Tuesday, July 8, 2008

News You Can Use: Your Emotional Brain

In Turning Point’s Using the Mind class, we talk a lot about the mind, brain and emotions. The next time we offer the class, I will be adding some additional information on neuroplasticity and the brain – so for those of you who have taken it before, it is new and improved. But for now, I will give you a short lesson on the emotional part of your brain.

Did you know that for every outside event that you experience, you have a mental and emotional response? Every second of every day, you are responding mentally and emotionally to everything that is happening to you. Here is why: everything that happens is processed in the subcortical part of the brain, also known as the limbic system or stream of emotion. There is nothing you can do about this; it is the way you are wired. The only way around it is if you were somehow disconnected from that part of your brain.

We also know from research done by J.W. Papez, that the brain can be separated into three sections. The stream of cognition governs your intellectual functioning; the stream of emotion governs your emotional functioning; and the stream of motion governs your movement and speech.

The three sections are not very well connected to each other. In essence, there is a lot of communication within each section, but not much between each section. For instance, let’s say you decide to go on a diet. You know all of the intellectual reasons why you should diet - so you start with a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner and then at 10:00 at night, you eat a pan of brownies or bag of potato chips. You think to yourself, “I know I need to do this, why can’t I make myself diet!” What has happened is that your stream of cognition decided you need to do this, but your stream of emotion said “No, I’m not dieting”. And guess which part of your brain is more powerful? The stream of emotion.

So, how do you deal with this? You need to get the stream of cognition and stream of emotion on the same path. And how do you get the stream of emotion agreeing with the stream of cognition? Through right brain activity. Right brain activity is the only way to access the emotional part of your brain.

Some of the best right brain ways to access the emotional part of your brain:

· Relaxation response: There are many techniques that can help you relax, and this “deep relaxation” is great for accessing your stream of emotion. To read further, go to
www.mbmi.org/benson or check in next time and I will walk you through the process.
· Repetitive prayer – the repetition of a simple prayer over and over.
· Repetitive physical exercise – running, elliptical, treadmill, etc.
· Mindfulness meditation – Jon Kabat-Zin or Jack Kornfield.
· Breathing techniques – Thousands to choose from!
· Self talk: The repetition of simple language over and over again. More on this later.
· Imagery: Imagining yourself reaching your goals, picturing everything exactly as you would like to be.
· Listen to calming recordings, music or voice.

For a wonderful description of how the right brain functions, I recommend viewing a video of a scientist named Jill Bolte Taylor. Go to
www.ted.com/talks/view/id/229 - it is worth the 18 minutes!

See you next time.