Our Inspiration – Maui and the Healing Power of the Brain

Anyone who has ever had a pet or watched wild critters knows animals are inspirational (I’m told there are even people who find reptiles, insects and other vermin fascinating – myself . . . I prefer mammals . . . but who’s to say . . .).

I’ve had a horse, Misty, dogs and cats.  My last kitty Maui, long after his passing, has been particularly inspirational:

  • Maui inspired me to write his story as a book to help children know that they too can flourish with patience and persistence.
  • Maui’s story is proof the brain, YOURS and mine, is capable of “rewiring” and “repatterning”. 

To read Maui’s story click here

  • Maui inspired Judy and I to create MAXyourMIND (formerly Catnipblog) to share neuroscience research and how we can all live better, healthier lives harnessing the power of our own minds.

Maui was part Siamese and lived up to the breed’s reputation of being intelligent, playful, social and quite mischievous.  

Maui

I named him for the jokester god of the Hawaiian islands. What happened to him was no joke.

When Maui was 11 years old, he had a  blocked ureter.  The treating vet told me Maui would not live.  I brought him home and helplessly watched Maui do nothing but lay on the floor with his chin on his favorite water bowl.  He didn’t eat for days and his back legs were weak.
One day Maui couldn’t move his back legs at all. The vet had neglected to tell me that cats not eating for 3 days or more can lead to heart problems which can result in a clot that blocks the femoral artery. The blockage causes the back legs to not function.  A permanent condition.

 The vet repeated Maui could die at any time and suggested putting him down. I was distraught.

Hope against hope, I took Maui home and helplessly watched him drag around with his two front legs.  It took him one human year or 7 cat years to rewire his brain and regain use of his back legs.

Maui taught me first hand about persistence, resiliency and how with patience the brain can be retrained  . . .  and the paws will follow.

For Maui and His Back Legs book, click here

Our human brains, too, have incredible plasticity.  Maximize aspects of your life by focusing on what you want and minimize what doesn’t support your wants and needs.

The old sayings “Practice Makes Perfect” and “The Power of Positive Thinking” have been proven accurate through scientific research . . . and Maui.

Peggy

 

 

 

I remember I don’t remember being hung-over

I have little, VERY little, memories of my childhood or adolescence – or adulthood for that matter.  It concerned me when a therapist colleague said “not remembering” was an indication of repressed memory probably of horrible childhood trauma.  Ai yiiii yiiiiii.  Maybe I was beaten, or worse, and all these years believing I had nice parents.

I told a psychiatrist friend about my memory “affliction”thinking he would suggest decades of psycho-analysis at best and in-patient treatment at worst.  He looked passively at me and without the slightest hesitation said, “All that indicates is your childhood was boring.”

This is one of my aha moments that I DO remember and spurred me to investigate the neuro-biology of emotion.  What does that have to do with hang-over?  Read on!

Hung Over by Peggy

Excerpts from:

You already know without a doubt that most of your memories are ones that were highly emotional experiences.

“Emotional experiences can induce physiological and internal brain states that persist for long periods of time after the emotional events have ended, a team of New York University scientists has found. This study, which appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience,also shows that this emotional “hangover” influences how we attend to and remember future experiences.”

“How we remember events is not just a consequence of the external world we experience, but is also strongly influenced by our internal states–and these internal states can persist and color future experiences,”explains Lila Davachi, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science and senior author of the study.”

“‘Emotion’ is a state of mind, . . . findings make clear that our cognition is highly influenced by preceding experiences and, specifically, that emotional brain states can persist for long periods of time.”’

” . . . data showed that the brain states associated with emotional experiences carried over for 20 to 30 minutes and influenced the way the subjects processed and remembered future experiences that are not emotional.”

“We see that memory for non-emotional experiences is better if they are encountered after an emotional event,” observes Davachi.

I’m so relieved!  Not only wasn’t I beaten . . . or worse . . .  the biggest hang-over I’ve experienced was the result of my exceptionally boring life.

(jw)

Initially posted on CATNIPblog.com

*To read the entire article, who the authors are and the research behind it click HERE.

Blame game: roosters, virus and my dorsolateral prefrontal cortex

It’s the Year of the Rooster – I was born under the Chinese sign of the Rooster.  Always thought it to be a curse I was born under a sign that wasn’t fertile enough to lay an egg or two.

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According to my friend Sharon Bonin-Pratt (whose last post inspired this post) People born under the sign of the Rooster are hardworking, funny, trustworthy and talented.

I’m not hardworking, at times am funny, almost always trustworthy, and have latent talents that get laid but never hatched.

This Rooster year started off with a cold virus that delights roaming the cozy recesses of my sinus passages.   It’s day 11 (but who’s counting).  I’ve been a total slug – no energy, no resolve which gives me a perfect excuse for not making New Years’ resolutions.

(The truth be told, I never make resolutions for the New Year – learned long ago that when I inevitably fail to keep a resolution it leads to feeling badly.)  

What energy I have has been directed toward resolving to be more creative this year. 

In preparation I’ve been obsessively reading everything I can find on how to break my creative block and stop procrastinating.

Most everything I read about procrastination indicates that we procrastinate when we don’t want to do something that is not enjoyable.   Being a master procrastinator I also procrastinate with things that bring me enjoyment.

For inspiration, I read blogs of people who write, read or draw daily – all things which bring me enjoyment.  I feel badly I’m not like them  which leads me to read articles on procrastination and meeting goals (I know how to set them, just not meet them).

Finally the article below has liberated me! I know what to blame:

My dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is lazy . . . not me.

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Creative block here’s neuroscience how to fix it.

by Elizabeth Shockman

“What is it exactly that helps us be creative? What fuels us when we get into an especially productive work flow? What makes the hours disappear when our brains focus on a task?”

“What, in other words, is happening in our brains when we’re being creative?”

“Cognitive neuroscientist Heather Berlin at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says we know a little bit about what’s going on. Berlin studies the neuroscience of imagination, creativity and improvisation. And for those people who might be facing writer’s block? “There’s really no prescribed medication,” Berlin says. “There is no real magic pill.”’

Instead, she says, creativity depends on which part of the brain you might be using.

“When [people] are improvising, there tends to be a pattern of activation where they have decreased activation in a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,” Berlin says. “And that part of the brain has to do with your sense of self, your sort of inner critic, making sure that your behavior conforms to social norms.”

“Translation? When you’re at your most creative, “basically you lose your sense of self,” Berlin says. “You kind of release your inhibition. The second you become too self-aware that comes back online and you lose that flow state.”’

“In addition to losing inhibitions, people who are in a creative state have increased activation in a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, which has to do with the internal generation of ideas. In other words, the ideas are coming from within.”

“Some people, when they’re in the flow state … a lot of people say ‘It feels like it’s flowing through me. It’s coming from someplace else,’ you know, ‘It’s coming so naturally I don’t even have to think about it,’” Berlin says. “It’s called liberation without attention. You can only keep a certain number of variables in mind when you’re thinking about something consciously. But if you let it go, you actually can come to a greater understanding because the unconscious can do much more complex processing.”

“For those suffering from creative block, Berlin has some practical advice:”

“You have to take in all the information and then go for a walk,” Berlin says. “Go out, do something else. Because those people who sit there and just obsess over thinking about it too much, using your prefrontal cortex you’re actually limiting yourself. So letting it go can actually help you get over, let’s say a writer’s block or a creative block.”

I’d go for a walk but I have a cold.  Maybe some other time . . .

 

 

Neuroscience – 4 easy & fast things to do to boost happiness

Brain research is both shifting and validating common knowledge. This article by Jon Spayde in the United Health Care bulletin is worth posting AND READING in it’s entirety.

How to get happy in a hurry, according to neuroscience

By Jon Spayde

“. . . Time.com blogger Eric Barker lists four rapid, in-the-moment ways to feel happy – he calls them “rituals” – based on recent neuroscience, and featured in a new book by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb: “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.”‘

“1. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for. A warm house, a pet you love, your success at Minecraft? Whatever. Gratitude, says Korb, boosts both dopamine and serotonin, the two most powerful neurotransmitter chemicals involved in giving you a feeling of calm and well-being. “Know what Prozac does?” asks Barker. “Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.” And don’t worry if you can’t immediately find things to be grateful for, Korb says. The mental search for gratitude alone will begin to elevate the level of those pleasure chemicals”.

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One-liner doodle – WE ARE ALL CONNECTED

“2. Label negative feelings. Simply saying to yourself “I’m sad” or “I’m anxious” seems like a pretty paltry happiness strategy. But here’s what Korb writes: “…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled ‘Putting Feelings into Words,’ participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala [the brain’s fight-or-flight alarm bell] activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”‘

“3. Make a decision. Just deciding to do something can reduce worry and anxiety right away. Korb: “Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals – all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world – finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”‘

“But what about making the “right” decision? Isn’t that stressful? Korb counsels letting go of perfectionism. The “good enough” decision is…well, good enough to make our brains go into at-ease mode. “We don’t just choose the things we like,” says Korb. “We also like the things we choose.”‘

“4. Touch people (appropriately).One of the primary ways to release oxytocin [the pleasure-inducing ‘cuddle chemical’] is through touching,” Korb writes. “Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often.”‘

“A hug is particularly effective, he says, mobilizing oxytocin against that alarm-bell amygdala. And if you don’t have anybody to hug, go get a massage: “The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels.”‘

United Health Care

If you want to remember – Forgeta bout it!

I’m so smart.  I’ve been employing this strategy for years!  The only problem is when I remember what I forgot, I forget why I needed to remember what I forgot to remember.

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Leigh Wells/Ikon Images/Getty Images

Trying To Remember Multiple Things May Be The Best Way To Forget Them

by CHRIS BENDEREV

“A new scientific model of forgetting is taking shape, which suggests keeping multiple memories or tasks in mind simultaneously can actually erode them.”

“Neuroscientists already knew that memories can interfere with and weaken each other while they are locked away in the recesses of long-term memory. But this new model speaks to what happens when multiple memories are coexisting front and center in our minds, in a place called “working memory.”‘
“It argues that when we let multiple memories come to mind simultaneously, those memories immediately lock into a fierce competition with each other.” When these memories are tightly competing for our attention the brain steps in and actually modifies those memories,” says Jarrod Lewis-Peacock, a neuroscientist at UT Austin.”

“The brain crowns winners and losers. If you ended up remembering the milk and forgetting the phone call, your brain strengthens your memory for getting milk and weakens the one for phoning your friend back, so it will be easier to choose next time you’re faced with that dilemma.”

It’s a strain on my brain

to remember

whether it’s June, July or December

Multiple memories,

lots of tasks

my brain crowns the winner

which I reward with dinner

Eats I never forget

Food being a permanent mind set

P.S. I forgot to tell you that you can read the entire article by clicking on the title above.

 

 

 

 

“S” is for Stroke of Insight

“One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness  . . . ”

One of the best TEDTalks EVER!  VIVID, moving.

Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor studied her own stroke as it happened.

“How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I’ve gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career.” — Jill Bolte Taylor

“Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right. From her home base in Indiana, she now travels the country on behalf of the Harvard Brain Bank as the “Singin’ Scientist.”

 

Highjacked

I eat all the leftovers in the refrigerator.  I make a batch of brownies from a mix and eat the batter slowly, very slowly, breathing in the chocolately aroma, feeling the slightly gritty grains of batter between my tongue and roof of my mouth.  Spoonful by spoonful the intense sweetness permeates every sense of my being.  I eat all the batter because turning on the oven is too complicated and not understanding what temperature or how long they need to bake too dangerous.

I search all the kitchen cupboards. The only thing left that is edible is a box of Saltine crackers and ketchup, necessities of life when you are a student and working your way through college.  Intently focused, I carefully break the crackers apart into their neat little squares and slowly, carefully arrange them on a plate.  It takes time to  decorate them with swirls and globs of ketchup before I carefully spread the red with the tines of a fork marveling at the artistic lines I’m creating in the ketchup.

tumblr_low7rldARv1qhr40c“Taste this – they’re delicious, like the best pizza ever.” I walk slowly, carefully balancing the plate, into the living room toward my roommate Shelly who’s sitting on our Salvation Army couch, her feet propped up on the wooden spool coffee table that once held wire cable for telephone repair and abandoned on a Berkeley street corner. 

“Taste these – just like pizza, they are delicious,” I repeat, shoving the plate into Shelley’s line of vision as she blankly stares in the direction of the orange paper-mache flower in the milk carton that decorates the wooden spool.   Mechanically, and without the enthusiasm I think warranted, she chews slowly, very slowly, silently, reflectively.  Not waiting for her response I eat the rest of the pizza crackers while carrying the plate back to the kitchen to make more.

gourmet pizza ingredients

gourmet pizza ingredients

How Marijuana Highjacks Your Brain To Give You The Munchies

by Angus Chen

“Shortly after toking up, a lot of marijuana users find that there’s one burning question on their minds: “Why am I so hungry?” Researchers have been probing different parts of the brain looking for the root cause of the marijuana munchies for years. Now, a team of neuroscientists [led by Tamas Horvath at the Yale School of Medicinereport that they have stumbled onto a major clue buried in a cluster of neurons they thought was responsible for making you feel full.”

“An effect when cannibus is introduced in the brain . . . “creates a kind of runaway hungry effect. “Even if you just had dinner and you smoke the pot, all of a sudden these neurons that told you to stop eating become the drivers of hunger,” Horvath says. It’s a bit like slamming down on the brakes and finding weed has turned it into another gas pedal.

” . . .  Last year, researchers foundthat cannabinoids lit up the brain’s olfactory center, making mice more sensitive to smells. Before that, other researchers discovered cannabinoids were increasing levels of dopamine in the brain; that’s the swoon that comes with eating tasty things.”

“For anyone who’s experienced it — you realize that’s exactly what’s happening,” he [Horvath] chuckles. “You just can’t stop, no matter how much you put in your mouth.”

. . . and I might add . . .  

You just can’t stop no matter 

WHAT you put in your mouth.

To read the entire article click here