• The Ft. Hood Attack, the “Offline PFC,” and the Ancient Brain

    A few days ago, Ivan Lopez, a soldier in Ft. Hood, TX went on a murderous rampage before shooting himself. A day or two later, a military spokesman, indicated that an “escalating argument” precipitated the assault. According to another spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, the military had not yet determined a “concrete motive.” Sadly, this is not surprising; incidents like this are increasingly commonplace these days. For those who have followed this blog, you know that the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC)–the “newer” part of our brains that evolved to govern the complexities of thought, emotion, and higher “executive” functions–can be

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  • Part 1: What happens when you practice mindful meditation?

    “It is a tribute to the accumulated wisdom of humankind that a traditional Buddhist meditation practice going back 2500 years, which was originally designed in part to deal with the problem of human suffering, has been successfully adapted to prevent the relapse of depression in the modern era.” ~ Simon N. Young, PhD It’s a source of great debate  among many in the West (not among those who practice and are adherents of mindful meditation, of course; for them, there is no debate): just what are the benefits of mindfulness meditation? This is, really, the core question that can help change not

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  • What is mindfulness again, anyway?

    Of all the things I realized that I’ve never posted, mindfulness is, surprisingly, at the top of the list. Odd. Well, it’s odd for a blog that’s called The Ancient Brain and Modern Mindfulness. So, in an effort to address that void and provide some clarity on the subject from my point of view, I’ve included some brief descriptions and definitions from my brain to yours, below. Being in the Moment: Children are, Adults, not so much. The truth of the matter is that we are comprised of actions and behaviors that become largely ingrained in our brains as “habits.” As

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  • Practice does not Make Perfect…

    …but it certainly helps! Imperfection. It’s what enabled the universe as we know it to come to be in the first place. It’s a commonly held belief among astrophysicists and cosmologists that if the Big Bang’s energy had been completely uniform, we would not exist. The imperfections in the heat and dispersal of energy from the birth of our universe actually enabled gravity to take hold and enabled gasses to coalesce into denser and denser matter, enabling gravity to take hold and create stars and planets. All due to the slightest of imperfections. Imperfection, one could therefore say, is the

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  • West Meets East: Neuroscience and Buddhism

    I was watching this video from the wonderful “Greater Good Science Center” Web site the other day, and just today I was reading an interview in Shambhala Sun with Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield about mindfulness and Buddhism in the Western world. It’s not news that the world of Western science and the world of Eastern philosophy are coming closer and closer together, but what’s interesting to me is that the Buddha was apparently quite aware of the plasticity of the brain long before anyone actually knew the true functions of the brain. “Letting your frontal lobe support…non-judgmental, present moment

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  • Sensational Maps: Mind / Body Emotional Experiences

      Source: npr.org According to research conducted by Lauri Nummenmaa, a psychologist at Aalto University, “Our emotional system in the brain sends signals to the body so we can deal with our situation.” Nemmenmaa led a team of scientists in Finland to ask ask people to map out where they felt different emotions on their bodies. The results, as shown above, were “surprisingly consistent,” even across cultures. “Say you see a snake and you feel fear,” Nummenmaa says. “Your nervous system increases oxygen to your muscles and raises your heart rate so you can deal with the threat. It’s an

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  • What is Mindfulness? Psychologist Mark Williams Explains

    “Mindfulness is a form of awareness, really, so we’re all aware sometimes that just as you’re wonderful description of getting up in the morning and as you were driving to work with all these things going through your head, we also know that sometimes we can naturally switch that off sometimes if we take the time to take a walk with a youngster, you know, three or four-year-old, and they’re going very slowly along the road and they’re looking at things.” – Mark Williams In his book, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World,  Mark William,

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  • Houston, we have a problem…

    (…but it doesn’t have to be). The amygdala is considered by many to be the root of many of our anxiety and stress problems, and that’s true. That’s because this very small, “older” almond-shaped part of our central processing units was grand when it came time to run away from a predator or fight off a competing tribal member. Today, the “modern amygdala” can contribute to a world of pain. But it’s more complicated than that–your amygdala can be tamed. Salience Network: Reacting to Bad News–and Good. According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, as we evolved as a species, we grew

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  • Meditation can Literally Change your Brain…

    …including Decreasing the Size of your Amygdala! We are a data-driven society here in the West. Personally, I’d like to see more reliance on data to help break through the stigma and barriers that are associated with brain “plasticity” and rewiring our brains. The science is real, the conclusions are valid, and it’s just time for the rest of the medical (and patient) community to catch up. Key Conclusions. That’s why this video really struck me. People certainly have a right to be skeptical about “new findings” (coffee is good, it’s bad, it’s good, etc.!) regarding health, but the jury

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  • The Mind/Body Connection: Sense and Sensibilities

    I was listening to Radiolab the other day and as usual, they addressed a subject that’s near and dear to my heart–literally–the mind/body connection. The show discussed how the brain relates to the body, and vice-versa. As always, the show was thought-provoking, but led me to think a bit more about the mind-body connection and how it’s related to trauma. When Your body knows before your Conscious Brain Knows. The latest research reveals that our viscera “knows” extreme experiences before you, consciously, do. That’s because the ancient circuitry in the brain communicates directly with the amygdala in extreme. When the

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  • The Importance of Internalizing the Good

    The phrase neurons that fire together, wire together is increasingly common among neuroscientists and psychologists to describe, essentially, one basic thing: the more of “something” that the brain experiences (it doesn’t care what–it’s just an agnostic recording device, for the most part–although it does “hold on” to negative thoughts, experiences, and memories more readily than it does positive ones), the more it reflects those experiences in newly “built” neural networks. Billions and Billions: You Control the Most Complex Object in the Known Universe …our brain has about a hundred billion neurons in it. In principle, the number of possible states of

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  • Fight, Flight, and Freezing

    When I first realized that the symptoms I was experiencing were not due to a deadly, chronic ailment, but due, instead, to an overactive, nonstop “fight or flight” response, it was a revelation. How could this be? How could symptoms of dissociation, insomnia, strange bodily sensations such as tingling and “electricity flowing through every nerve of my body” be something other than a serious illness? Many of the answers to what I was experiencing were in the illuminating,  groundbreaking book, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences by Peter Levine. I experienced all stages of the body’s survival mechanism: fight,

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  • Rewiring Yourself: How to Counter the Brain’s Negative Bias

    Ever wonder why the world is in such turmoil, why there is hate in the world? Why people fear those who aren’t “like” themselves? Over the millenia, our brains developed a “negative bias” as a survival mechanism. In short, “negative biases” helped humans survive. Avoid being attacked by a predator? That was a threat for a long time; the brain developed tools to send us into fight or flight modes. See someone from a tribe that’s different than yours–and therefore a competitor for scarce resources?  That’s a threat. So the brain developed a “mind-body” connection the need to develop the

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  • Childhood Trauma: New Research on Brain Impact and Anxiety/Depression

    This latest report from NPR underscores how trauma and stress at an early age “wires” the brain into a fight or flight response with real physical symptoms and consequences.  “Maltreatment during childhood can lead to long-term changes in brain circuits that process fear, researchers say. This could help explain why children who suffer abuse are much more likely than others to develop problems like anxiety and depression later on.” This shouldn’t surprise anyone, particularly: childhood trauma is a well-known cause of anxiety and depression later in life. But the fact that this can leave people unable to distinguish between real and perceived

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  • Why we exhaust ourselves with stress and anxiety, and what you can do about it

    Why we Exhaust Ourselves… Today, people tend to be overwhelmed not just by constant inputs (technologically), but by self-criticism. First, the brain is actually built to focus on the negative; this is an evolutionary vestige built for survival, but today, neuroscientists are aware that it’s not just an annoyance, but that the brain remembers and focuses on he negative much more readily than it does the positive. The brain not only retains more negative memories for longer periods of time, but components of the brain actually work to prevent positive experiences from being retained–all in the name of survival. This was perfectly well and good when

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