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Increasing Brain Capacity

According to Dr. Craig Hassed and Dr. Stephen McKenzie, authors of the book Mindfulness for Life, we all have the power to increase the potential and capacity of our brains.

Hassed and McKenzie note that scientific research has proven that the brain is constantly rewiring itself through the process of neuroplasticity. That means the brain (neuro) can change and adapt (plasticity) "depending on what we experience and how we train it. From a therapeutic point of view it means that we can ‘unwire’ unhelpful patterns of thought and behaviour and wire in new ones." (pages 80-81)

Dr. Hassed, Craig and Dr. McKenzie, Stephen. Mindfulness for Life. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2012. Print.

Exploiting The Brain’s Potential

Speech-Language pathologist Suzanne Evans Morris, Ph.D., describes the relationship between different brainwave patterns and accelerated learning, and how other states of awareness influence concentration, problem solving, receptivity and creativity.

"Receptivity for learning is related to specific states of consciousness. Predominant brainwave patterns are associated with different states of consciousness or awareness. For example, beta frequencies ranging from 13–26 Hz are associated with concentration, and alert problem solving; alpha frequencies (8–13 Hz) occur when the eyes are closed and a state of alert relaxation is present; theta (4–7 Hz) is associated with deep relaxation with a high receptivity for new experiences and learning..."

...The linear, sequential style of problem solving preferred by the left hemisphere is brought into balance with the global, intuitive style of the right hemisphere and limbic system (subcortex)... Morris, Suzanne. The Facilitation of Learning. Privately published manuscript, 1989, p. 16–17.

Morris describes how audio soundtracks containing binaural beats can be used to "create the ability to sustain this theta period of openness for learning." Morris adds that "[t]he introduction of theta signals... into the learning environment theoretically allows for a broader and deeper processing of the information provided by the teacher... [and] increases... focus of attention and creates a mental set of open receptivity." She points out that in the use of such binaural beats in a classroom setting, children exhibited "improved focus of attention" and "a greater openness and enthusiasm for learning."

Morris elaborates on exactly what happens in the human brain to make this type of accelerated learning so effective:

"The presence of theta patterns (4–7 Hz) in the brain has been associated with states of increased receptivity for learning and reduced filtering of information by the left hemisphere. This state of awareness is available for relatively brief periods as the individual enters a state of reverie or passes in and out of the deep sleep phase of the 90 minute sleep cycle. [Binaural beat] signals, however, can facilitate a prolonged state of theta to produce a relaxed receptivity for learning... [These signals] create a state of coherence in the brain. Right and left hemispheres as well as subcortical areas become activated in harmony, reflected by equal frequency and amplitude of EEG patterns from both hemispheres. This creates an internal physiological environment for learning which involves the whole brain. The linear, sequential style of problem solving preferred by the left hemisphere is brought into balance with the global, intuitive style of the right hemisphere and limbic system (subcortex). This allows the learner to have greater access to internal and external knowledge and provides a milieu for expanding intuition in problem solving. One of the by-products of hemispheric synchronization appears to be a highly focused state of attending. The ability to reduce ‘mind chatter’ and focus the attention is critical for efficient learning."

Acetylcholine & Intelligence

Scientists believe that insufficient acetylcholine causes memory loss and reduces learning and intelligence. Lack of acetylcholine has been linked to confusion and memory loss in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, while other patients who are given substances that increase the amount of acetylcholine show significant increases in scores on memory and intelligence tests. Furthermore, UC Berkeley researcher Mark Rosenzweig has shown a direct connection between acetylcholine and intelligence (Hutchison, p. 135).

...frequencies in the brain dramatically speed up production of a variety of neurotransmitters, different frequencies producing different brain chemicals... McAuliffe, Kathleen. Brain Tuner. Omni, Jan 1983.

Different brain wave patterns are linked to the production in the brain of various neurochemicals including beta-endorphins, acetylcholine, vasopressin and serotonin. These neurochemicals are normally associated with relaxation and stress release, creativity, super learning, enhanced memory functions, and other beneficial states of mind.

Dr. Margaret Patterson, in collaboration with biochemist Dr. Ifor Capel, at the Marie Curie Cancer Memorial Foundation Research Department, in Surrey, England, has shown that certain frequencies in the brain dramatically speed up production of a variety of neurotransmitters, different frequencies producing different brain chemicals. For instance, a 10 Hz (alpha) brain wave pattern boosts the production rate of serotonin, a chemical messenger that increases relaxation and eases pain, while catecholamines, vital for memory and learning, respond at around 4 Hz (theta).

According to Capel, "...as far as we can tell, each brain center generates impulses at a specific frequency based on the predominant neurotransmitter it secretes. In other words, the brain’s internal communication system—its language, if you like—is based on frequency... Presumably, when we send in waves of electrical energy at, say, 10 Hz, certain cells in the lower brain stem will respond because they normally fire within that frequency range." (28)

Improvements In
Cognitive Processes

...variations in insular complexity could affect the regulation of well-known distractions in the process of meditation, such as daydreaming, mind-wandering, and projections into past or future... Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2012; 6: 34. Published online 2012 February 29.

"Gyrification (the pattern and degree of cortical folding) is an important cerebral characteristic related to the geometry of the brain’s surface. Thus, exploring cortical gyrification in long-term meditators may provide additional clues with respect to the underlying anatomical correlates of meditation. This study examined cortical gyrification in a large sample (n = 100) of meditators and controls, carefully matched for sex and age. Cortical gyrification was established by calculating mean curvature across thousands of vertices on individual cortical surface models. Pronounced group differences indicating larger gyrification in meditators were evident within the left precentral gyrus, right fusiform gyrus, right cuneus, as well as left and right anterior dorsal insula (the latter representing the global significance maximum). Positive correlations between gyrification and the number of meditation years were similarly pronounced in the right anterior dorsal insula. Although the exact functional implications of larger cortical gyrification remain to be established, these findings suggest the insula to be a key structure involved in aspects of meditation. For example, variations in insular complexity could affect the regulation of well-known distractions in the process of meditation, such as daydreaming, mind-wandering, and projections into past or future. Moreover, given that meditators are masters in introspection, awareness, and emotional control, increased insular gyrification may reflect an integration of autonomic, affective, and cognitive processes."

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