More and more studies in the field of neuroscience are pointing to our ability to use simple practices of awareness and attention to engage and grow parts of our brain wired for change. These findings over the past 20 years focus on neuroplasticty which is our brain’s ability to form new neural connections throughout our lives.
What we also know from recent research is that our environment and daily behaviors play a role in which neural pathways we grow. Each thought we have and each breath we take impacts our inner environment and our ability to prime new neural pathways to engage in a healthy way with our outer environment.
One of the neurotransmitters which plays a role in our ability to learn new skills and grow new neural pathways is dopamine. Dopamine is a key link impacting our motivation and reward system as well as feelings of pleasure and emotion..
Often times our unconscious thoughts and conditioned habits trigger the reward center of our brain in unhealthy ways reinforcing old stories and conditioned neural responses. For instance, each time we feel guilt, shame or blame the reward center of our brain is producing dopamine and other responses in our brain and body reinforcing these unhealthy feelings and emotions.
What if there was an easy and empowering way to focus our attention to stimulate the pleasure center of our brain triggering the growth of new neural pathways of wellbeing?
Focusing our attention on gratitude is an empowering way to stimulate a virtuous cycle in the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Even just an inquiry about your gratitude begins to disengage the limbic pattern and reward center around guilt, shame and blame while engaging the higher executive functioning frontal part of our brain.
Since both thoughts and feelings of gratitude and guilt directly activate the brain regions associated with dopamine, initiating feelings of reward as well as action, making us more likely to repeat that thought again and again, which will you choose?
Focusing our attention on gratitude literally grows pathways of wellbeing in our brain and through our body.
When we reflect on our gratitude, we stimulate activity in the frontal part of the brain near the midline. This area of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, allows us to see and feel the bigger picture vision in our lives, invites us to experience compassion and empathy as well as focus our attention and practice patience. Our gratitude is literally growing the grey matter of our brain building a stronger prefrontal cortex through neuroplasticity each time we reflect on gratitude. As the neural pathways of guilt, shame and blame reward centers in our limbic system are being pruned back, we are training our brain to grow pathways of gratitude increasing our immediate sense of wellbeing while decreasing our stress and fight/flight/freeze safety response.
Often times, the holidays and being around family can bring up feelings of shame and blame.
Take your health and happiness into your hands this holiday season with this short 5 minute breathing practice to train your brain to grow your gratitude and allow your body to shift your neurobiology, breath by breath.
Train Your Brain to Grow Gratitude: 5 minute Body Current Practice
- Find a comfortable and safe place to sit or lay down
- Give yourself permission to earnestly focus on this practice for 5 minutes, perhaps setting a timer.
- Notice your connection to the stable ground beneath you. Notice you are safe in this moment.
- Exhale out rounded lips for a count of 6-8 bringing the naval to the spine without force.
- Inhale through the nose for a count of 6-8 receiving the inhale fully into the front, back, and sides of your body.
- With each exhale, imagine you are plucking “thought weeds” of guilt, shame or blame out of your brain and body. Perhaps noticing the sensations arising in your body where the emotions and feelings have been imprinted. Tap the area of your body that is releasing.
- With each inhale, imagine you are planting a seed of gratitude in the garden of your mind. Just simply seeking gratitude will do the trick or you can be specific listing what you are grateful for with each seed you plant. Perhaps noticing the seed taking root in the fertile ground of your neurobiology and imagining what kind of flower the seed will blossom in your brain and where in your body you feel this seed of gratitude. Tap the area of your body that is receiving gratitude.
- Repeat for 5 minutes or more to continue to build pathways and patterns of gratitude through your body, brain and breath.
Shanti Medina, CYT CPT is the founder of Energize training systems and Body Current® therapeutics. She created her Body Current modality as a bridge between ancient wisdom and modern neuroscience with simple body-centered templates and tools to self-regulate the nervous system. Shanti is referred to loving by her clients as a brain trainer and breath coach.
Shanti enjoys supporting her clients in living their passion and purpose through practices of body-centered self-realization, brain training tools and breathing techniques for optimal wellness. She designs personal yoga therapy and fitness routines, threshold crossings, sacred ceremonies and rituals. Shanti has been honored to share her Body Current templates as part of a variety of 500HR Yoga Teacher Trainings and as faculty at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Neurosculpting Institute and the Sacred Arts Practitioner Certification.
Shanti and her husband Scott recently released their double-CD SoMAntra with over 160 minutes of healing soundscapes, embodied meditations and ecstatic chanting from interfaith traditions around the globe. To schedule a private session and to find out more about Shanti’s community events and global retreats, please visit www.EnergizeShanti.com.