CAN MEDITATION REWIRE THE BRAIN?
A Modern Health and Ayurvedic perspective
By Usha Nagavarapu Ph.D., CAS
CAN MEDITATION REWIRE THE BRAIN? An Integrated Health Perspective
By Usha Nagavarapu PhD, CAS
Brain and neuroadaptability
Our brain is amazing and has an extraordinary ability to change, adapt and acclimate in response to new intelligence, experience, and challenges. Our brain's neural networks can change their structure, function, and strength in response to different inputs. This behavior of constant adjustment and modification to achieve a state of brain homeostasis has been recently described as neuroadaptability. This concept is quite similar to neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity, during which adaptive structural and functional changes takes place in the brain in response to internal or external stimuli. This usually happens after an injury such as a stroke and the brain responds by regrouping its structure, and the associated functions and networks.,
Impact of neuroadaptability on health
Neuroadaptability is quite complex and can have both positive and negative impact on our health. If it is inappropriately activated, the ensuing fight or flight response can create a state of chronic stress, while on the other hand, the ability to handle and cope with stress can help a person return to a state of balance quickly.
Stress and addiction are the culprits and can trigger neuroadaptive behavior and these can be habit forming. Chronic stress can have negative impacts on our brain. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to stress can change the structure and function of the brain, leading to decreased cognitive function and memory, increased anxiety and depression and changes in brain structure and connectivity. This weakens our neuroadaptability. Research findings have also implicated that stress can trigger development of major depression in some people and chronic stress can reduce synaptic plasticity and weaken neurogenesis. Some reports also imply that depression can cause changes in neuroplasticity in specific regions of the brain, and these can be associated with symptom severity, negative emotional reflection as well as fear.
Communication between the gut–brain axis seems to be important, and a disruption can lead to microbiome imbalance which can in turn affect the nervous system and overall state of our health. Furthermore, there are numerous studies which describe how toxins in the environment, daily challenges and constant stress affects our physical, psychological and brain health.
Ayurvedic practices to improve brain health
Improving neuroadaptability is seen as a modality that can help support and boost brain function, improve cognitive functioning, and may prevent the onset of age-related cognitive decline. A recent article by Ted Wallace and group, emphasizes two key methods to improve neuroadaptability. The first is meditation and the second is Ayurveda. The authors describe the use of Transcendental Meditation to improve neuradaptability including mental and physical health. The authors also suggest Ayurvedic practices where adopting customized lifestyle behaviors, may improve specific areas of neuroadaptability. Several studies have shown that the practice of meditation stimulates neuroplasticity with enhancement in cognitive functions, attention, and long-term memory. This data further supports that meditation may have a conceivable role in a panel of preventive strategies for healing brain related issues.
Ayurveda believes that our brain health is directly related to physical health and overall balance of the body's energies or doshas. An imbalance in the doshas causes mental and emotional imbalances, which can later show as physical symptoms. "Manasika chikitsa" in Sanskrit means "mental treatment" or "psychological therapy." The term "manasika chikitsa" is often used to refer to different forms of alternative therapy or spirituality that can help individuals improve their mental and emotional well-being. These can include practices such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, as well as more structured approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of psychotherapy. Remember, the key is to find what works for you and make it a regular part of your routine. Ayurvedic practitioners do recognize the importance of managing stress and will often suggest stress-reducing techniques such as pranayama (breathing exercises), rest, and spending time in nature.
Ayurveda is a holistic form of medicine with a strong establishment in compassionate and empathetic care. Following simple Ayurvedic practices such as mindfulness meditation and relaxation can empower an individual to achieve a healthy mind body balance. Studies have shown that emphasis on nutrition, diet and a wholesome lifestyle can benefit an individual to be content and stress free from emotional and mental disturbances., Ayurveda considers aging to be natural and incorporating a healthy regime can foster health and well-being.
Disclaimer: It is important to note that Ayurveda should not be used as a substitute for modern medical treatment for mental health conditions. If you have a mental health condition, it's important to seek the help of a qualified healthcare professional.
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Usha is an Ayurvedic Practitioner, holds a PhD in Pharmacology and neuroscience, and was trained at the Department of Dermatology, at Stanford University. She is an experienced pharmaceutical scientist and researcher and has managed dermatology, oncology product and clinical development including FDA submissions. She founded Surrasa in 2019, with a belief that skin can reveal internal imbalances, a Ayurveda inspired natural product company, with a focus on bringing innovative healing solutions to systemic and skin disorders. Prior to that, she was a founder of a skin cancer diagnostic company, DermDx which was based on Raman Technology, where she led research and the clinical program. Her career journey has included small startup/ biotech to medical device companies, and she has led cross-functional programs and teams.