration, each learning from the other, and that much work is still left to be done.
"Neuroplasticity can help a lot, but it's not complete," he said. "We still have to operate with the complexities of real life. One of our goals is to get each person to be in charge of their own self-correction.”
Self-correction is not only the key to improved health and healing, but the key to personal growth as well, and the techniques that we develop through the blending of East and West allow us to optimize all areas of our life, both personally and professionally.
And not only does this sharing of knowledge help us “self-correct” on an individual level, Western scientists and Eastern traditions like Vedanta and Buddhism can "truly contribute toward expanding the human understanding of the complex world of inner subjective experience that we call the mind," remarked the Dalai Lama.
And it’s breakthroughs in cutting-edge science in the field of Neuroplasticity-- which employ meditation, mindfulness and other Eastern contemplative practices-- that are paving the way.
Later in the Symposium the Dalai Lama asked the distinguished panel of Neuroscientists if there were biologically mapped places in the brain where anger, fear, hatred and jealousy are located, and if so, what were the Neuroplasticity techniques being used to reduce these and other negative emotions.
"Yes, there are," answered Taub, “and the technique we use is called meditation.” He then received a warm round of applause, with the audience clearly recognizing the breakthrough in scientific recognition of the long held Eastern practice.
Citing countless recent scientific studies on meditators--novices and lifelong meditators such as Buddhists monks alike--the panel of Neuroscientists remarked that there is now clear and documented evidence that those who practice mediation benefit both physically and psychologically, with a whole host of positive results, including living more compassionate lives and improving their overall well-being.
"There is a great deal of evidence in a long line of research that there is a very marked decrease in the use of health care systems in the United States and Canada as a result of long-term practice of meditation - 90 percent fewer hospital days, an increase in longevity, a decrease in heart attacks. That's hard data", said Doidge.
While meditation in the East has for millennia been first and foremost considered a lifelong spiritual practice as a path to Enlightenment, in the West, modern science now demonstrates that regular meditation can indeed enlighten the mind in a number of ways.
Research conducted by Doidge and other Neuroscientists is now demonstrating that stilling the mind through daily meditation practice can lead to actual changes in the brain –and mindfulness training has been consistently found to boost Neuroplasticity of the brain, and even to physically rebuild the brain's gray matter. Just a mere few weeks of meditation can have big effects. Studies have shown that in just a few weeks time the brain's prefrontal cortext thickens, an area associated with awareness, concentration and decision-making.
Among highly experienced meditators, incredible feats of mind have also been documented. One study found that years of meditation can create changes in the brain’s neural networks that break down the perceptual and psychological barrier of self/other, causing the meditator to experience a sense of total harmony between themselves and the world around them.
Normally, the brain switches between the extrinsic network (used when we focus on things outside of ourselves) and the intrinsic network, which involves self-reflection, emotion and self-referential thought. Rarely do these networks act together. But brain scanning studies revealed that some monks and experienced meditators are able to keep both networks active at the same time during meditation, allowing them to feel a literal sense of oneness. Now that’s enlightening indeed.
A French genetic scientist may seem like an unusual person to hold the title of “Happiest “Man Alive” - but Matthieu Ricard is the world's happiest man, according to researchers. The 66-year-old turned his back on Parisian intellectual life 40 years ago and moved to India to study Buddhism. He is now a close confidante of the Dalai Lama and respected western scholar of religion.
Richard Davidson, a Neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, wired up the monk's skull with 256 sensors as part of a research study on hundreds of advanced practitioners of meditation. The scans showed that when meditating on compassion, Ricard's brain produces a level of gamma waves - those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – “never reported before in the neuroscience literature”, said Davidson.
The scans also showed excessive activity in his brain's left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, giving him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity, researchers believe.
"Meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree," said Ricard, "but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are."
What’s more, the overall benefits of meditation are markedly increased when combined with yoga, the other great pillar of Eastern tradition, including the more than 5,000 year old tradition of Vedanta, from India.
Designed for the purpose of stilling the mind and as a path to achieve eventual oneness with the divine, yoga (which means "unity" in Sanskrit) has long been known in the East to bring health and wellness by balancing the mind, body and spirit.
The great Vedic master B.K.S. lyengar once said, “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the heart expands and gates of the soul open.”
While most of us would simply intuitively agree with that, there is also a growing body of scientific research that supports it as well.
New research has shown that yoga has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety, nervousness and depression, lower stress levels, boost brain function and improve heart health—just to name a few.
As East meets West in cutting edge Symposiums such as “Neuroplasticity and Healing” to collaborate and expand our understanding of the complex workings of the mind, the future gains from combined Eastern and Western knowledge are looking ever more promising—and as the scientific data to support this effort grows, the skeptics seem to be diminishing.
His Holiness invited questions from the audience and was asked what he would advise to reduce cynicism. He replied that taking a narrow view of things makes us feel more negative even when there are grounds for hope and optimism. He mentioned that since the early 20th century there has been a popular trend away from sanctioning war towards keeping the peace. Since the fall of the Berlin wall countries that struggled under totalitarianism became free. Meanwhile, science and spirituality, especially in as much as it involves the mind, have become closer.
"Look at the wider perspective in life. Many people have survived tragedy with human love. I lost my own country at the age of 16. I lost my freedom at age 24, yet I remain hopeful. If you are looking with two eyes, now you should try looking with a third. There are plenty of reasons to be happy." Dalai Lama responded.
Dr. Doidge closed the Symposium with solid advice and tips on how to apply Neuroplasticity to our daily lives and offered one important resource, BrainHQ, a brain training system built and tested by an international team of more than 100 top Neuroscientists and other brain experts.
Learn more about His Holiness the Dali Lama’s work with Neuroplasticity and Healing and the work of Dr. Norman Doidge M.D., renowned neuroscientist and best-selling author of “The Brain That Changes Itself”.
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Copyright© Written by Marina Rose
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Marina Rose is the founder and developer of QDNA®, Quantum DNA Acceleration®, a revolutionary new technique for quantum growth in life and business. QDNA® uses the latest cutting edge science in Neuroplasticity and DNA Reprogramming to develop plans of action that activate solutions for you and your business needs. It compounds Quantum Field principles, Positive Psychology, and Epigenetics, in a powerful new technique to assist you to achieve desired results. Accelerate your life and business now.
This article was written and appears as part of the blog series The Magnificent Human Experience | Explorations of Consciousness And The Human Body.
Images Via: Dali Lama / © Cary Wolinsky
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Marina Rose is an alternative health pioneer who employs cutting edge techniques that sit squarely at the intersection of the most leading edge scientific research and the ancient arts of traditional mind-body-energy medicine. She is the founder and developer of QDNA®, Quantum DNA Acceleration®, a revolutionary new technique for quantum growth in life and business. She offers seminars, programs, lectures, and private sessions in QDNA® that accelerate personal and professional transformation.
Marina has been an alternative healing arts and wellness facilitator for the past twenty-one years and holds certifications in more than twenty-four healing modalities. She is a highly respected facilitator, educator and lecturer in the field, with private practice based in Venice, California. Marina is the author of numerous articles on health and wellness, and is the author of The Magnificent Human Experience: Explorations In Consciousness and The Human Body, a weekly blog dedicated to far ranging topics that bridge the worlds science, health and spirituality.
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About | Marina Rose, QDNA®
Marina strongly believes that there is nothing that cannot be healed or transformed when the mind, body and emotions are in balance. From over two decades of professional experience, Marina has developed a broad range of instructional programs, seminars and a complete line of organic products to support health and healthy living.
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