Focusing the Mind Can Change the Brain

Focusing the Mind Can Change the Brain

Daniel J. Siegel, MD is the author of Mindsight: A New Science of Personal Transformation (2010) and The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-being (2007).

In the Foreword to Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, PhD and Richard Mendius, MD, (2009) Dr. Siegel writes “A revolution in science has recently revealed that the adult brain remains open to change throughout the lifespan. Though many brain scientists have in the past stated that the mind is just the activity of the brain, we now can look at the connection between these two dimensions of our lives from a different perspective. When we consider the mind as an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information, we come to realize that we can actually use the mind to change the brain. The simple truth is that how we focus our attention, how we intentionally direct the flow of energy and information through our neural circuits, can directly alter the brain’s activity and its structure. The key is to know the steps toward using our awareness in ways that promote well-being.”

Mindfulness and mindful activity allows us to pay attention in a non-judgmental way to the present moment. This means being fully present in whatever we are doing, whether we are sitting and focusing on our breathing, walking, doing yoga or washing the dishes. Mindfulness involves staying aware of how we get pulled away from the present by our thoughts of the past and of the future. This may involve anxiety, worry, stress, depressive or other thoughts. We can get "carried away" by those thoughts and lose our focus in the present. When we are practicing mindfulness and we become aware of "worrying" or "thinking," we simply and gently bring our focus back to the present without judgment. We simply begin again focusing in this moment.

Dr. Siegel's new neuroscience research indicates that we have the ability to focus our attention toward health, healing and balance. This focus actually has the power to alter our brain's structure and activity. Dr. Siegel recommends mindful activities and behaviors as a way of connecting with our inner Self as well as connecting and being more attuned with others.

Dr. Siegel further elaborates, "Our relationships with one another are not a casual part of our lives; they are fundamental to how our minds function and are an essential aspect of brain health…This means the way we communicate alters the very circuitry of our brain, especially in ways that help keep our lives in balance. Science further verifies that when we cultivate compassion and mindful awareness in our lives—when we let go of judgments and attend fully to the present—we are harnessing the social circuits of the brain to enable us to transform even our relationship with our own self.”

Science confirms the power that we have to heal ourselves in how we focus our thoughts, our awareness and our relationships. Cultivating compassion towards others as well as our Self contributes to the health of our brains and the balance of our lives. Allowing ourselves to be less judgmental, more accepting and more compassionate changes the structure of our brains and promotes healing. Take some time in your daily or weekly routine to be aware and practice mindfulness.

Other helpful mindfulness resources:

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn (2007)

The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems by Ronald D. Siegel,PsyD, (2010)

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer,Ph.D., (2009)