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Friday, November 11, 2011

Some thoughts on our “almond switches”

I have learned that knowing the ingredients is not of much help in predicting tastes yet my ego does not let me to acknowledge my limits and makes me to have an “expert” look at the ingredients whenever I shop. In cases, where my ego helps me in right direction, I do not try to confront it. Here, the ego let me to be “health conscious” so I let it free. The same is true about neurology. I follow the research (trying to learn the ingredients) in order to have an expert look at myself as well the life around, though I know by “experience” that Scientific research is very limited in helping to know the content of human life.

It is very repetitive to say that one of the interesting compartmentalization of different parts of human brain is to look at three main parts of it, with an evolutionary perspective and call them Reptilian brain (Hind brain), Mammalian brain (Mid-brain) and Homo sapiens brain (Forebrain).  But as it is very convenient to explain many things so I use it frequently.

But out of these major divisions, there are some small parts of brain that are of much interest as they work like switches. For example, Amygdala is a pair of almond shape structure deep within the mammalian brain (medial temporal lobes); one “almond” on one sphere (Amygdala mean almond in Greek and here it is referred to the shape of the structure) and another almond on the next sphere. Amygdala connects the frontal lobe (Our Homo sapiens parts; or reasoning parts of brain) to more primitive parts of brain. It also regulates our emotional memories. So in simple words, they switch off our reasoning part of brain when we are in survival mode like when we face danger and the response become of quick decision, to fight or flight. A very clear example is that of Anger, when we become angry, our reasoning part of brain is turned off and we use our primitive part of brain (We become insane, if you like it straight forward). The “bad” part of this that primitive brain has a highway towards the frontal lobe (Means quickly respond, it is evolved to function in emergency situation) while on the way back frontal lobe is thinly wired to primitive part of brain (means have very small control over emotions and emotion related memories; that is the sad part, as those people who become extremely violent, depressed or commit suicide actually have given up to their primitive brain by not making more efforts that are required to somewhat control over emotions and emotions related memories). So, by now you might have realized that how much important is the amygdala. If we had a way to have some sort of control over amygdala then we had much control over our emotions and managing memories related to emotions.

The good news is that actually there are some ways to manipulate amygdala and it is quite amazing that these ways are thousands of years old.  Meditation and Yoga are the best ones known. Frankly, I was suspicious of the effects of breathing practices (though I was admiring their energizing and refreshing effects both on mind and body especially after learning that Kant who had lived mostly a mental life as he didn’t travel more than 10 miles beyond his birthplace, Konigsberg; It is famous that he had so predictable life that his neighbors were setting their clocks by his daily walks; Yes his daily walks was his meditation, it was the time when he was not talking to anybody and was spending thinking while taking deep breaths in the process; It is also said that he had overcome his diseases by his daily walking meditations; Whatever, meditation has a lot more beyond Kantian walks). Now, we know that brain is like other parts of body, means become stronger by usage (The neurons increase its wirings/connections by high usage; highly wired neurons work faster and more effectively). Imaginations and concentration through breathing practices give some sort of control over amygdala and helps to calm down or in modern terms, helps to Cool Down. Meditation is the really an effective way of cooling down.   

Yoga and meditation came into being to smooth the process of Physical degeneration. The Physical maturity generally completes at age of 12-13, though it varies from person to person and this means the reverse process starts. The reverse process, though is a universal fact but is not something acceptable to all and has different psychological effects on different individuals. It is true that we can’t stop it but can only slow it down by proper nutrition, exercise and a healthy life style. Although meditation was designed mainly aiming for psychological resilience in the face of physical degeneration but now it is widely used as a tool for gaining a physical resilience, mostly through Yoga. Even from the beginning it was realized that Physical resilience is mandatory for Psychological resilience and hence the breathing exercise became at core of the practice as it affects equally physical and mental processes….

We all somewhat specialize in the different disciplines and have our own aptitudes but there are some skills that are mandatory by nature and add to quality of life. I categorize cooking and yoga along with social skills and power of reasoning in this group of skills…. 

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