What happens in the brain when we practice mindfulness?
This is your brain.
If you look at the parts, you’ll see the Brain Stem, the Amygdala, the Pre-Frontal Cortex and the Hippocampus.
When your brain senses danger, the part of your brain that tells you how to respond is your Amygdala. This part instantly chooses the best course of action to survive: fight, flight, freeze or faint, (the four F’s).
The Amygdala reacts in the same way if a tiger is coming to hunt you or if you just think about an event that is scary (like a teacher asking you for an answer when you don’t know, or about an exam in your future). The amygdala picks up on danger (real or not) and is stimulated to secrete hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones cause us to do one of the four F’s (fight, flight, freeze or faint).
If there’s real danger, then those reactions are just fine. But, when it’s not really a matter of survival, then the amygdala can get us in trouble! We are liable to make poor choices.
When we practice mindfulness, we allow other parts of the brain to weigh in: to help us decide if we are in real danger or not.
For example, the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for making more executive decisions. When we practice mindfulness, by taking a few mindful breaths, we allow time for the pre-frontal cortex to participate. The more we practice mindfulness, the stronger that part of the brain becomes and the more pathways are created between it and the amygdala.
Here is Dr. Dan Siegel’s analogy of the Brain
This model gives us an idea of the position of the Amygdala in relation to the Cerebral Cortex.
The good news!
Our brain is plastic and can grow if we exercise it!
The more we practice mindfulness, the stronger our cerebral cortex becomes, allowing us to make more responsible choices and decisions.
Let’s go for it!