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How do you feel now? Human awareness, Neuroscience and Mindfulness

Source | Linkedin | Sachin Mehla | Psychologist, Mindfulness Expert, Strategic Alliances, Consultant – Learning and Organisation Development

While it’s possible to choke our default way of thinking, trying to do so is like forcing yourself to go to the gym after years of inactivity – sure, you could fight your way through a step aerobics class if you had to, but wouldn’t it be nicer to just eat Doritos on the couch? 

According to researcher Norman Farb, who studies meditation and experimental psychology at the University of Toronto, such mindfulness-based meditation can actually change the way you use your brain. As Farb explains it, most of the time, we respond to new stimuli and experiences automatically, based on how we think they’ll affect us. A traffic jam isn’t just cars; it’s a problem that will make us late for dinner – so when we see a red wall of taillights in front of us, we become stressed-out. In other words, we don’t just experience, we evaluate – and then respond without thinking (clogged highway = extra minutes stuck in the car = misery). 

Typically this type of narrative processing takes place in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain behind the center of your forehead that coordinates complex behaviors and thoughts. (It’s also the part of the brain that’s being used when your mind starts to wander.) Farb has found that people who have practices mindfulness based meditation, on the other hand, are able to activate an entirely different part of the brain – the insula. Located deep inside your gray matter, the insula informs you of what’s happening in the present moment without connecting the experience to a specific emotion. When you’re thinking this way, a traffic jam doesn’t seem like a problem; it’s simply a bunch of cars on the road. 

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