Neurological Rock Stars 5 – Richard J Davidson Getting to the Heart of Neuroplasticity

Essentially this is the story of Compassion, Monks and an FMRI Scanner.

The heart is seen as primary in relation to emotional regulation in Chinese Medicine. One of the obstacles faced by western science is understanding why this might be. I have written posts before on ‘Towards a spirit of Peace’ (1) which references a text on ‘Shen disorder’, and so I will not go into the more poetic and integrated body mind model from Chinese medicine here. Instead I will write about the work that is putting the ‘heart mind’ into a context that can be referenced and understood by western science and medicine.

Richard J Davidson is professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as well as Founder and Chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center. (2)

I recently saw him talk about his work in ‘Transform your mind, Change your Brain – Google talk’ on youtube.(3)

In it he states “Epigenetics – referrers to the fact that genes are regulated by the environments in which they reside”

“The idea that our genetic structure provide an unalterable blueprint that effects our behaviour in an unalterable way is an antiquated, wrong- headed, Newtonian conception of genetics, it’s not the way things work.”

He emphasises that “the brain is the organ, which is built to change in response to experience more than any other organ in our body.”

Essentially what he is talking about is how behavioural and mental changes can produce more specific neurological changes than biological intervention, for example medication.

One of the books that changed my perspective on the brain was ‘The Plastic Mind – by Sharon Begley’(4).

This book talked about the results of studies involving the Dalai Lama and monks who were being studied under an MRI scanner by Richard J Davidson at the University of Wisconsin. During the scans they were meditating on compassion. The results showed what many Buddhist meditation practitioners already knew, Mediation changes your mind, crucially it showed that it was making neurological changes to the brain and proved neuroplasticity in meditation.

Richard J Davidson works at the cutting edge of Neuroplasticity. He also is also an expert in Affective Neuroscience (study of emotions).

During his talk he describes how when he and his team went to a monastery to explain to the monks what the process for recording data was, his team attached electrodes to the head of Fransisco Varela (5) who would perform the meditation. The response from the monks was that they started laughing. At first he thought it was because the electrodes looked silly on the head of Fransisco, but it emerged that it was because the electrodes were not placed around the heart. He said it took some years to get back to this.

During compassion meditation the Insula is one of the most active areas of the brain.

The Insula (anterior insula) houses a viscera topic map of the body (19min into google talk), visceral organs are mapped in the insula. This part of the brain has descending pathways to these organs and can modulate activity in those organs (there are also pathways to other parts of the brain). The Insula can modulate activity in the visceral organs. Meditation can also affect the amygdala and the TPJ or Temporal Parietal Junction which is associated with empathy.

Research like this into meditation is useful, for example, in understanding regulation of the vagus nerve because ‘many sensory signals conveyed by the vagus nerve terminate here’ – in the insula(6). In relation to the heart this will have big implications because of the relationship between the vagus nerve and heart.(7)

One of the problems with the idea of neuroplasticity is that it isn’t a mainstream idea yet.

Research like this begins to shed light onto the heart mind body brain relationship and forms a bridge in understanding the important relationship between meditation, emotional regulation and the heart and other organs of the body.

This research has far reaching implications not just for medicine but for education as well.(8)

1) https://epilepsymeandneurology.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/epilepsy-in-chinese-medicine-towards-a-spirit-of-peace/

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Davidson

3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tRdDqXgsJ0 google talks

4)http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Plastic-Mind-Sharon-Begley/dp/1845296745

5)http://enc.tfode.com/Francisco_Varela

6)http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=32Ucobqp97EC&pg=PA68&lpg=PA68&dq=insula+and+vagus+nerve&source=bl&ots=gwH0yCLiwy&sig=1S9n1L98UZ7DEfMSQjbfcmE7axI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yV5PUaCCJYWuPOnggNgL&ved=0CEcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=insula%20and%20vagus%20nerve&f=false

7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21367742

8)http://www.edutopia.org/richard-davidson-sel-brain-video

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Another Rare Drugs Free Sighting! Flying without wings – someone who got off anticonvulsants!

I am very excited!

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about ‘Epilepsy drugs free – is it possible to fly without wings?’

This was about the one and only person I have ever read about managing epilepsy without anticonvulsant medication.

BUT I am happy to announce I was wrong!

There is MORE than one!

I have discovered a blogger who has recorded her journey towards anticonvulsant free epilepsy management and put it online!

It’s like Christmas! Well it nearly is in 3 weeks!

The link to the blog is here:

http://epilepsycure.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=12

The blog, somewhat ambitiously titled ‘The Epilepsy Cure’ (Well why not reach for the stars?) Caught my eye straight away!

The first blog is January 2009

http://epilepsycure.blogspot.co.uk/2009_01_01_archive.html

And describes how the journey began.

The final blog is September 2011

http://epilepsycure.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=12

In a nutshell this medical student blogged her way through coming off medication and has road tested nearly every natural therapy for epilepsy known to mankind. Not only that but at the end she and her partner are about to become 3!

Not a nearly extinct species either!

She emphasises this is not a guide, and that anyone reading should do their own research, but it really is a good read!

Enjoy!

Epilepsy and fear – Why Shiatsu?

“Transformation happens when we live through the experience of deep fear. Seeing fear as a signal to hide in some realm of safety prevents our connection to what lies behind our self-identity. When we ignore parts of ourselves, or the world, in response to fear, we insist on too small an identity. If we are lucky those ignored parts will come knocking at our door revealing what appears menacing to be actually some part of ourself which we cannot yet accept as our own. “

Bridgette Ludwig Shiatsu Society Journal Autumn 2012

Health problems bring us closer to fear. They remind us we are not immortal.

One problem of living with epilepsy is that there is the fear. The fear of when the next seizure will come. The fear of not waking up.  Spending waking moments wondering about black out or experienceing altered states of consciousness? Fear of loosing control or having no control over the way life opens out. It is hard to plan ahead when there is no guarantee that seizures won’t get in the way.

Coping mechanisms for this type of problem can allow us to carry on and live life to the maximum. Feeling grounded and centred in the body is helpful to remind us that we are ’in our bodies’ rather than ‘out of our bodies’ in the sense of unconscious and disconnected by the experience of living through a seizure.

The power of touch in particular, in this example shiatsu, can bring us back into our bodies and help us to realign with life following disconnection brought about by seizures.

It is important that coping mechanisms don’t become our prison. Change is the essence of moving through and forward through fear.

Without fear there would be no control. We instinctively look to control our lives but is there any control when none of us can be certain what will happen next?

Fear cripples if it is not challenged.

Only when we challenge the fear does it loose its power and therefore the control it has over us.

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”
Buddha

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/fear.html#6JqP39s9pl2Qk8SL.99

Shiatsu is a holistic therapy which utilizes healing touch and treats the whole person mind, body and spirit.

Read more about it at:

http://www.shiatsusociety.org/content/about-shiatsu