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Appendix Neuroscience of mindfulness

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The appendix to our article: We're mindful - why isn't our organsation?

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Appendix Neuroscience of mindfulness

  1. 1. Appendix The Neuroscience of Mindfulness A) Sense making1 2 These are two modes in which we experience the world - ie the way we take in information and make sense of it relative to ourselves. The Narrative Focus (often referred to as the Default Network) is way of experiencing the world by through our memories, intentions and connections with others. It is significantly affected by our relationships and emotions. Research suggests that this mode limits our emotional regulation and is responsible for our mind ‘wandering off’ from time to time. The Experiential Focus (also referred to as the Direct Experience network) allows us to experience the world through the sensations of our body and the sights and sounds to which we are exposed - ie the inner and outside worlds. Research suggests that this is associated with greater self regulation and overall levels of positivity. These two modes utilise different networks and neural pathways in the brain. In addition, the usage of these networks are inversely correlated - one tends to dominate at any point in time. While the Narrative Focus (Default Network) tends to be used more frequently, the practice of mindfulness promotes the use of the Experiential Focus (Direct Experience Network) by intentionally shifting attention to the inner (body) and outer (external stimuli) worlds. B) Neuroplasticity3 This is the potential of the brain to reorganise by creating new neural pathways in the process of adaptation. In the case of mindfulness, we refer principally to the strengthening of the Direct Experience Network to allow us to wilfully direct our attention to the present - our inner and outer worlds. By activating our insula (allowing us to experience real and imagined bodily sensations) and anterior cingulate cortex (that facilitates our ability to switch attention), we are able to experience events in a non-judgmental way, improve our concentration and better regulate our emotions. Attending to the present: Mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference, N Farb et1 al, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 2007 Effects of mindfulness meditation on emotional reactivity and self association with emotional stimuli, A2 Jagannathan, occasional publication, 2013 Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology, D Siegel, 20123
  2. 2. Mindfulness creates neural pathways that strengthens the connections between different parts of the brain and that promote better self regulation. On the other hand, the Default Network (Narrative Focus) connects regions of the PFC with those parts of the brain that control memory, including the hippocampus. This brings our personal narrative into play - what memories we hold, our self identity, and what we aspire to be. As a consequence, this narrative acts as a filter to place a specific interpretation on events and facts, often limiting our perception of events. C) Bio-feedback Bio-feedback describes the close relationship between brain and body. The brain is, in effect, an integral part of the body, and vice versa. We may think about the functioning of the brain as ‘embodied cognition’ - ie: the way we sense stimuli, process information and decide is influenced by the bio-feedback between the brain and body .4 Some researchers posit that, due to this relationship, we think with our whole body . The5 brain will detect a range of stimuli that are registered non-consciously and manifested as physical sensations through the body. This will stimulate the production of a range of neurotransmitters and hormones that further influence mood, metabolism and cognitive ability. The practice of mindfulness has a noticeable affect on slowing rates of breathing and heartbeat. In effect, it slows the body down to produce a calmness that promotes a wider window of tolerance and increased resilience to stress. Research reveals that this is also6 associated with a strengthening of the immune system and the body’s telomeres - an essential part of the cell structure that affects the way the body ages .7 All in all, bio-feedback plays an important role in sustaining the system by ensuring that all parts are closely connected and work together. Dr Norman Chorn
 Dr Terri Hunter BrainLink Group www.brainlinkgroup.com Two awesome hours, J Davis, HarperCollins, 20154 The hour between dog and wolf, J Coates, Fourth Estate, 20135 Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology, op cit6 Transient delivery of modified mRNA encoding TERT rapidly extends telomeres in human cells, J7 Ramunas, E Yakubov et al, The FASEB Journal, 14, 2015

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