Changing our brain and genes for optimal health
The latest research in neuroscience and epigenetics has converged to revolutionise the way we view health and treat illness. The many studies demonstrating our ability to change our brain and genes, and repair damage to them, constitute irrefutable proof that what we believe, how we feel, and how we live has a real and lasting impact on our health. The paradigm is shifting to the bio-psycho-social model which recognises that health is an integration of mind, body and environmental factors.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire and create new circuits at any age as a result of input from the environment and our conscious intentions. Neuroscientists used to believe that after childhood, brain structure was relatively fixed. But new findings reveal that many aspects of the brain and nervous system can change structurally and functionally throughout adulthood, including learning, memory and recovery from brain injuries.
We can focus our mind to disconnect or unwire unwanted connections, thereby letting go of past experiences that impact on the way we think, feel and act. The rewired brain will no longer fire according to the circuitry of the past. This neurological pruning and sprouting, or unlearning and learning, creates the opportunity for us to rise above our current limitations and to be greater than our conditioning or circumstances.
Our genes are as changeable as our brain
One of the most active areas of research today is epigenetics – the study of how the environment controls gene activity. Epigenetics is in complete opposition to the conventional genetics model which stated that DNA controls all of life and that gene expression takes place inside the cell. Genes were previously thought to be responsible for most diseases, but we now know that the environment is the most causative factor in producing disease by activating or deactivating particular genes. Poor lifestyle choices, nutritional deficiencies, chronic stress and environmental toxins influence gene expression and cause illness.
Epigenetics gives us the ability to take back control of our genetic destiny. A simple DNA test will reveal the specific diet, exercise and lifestyle plan based on our unique genetic profile that will significantly reduce our risk of disease and maximise our well-being. By just changing our thoughts, feelings, emotional reactions and behaviours, we can send our cells new signals, and once a cell is activated in a new way, the cell can create thousands of variations of the same genetic blueprint.
The brain and body interact through powerful electrochemical signals. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that primarily send signals between nerve cells, allowing the brain and nervous system to communicate. Neuropeptides are chemicals manufactured in the hypothalamus and pass through the pituitary gland, which then make their way through the bloodstream and signal different glands of the body to produce hormones. Neuropeptides and hormones are the chemicals responsible for our feelings.
The external environment chemically signals genes through the emotions of an experience. If we remain in a toxic state of anger, melancholy state of depression, or vigilant state of anxiety, those chemical signals keep pushing the same genetic buttons which ultimately cause the activation of certain diseases. Stressful emotions actually pull the genetic trigger, dysregulating the cells and eventually creating disease in the body.
Rewiring the brain to signal genes in a positive way
As you think different thoughts, your brain circuits fire in corresponding sequences and patterns. Once these networks of neurons are activated, the brain produces specific chemicals that are an exact match to those thoughts, so that you feel the way you were just thinking. The brain is in constant communication with the body, monitoring how the body is feeing. Based on the chemical feedback it receives, the brain will generate more thoughts that produce chemicals corresponding to the way the body is feeling, so that we first feel the way we think, but then begin to think the way we feel.
This process of thinking and feeling creates a state of being – a familiar mental-emotional state which has become an integral part of our identity. The result of this cyclic communication between your brain and body is that you tend to react predictably to your life experiences and unconsciously behave in automatic ways. Repeating the same negative thoughts and feelings over time conditions the body to remember the feeling of suffering without much conscious thought, so that it now seems natural and normal. To change this programming, and to bring the mind and body into harmony, we need to work with the unconscious mind.
Meditation and body-centred therapeutic modalities help us to reassert control over the unconscious programs that have been controlling us. We can rewire nerve cells, and prune away neurological hardware of your routine unconscious states of mind and body, and no longer signal your genes in the same way. You rewire your brain with new patterns of thinking and feeling based on who you want to be instead. When the body and mind begin to work in harmony that is the point of real change. While we may not be able to control all the conditions in our external environment, we certainly have a choice in controlling our inner environment, and this will have a positive impact on our gene expression and overall health.
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