Mindfulness

How can we have a neuro series and not talk about mindfulness 🙈 I am a huge fan of all things that work and bring positive impact to human lives. Mindfulness is surely one of them.

I come from the eastern part of the globe and these topics are not new to our culture. It is a part and parcel of how we grow up. Yoga, nirvana, karma, compassion are a part of our everyday vocabulary. The problem is it is subjective, esoteric, philosophical and it goes above our head to understand it using a rational mind. My rational, analytical mind struggled to understood why it works and why it is so complicated to understand? When I hear advices like “everything is one and we all are connected, I go nuts” 😳. I ask, where is the data? what proof do you have blah. I can sound like an ass but I genuinely wanted to know more about the world that works but can’t reason it to my research brain.

I am a living proof that mindfulness and meditation works. As a practitioner of kriya yoga and meditation, I surely can vouch for changes in my brain and in my life post the mindfulness meditation everyday. The best part is my creative work gets even more creative now. Knowing it cognitively and understanding it experientially are two different things.

Now there is hope in the form of compelling body of research from the neuroscience perspective that is discussing the so called murky and enlightenment topic in an objective scientific manner making the case rock solid. What a relief. Phew 😝 Let us understand what is going on with mindfulness inside our brains.

Enough studies are conducted to show how our brain reacts to mindfulness and mindlessness. There is a clear proof that mindfulness changes structure and function of brain. fMRI shows that mindfulness enhances attention, emotional intelligence and self awareness.

As discussed yesterday, the default mode network (DMN) is active when we do nothing (or day dreaming) and that is 45% of our time. The areas in the brain during default mode aka mindless mode, are responsible for thinking self referential aspects of ourselves and ruminations. The other network (Executive control network or Task Positive Network - TPN) is active during the attention demanding task. The thing is only one network can be active at any time. You can’t be mindless and mindful at the same time.

In other words our default mode network keeps us in ruminative mode and directs our awareness towards self referential past or future by ignoring the present. On the other hand the TPN or the action network is responsible for the here and now (aka present moment). When we engage this network there is no anxiety or depression or worries or past or future as the DNM is not active.

Because only one system can be active at a time. When TPN is active our DMN is not active and the vice versa is also true. So it is intelligent to keep our TPN on and DMN off.

Simple strategies to activate your TPN

  1. Counting 54321 (aka 5 second rule by Mel Robbins).

  2. Bringing attention to your breath or a sound or a sensation.

  3. Having a routine of meditation everyday helps. You don’t have to know a particular type of meditation but anything that brings your attention to now helps your brain.

  4. Write your morning pages and gratitude journals as a routine if you are not into meditation.

  5. Go for long walks in nature without gadgets. It helps you to breathe from the lungs and not from the chest.

  6. Have a pomodoro clock next to you and take control of every 25 mins of your life. So even if one pomodoro goes into black hole/vortex, the other one can be more present and focussed.

When DMN is wandering, all it takes is just a little focus. Research has proved that people who meditate regularly have a smaller amygdala (portion of the brain that controls flight or fight). It clearly means that they are not stressed much, there is no fear or anxiety.

Tomorrow let us talk about the beginner’s mind and its connection to the brain.

🥂 to TPN


Yo! Thanks for reading. Means a lot to me as attention is the hardest currency 🙏

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