The brain and the mind… how are these interrelated? How can we experience optimal levels? Let us look at the hardware (brain) and then the software (mind).
The brain is an organ of molecular, electrical, and chemical activity. It has three major areas: the primitive brain stem, the mid brain, and the neocortex. For this discussion we will focus on the neocortex, the part of our brain you and I spend most of our time in. The mind is an outcome of this active process, of the active energy in the brain… however the mind is not in the brain itself. It functions outside the tissue, perhaps outside the skull itself. As an example, imagine a flashlight. The light comes out of the flashlight but is not in the flashlight, it illuminates outside and in the dark. It is important to remember the mind is an outcome of the brain but is not the brain.
The brain’s primary role is to take in information on a sensory level, internally and in conjunction with the mid brain (it’s internal workings) and sets the stage for the neocortex to organize and store information (i.e. create memory). This is where the mind plays a major role. The mind is the storyteller, the narrative writer. The story the mind creates will be built upon and supported by previously stored information. The mind is responsible for the creation of new memories, and for retrieval of known emotions which reinforces or recategorizes them as new paradigms are developed.
Because the mind is both the creator of the narrative and the editor, pathways are formed, and if kept in place over a long period of time, they are repeated and become the trail that we walk upon daily. When working to our interest we may experience harmony and balance, so we pay little attention to these patterns. We would like to believe we are flexible and fluid, but to some degree we remain within the patterns established by our brains. However, what happens when we find ourselves in patterns that no longer serve us, that not only limit our experience, but complicates or create distress? We then experience anxiety (fear), disappointment (expectation let down), hurt (why me), anger (blame others). All these emotions are valid and hopefully move us toward a change of experience. However, what happens if we feel stuck? We would benefit from different pathways to increase flexibility and develop neuroplasticity.
There are many tools that we can utilize to keep our brain and mind fluid and healthy.
Exercise: aerobic, walk 30 minutes without music or sound. Look around and experience the world as it is and let go of any recurring narratives. In other words, drop out of the thought process. Changing the context of your environment will help to shift your mind.
Stretching: stretching our muscles into a position and holding it for 60 seconds allows you to truly stretch out and expand your thoughts.
Yoga: similar mind set as stretching, take a position and hold it for number of breaths. Yoga helps improve emotional regulation to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, which in turn improves overall brain function.
Dancing: moving your body in a comfortable environment to your favorite sounds with or without a partner. Moving our bodies in novel and stimulating ways helps develop new pathways in the brain.
Meditation or mindfulness methods: relaxation, or even some sort of mindless activity to help let go. Become aware of and watch your thoughts and allow them to pass you by without attaching or fixating on them.