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  • Writer's pictureAnnelie

Neuroplasticity - You Are What You Live

How your brain develops in direct response to what you ask of it

Your brain is in a continual, dynamic state of change as it responds to experiences. It is constantly creating new neural pathways and patterns in response to the things that you and the world around you are asking it to do. Your brain’s growth is not random. Nor is it pre-programmed, and not all brains develop the same. Put simply, our brains make and remake their pathways and capabilities to match what they’re being used for.

What is Neuroplasticity?

The brain’s ability to change and grow new pathways over time is known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity underlies our ability to learn and remember, from birth to death.

Neurons and the act of thinking

“Neuro” refers to neurons, the specialized cells that form the main part of the nervous system tissues in most animals. Neurons are the working unit of the brain and are interconnected by synapses. Synapses transmit the electrical charge that neurons produce and carry at a given time.[1] Think of neurons as stores of electricity and synapses as the wires by which those electrical charges are transmitted and moved around. The combinations of neurons that are or are not charged and the pathways by which the charges are moved around are the acts of thinking, remembering, and the other functions of the brain.

The brain’s capacity to adapt

“Plasticity” refers to the ability of an organism to adapt to its environment. Therefore, neuroplasticity describes the brain’s capacity to adapt in response to its environment – and to the brain, its environment is the sum of the information and stimuli that it receives.

Endless pathways

The possible pathways and structures formed by neurons and synapses are endless. The ones that emerge or form depend on the quality, diversity, and quantity of information that the brain receives.

From discovery to prediction machines

Infants discover the world around them for the first time and the number and diversity of stimuli is high – everything is novel and requires learning (i.e. neural growth. As we grow older, our brain shifts from learning new things towards functioning as a “prediction machine that is constantly busy comparing new input from the environment with predictions generated by internal models [based on previously stored information] of the brain”.[2]

Stay open and curious

New, formal research studies are now proving what many people have long intuitively asserted. Namely, staying open and being curious with a child-like mindset is important for the health of our brains.[3] If we are not open, our neurons and synapses harden in their current paths and become less able to form new paths. The forming of new paths is our evolutionary adaptability and is our primary coping mechanism in response to life’s challenges. To lose this ability is not a good thing, to say the least.

Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein 

Steve Jobs phrased his advice with the words: "stay hungry, stay foolish", and Albert Einstein described the value of curiosity with these words:

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”

Neuroplasticity in adults

While neuroplasticity is heightened in infants, researchers nonetheless observe neuroplasticity regardless of age. As we will see further below, in adults, certain areas of the brain experience more neuroplasticity than others. The brain is like a muscle in a way – it gets good at whatever you repeatedly do with it. This not only applies to concrete skills such as woodworking or using computer software – it applies to emotional states and entire ways of thinking, too. If you build up pathways of negative or even just unproductive thinking (i.e. procrastination), those things will become normal and happen more often. Likewise, if you train your brain in healthy and productive patterns (i.e. responding to failures with curiosity and self-care instead of self-abuse), those things will come more naturally, too.

Getting into the details – Neurogenesis

But how does neuroplasticity occur? Neuroplasticity has been observed to function in a few different ways. First, neuroplasticity occurs by the growth of new neurons. This is called neurogenesis. In adults, a type of neuron called granule cells are known for having the highest rate of neurogenesis, and two parts of the brain are especially rich with these: the hippocampus (long-term and spatial memory hub) and the cerebellum.[4] The cerebellum holds our muscle memory and physical activity is a major stimulus for the growth of new granule cells.[5]

Growth and shrinkage of neurons

Another way that neuroplasticity takes place is the growth or shrinkage of neurons in response to how frequently they are used. In addition to growth or shrinkage, the number of connections between neurons can go up or down in response to how they are being used.[6]


The third way that neuroplasticity takes place is by the creation or loss of layers of myelin insulation around the outside of synapses. Myelin is important for neurological activity, because it improves the speed of nerve conduction, i.e. the speed at which electrical messages travel from neuron to neuron along the synapses.[7]

Replacing injured parts

A final form of neuroplasticity is when injured parts of the brain are taken over by other still-functional areas.[8]

Why is neuroplasticity relevant for you?

Neuroplasticity is relevant for everyone not only because of its impact on cognitive training (the ability to learn new concepts and remember information), but also because neuroplasticity can be harnessed to improve the emotional, psychological, and more generally qualitative aspects of modern human life.

Neuroplasticity and Meditation

For example, meditation, at its core, is the deliberate retraining – or un-training – of various habits of the brain. Steady and regular meditation practice has been clinically shown to reduce anxiety, increase a general sense of wellbeing, and, more concretely, ease the symptoms of IBS.[9] These benefits of meditation can be scientifically explained by neuroplasticity.[10]

Neuroplasticity and chronic pain

Similarly, the concept of an ever-changing brain can be used to treat chronic pain. Chronic pain is believed by current research to be less a somatic pain type than an affective one.[11] This means that chronic pain is more similar to emotional pain than to acute physical pain, in that the driver of the chronic pain in the brain is the same as the driver of emotional pain.[12] Therefore, our habits of thought that affect our emotions are also affecting chronic pain.[13]

The scent of flowers

At the verge of his death, the Haiku poet Gozan wrote his last poem:

Blossom scent the air

a carefree birdsong

echoes truth.

Our sense of smell is our oldest sense in terms of when it evolved in our bodies. The olfactory sense, as described in this Haiku poem, shows us another way in which neuroplasticity occurs, even in old age. The olfactory bulb is, besides the areas of the brain mentioned above, the only other subcortical brain area with a high rate of neurogenesis.[14] Some think that this is one of the reasons why smell is so deeply embedded in our formation of memories and remembering long past situations.[15]

Use Neuroplasticity to your advantage - transform your life by transforming your thinking

  • Meditation is the undisputed first step towards building stronger resilience and profound communication and cooperation between your mind and body. Meditation, like every other practice, is a process and can be learned and explored with an experienced, mindful teacher. Book an introductory meditation workshop with me.

  • Hypnosis is a direct path to your subconscious and a way of getting to the root of unresolved issues. Learn about your strong emotions, habits of thought, and patterns of action that you would like to be free of. Hypnosis is also a fast, results-oriented way of approaching challenges of the mind and body. Successful hypnosis begins with a preparation session to set your goals and learn about the process. Take the first step today and write me a message. (If you are new to hypnosis learn more and click here).

Ressource List:

Pat Archer, Lisa A. Nelson. Applied Anatomy and Physiology for Manual Therapists. 2013. Wolters Kluwer, PA.

Christopher Bergland. February 6, 2017. How Do Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis Rewire Your Brain?, last visited June 10, 2020.

Herta Flor. Painful memories - Can we train chronic pain patients to ‘forget’ their pain? EMBO Rep. 2002 Apr 15; 3(4): 288–291. doi: 10.1093/embo-reports/kvf080, last visited June 10, 2020.

David Hanscom. Back in Control. 2017. Vertus Press, Seattle.

A.R. Mansour, M.A. Farmer, M.N. Baliki, and A. Vania Apkarian. Chronic pain: The role of learning and brain plasticity. Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2014; 32(1): 129–139. doi: 10.3233/RNN-139003, last visited June 10, 2020.

Richard J. Davidson, Antoine Lutz. Buddha's Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation. IEEE Signal Process Mag. 2008 January 1; 25(1): 176–174.

C Sarafoleanu, C Mella, M Georgescu, and C Perederco. The importance of the olfactory sense in the human behavior and evolution. Published online 2009 Apr 25. J Med Life. 2009 Apr 15; 2(2): 196–198.

John E. Sarno. The Mindbody Prescription. 1998. Grand Central Life & Style, New York, Boston.

Meditation: In Depth., last visited June 10, 2020.

How the Brain Makes Predictions. 2018., last visited June 10, 2020.

[1] Archer, 2013. [2] How the Brain Makes Predictions, 2018. [3] Davidson et. al, 2008. [4] Bergland, 2017. [5] Bergland, 2017. [6] Hanscom, 2017. [7] Hanscom, 2017. [8] Hanscom, 2017. [9] Meditation: In Depth. [10] Davidson et. al, 2008. [11] Mansour et. al, 2016. [12] Hanscom, 2017. [13] For more about the mind-body connection with regards to chronic pain, see Sarno, 1999. [14] Bergland, 2017. [15] Bergland, 2017; Sarafoleanu et. al, 2009.



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