Brain Activity (based on Dan Siegal’s book“The Mindful Brain”)
The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped clump of neurons deep in the centre of our brain. It is the brain’s emotional regulation centre. When we are exposed to a stimulus that results in deep emotions such as fear or anger, it is activated and stress hormones are released into the body.
Historically, the amygdala was meant to function as an instinct to escape dangerous situations. The problem is that in today’s society, we are constantly operating at a low grade stress level and thus the amygdala is mildly activated all the time. As the amygdala is activated other parts of the brain, especially high functioning centres such as the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are no longer accessible and higher order thinking is shut down.
The prefrontal cortex is the region of your brain that is responsible for your highest level of functioning. There are nine executive functions that this area controls:
- Body regulation
- Emotional balance
- Response flexibility
- Self-knowing & awareness
- Fear extinction
This highly evolved area of the brain controls our decision making, focuses our attention, and allows us to learn to read, write, compute, analyze, predict, comprehend and interpret.
When the amygdala is activated, the activity of the prefrontal cortex is inhibited.
The hippocampus are twin crescent-shaped bodies that reside in the central brain area. This is the area of the brain that assists in managing our response to fear and threats, and is a storage vault of memory and learning.
When the amygdala is activated, the hippocampus becomes unaccessible.
Research shows that mindfulness results in structural changes in the brain by thickening certain brain regions, such as the hippocampus and thinning other regions, such as the right amygdala. Through the practice of mindfulness, the amygdala is deactivated and the stress hormones are no longer released. This allows the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus to function at its highest capability. For example, when a child/parent is in a positive emotional state, the amygdala sends incoming information on to the conscious, thinking, reasoning brain, the prefrontal cortex. When a child/parent is in a negative emotional state, the amygdala prevents the input from passing along, blocking higher-level thinking and reasoned judgement.
Imagine being given the tools to do mindfulness and allow your nervous system to settle on a regular basis; the brain would become a healthier learning environment for both child and parent.
Research & Evidence
A recent study at Harvard University has shown that most people spend 46.9% of their waking hours in a state of distraction; adding that a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
Yale University have recently conducted a study showing that meditation can help improve concentration skills proving that those who are experienced at meditation are able to deactivate the part of their brain that is involved with mind-wandering and is even associated with unhappiness and anxiety.
Mindfulness Creates Positive Emotional States
Researchers have found that during positive emotional states, a higher cognitive state is generated, and children can maximize their learning potential (Amon & Campbell, 2008).
Mindfulness and ADHD
Relaxation training is the most effective treatment for ADHD and concentration problems (Weisz, McCarty, Valeri, 2006).
Mindfulness affects the WAY children experience emotions
Dr. Zindel Segal from the University of Toronto in his study shows that mindfulness can affect the way we experience sadness. Mindfulness allows more balanced activations in both sides of the brain and less self-referencing (fear, guilt, shame, etc) while experiencing emotion. By reducing the activation of the region associated with the self, mindfulness can help children view their emotions from a more detached point of view, and therefore deal with these emotions more effectively.