A partner, a degree, a job, a new stress management tool that will take us to a better place. Our brains are continuously being hacked by media and advertising, and every other external source that profits from our fear. In addition, we are in a post- modernist world where perspectivism and ‘my truth’ is the prevailing attitude. These are some of the hidden forces contributing to stress and anxiety, and leaving us feeling confused and alone.
We are coming to understand the benefits of meditation, yet it is a practice that many people find frustrating. If you feel that you lack the template or skills to do it, the notion of brainfullness may help bring some clarity to the workings of the system, to encourage you to continue and allow you to be both adaptive and responsive to whatever comes along. If we understand meditation as a neurological feedback process, we can access the system, thereby increasing our chances of success.
The idea of brainfullness is to make your whole thinking process more transparent. I define brainfullness as the dedication and process of bringing one’s awareness to experiences occurring in the present moment through the lens of functional neuroscience.
As such, you may wish to adopt your own movement, meditation, or mindfulness practice, with an understanding of the conceptual system that can help you to navigate your life.
There are four key variables to consider:
In order to prime you for how to apply this, it might serve you best to know some important neuroscience.
At the very basis of our nervous system are the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, which tell us whether to avoid or approach something. Most of us spend the majority of our time in the sympathetic state, and knowing how to reset the balance is the aim of all meditation and health care as 90% of diseases have a stress component. Even though this system has been 400 million years in the making, it still has its limitations. We can only recognize what our nervous system has evolved to perceive. Likewise, we are also limited by language in only having access to words provided by culture.
Where your awareness goes most of the time, that becomes your focus. Additionally, when you have an input through the viscera or interoceptive system (aka a feeling), your brain starts to file through your experiences, your imagination, and your self-generating fears, and makes up a story to accompany that input. It is looking to establish familiarity and context to determine your safety. Once we realize that it is doing what it is supposed to do, we can stop making the semantic mistake of believing that every story that we tell ourselves is true.
Most of the brain imaging done during meditation shows an increase in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula activation, which are areas of the brain responsible for the processing of emotions, as well as the expression of self-compassion and empathy toward others. The insula is always active, as it is constantly receiving information from the body. This information can be noisy and unrelenting, and knowing the difference between the noise and the signal is what the brain is trying to decipher. The ACC is less active in people with ADHD, which highlights its importance in awareness and focus.
With this knowledge on your side, we can reverse engineer what we are hoping to achieve. So, let’s bring this brainfullness concept to life in a simple, daily practice: your morning coffee.
While this is an experience that you share with 80% of the world’s population, it is one that you can make part of your own self-care. Practice awareness by taking the time to notice the smell of the coffee and the warmth of the cup in your hand—really enjoy that first sip. To further experiment, see if there is a difference in how you feel if you drink it sitting versus standing. Or you can try using your non- dominant hand to drink it—this would require more focus, though, so make sure you have a clean shirt on stand-by. Sharpen your focus even more by visualizing your brain as the most complicated organ in the universe—or as an over-grown cauliflower.
Understanding that this is a process that takes time is part of the mastery. The development of new neural pathways and blood vessels, and increasing mitochondria and myelination does not happen overnight. It is a generative process which allows us the capacity to intentionally affect our emotional state, helping us get a better immune response, increase stress tolerance, and supplement our reality with much richer experiences.
It is said that thoughts think for themselves, but we should identify with our positive thoughts as we tippy-toe through brainfullness. It is important to reflect at the end of each practice, what things we liked about the practice itself and what things we didn’t like to find the ritual that works best for each of us. But it is also important to note that what we may have learned through the discomfort of what we didn’t like may also afford an opportunity for discovery in itself.
Brainfullness allows you to plug and play. You can begin with either focus or awareness; it is not a hierarchy where one is a prerequisite for the other. You can focus on anything; bring your awareness to your breathing, or to a particular part of your body.
The big challenge with meditating is the froth of irritation that arises in the stillness and feelings of awkwardness that might seem like a capitulation. While it may look daunting, we can choose to view it like the froth on a cappuccino—one that looks big, but is really light.
Use it as an opportunity to recharge your curiosity and to know yourself in the most granular way. Bring the attitude of ‘what am I going to discover?’ to your meditation, and stop asking impoverished, meaningless questions like ‘am I doing it right?’.
Because it is an experiment, there is a built-in, expected failure rate and inherent messiness, but the point of the process is to discover what is interesting about it or what is possible within it. Experimenting with yourself to establish your own practices is part of the discovery and, hopefully, understanding it as less of a semantic jump and more of a neurological leap is helpful to your journey.
Action-based results—brain-based explanation.
Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.