Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves Paperback – Nov 20 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks and some of the world's leading neuroscientists all gather once a year at a conference on the latest discoveries in neuroplasticity: the study of how the human brain can change itself. (This is the second book the subject due out in March, along with Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself). This remarkable conference serves as the center of Wall Street Journal science columnist Begley's account of neuroplasticity. Until recently, the reigning theory was that neurons in the brain didn't regenerate. Begley walks readers through the seminal experiments showing that in fact new neurons are created in the brain every day, even in people in their 70s. With frequent tangents into Buddhist philosophy, Begley surveys current knowledge of neuroplasticity. Most interesting is a series of experiments with Buddhist adepts who have spent over 10,000 hours meditating. What these experiments show is tantalizing: it might be possible to train the brain to be better at feeling certain emotions, such as compassion. No less interesting are the hurdles the scientists face in recruiting participants; yogis replied that if these scientists wanted to understand meditation, they should meditate. Despite the title, the book holds no neuroplasticity tips, but it is a fascinating exploration of the ways the mind can change the brain. (Mar. 13)Corrections: The author of The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession (Reviews, Dec. 18, 2006) is Ken Alder. The title of Heather Ewing's biography of James Smithson is The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution and the Foundation of the Smithsonian (Reviews, Jan. 1).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“There are two great things about this book. One is that it shows us how nothing about our brains is set in stone. The other is that it is written by Sharon Begley, one of the best science writers around. Begley is superb at framing the latest facts within the larger context of the field. She also gives us the back stories that reveal how human the process of science research is. This is a terrific book.”
—Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
“Reading this book is like opening doors in the mind. Sharon Begley brings the reader right to the intersection of scientific and meditative understanding, a place of exciting potential for personal and global transformation. And she does it so skillfully as to seem effortless.”
--Sharon Salzberg, author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience
“It is very seldom that a science in its infancy is so skillfully unpacked that it reads like a detective novel. The fact that this science includes collaborative efforts of neuroscientists, psychologists, contemplatives, philosophers, and the full engagement of the genius of the Dalai Lama is not only fascinating, but uplifting and inspiring. This book lets you know that how you pay attention to your experience can change your entire way of being.”
--Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses
“I have meditated for 40 years, and have long felt that the potential of mind training to improve our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being has barely been tapped. Thanks to Sharon Begley’s fascinating book, though, that is about to change. As human beings, we really do have inner powers that can make a world of difference, particularly if our goal is not merely to advance our own agendas, but to cultivate compassion for the benefit of all living beings.”
--John Robbins, author of Healthy at 100, and Diet For a New America
“This is a truly illuminating and eminently readable book on the revolutionary new insights in mind sciences. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in understanding human potential.”
--Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart
From the Hardcover edition.
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Those who have worked in fields such as psychology, education, gerontology and various social services will no doubt have observed unexplained and seemingly miraculous events with their clients and students. This book gives answers to their questions. For example, working as an occupational therapist in gerontology a number of years ago, I was stunned when an elderly (and chronic) stroke victim suddenly raised her paralysed arm to bat a balloon in a lighter version of volley ball. There was an "aha" moment when I read the chapter "New neurons for old brains."
This book also gives credence to the Superlearning trend of a decade ago, which met with a great deal of scepticism at the time. There were those, like myself, who used it anyway, purely on instinct, and met with amazing outcomes we could not explain. Anecdotal, of course, but Begley's book gives the following example some weight: While in my sixties, I decided to test out on myself what I had successfully used on the children. I undertook papers at university after forty years break from education, but reducing the study time by two thirds (using the Superlearning protocol.) It worked far better than I had dared hope; the 'grandmother' amongst students a third her age achieving the 90th percentile. (I later helped 'learning disabled' adults achieve the same percentile.) I couldn't say how it worked; just that it did. Now Begley gives scientific reasons why.
I am sure that other readers will find similar places of déja vu in this book and be assured that they can repeat, again and again, what they previously thought was mere chance. Whether you are a parent seeking hope for a dyslexic child, or an older adult who does not want to end up in mental decline like your parents did, there is solid evidence that "we can change what we choose to change."
Intertwined in Begley's reports of neuroplasticity research (cataloguing the unbelievable intransigence of the 'hardwired brain' traditionalists) is the story of an interaction that has developed over the years between the Dalai Llama and a group of enlightened Western scientists. This is a beautiful account of an interrelationship that has, without doubt, benefited the world, albeit with little media attention.
My only surprise is that, although Begley refers repeatedly to the scientists' rejection of mind-brain dualism, she does not answer this with any of the impeccable research available on non-local mind - such as that of William Braud (whose research is documented meticulously in "Distant Mental Influence.") However, Begley's "Train Your Mind, Change YOur Brain" was published in the same week as Lynne McTaggart's "The Intention Experiment," to create what is essentially a dyad in consciousness literature: while McTaggart shows how we can influence our outer world, Begley shows how we can influence our inner world. One way or another, we can be empowered.
If you are interested in the latest developments for treating dyslexia and depression, or in ways to prevent mental deterioration brought about by aging, this is an excellent place to look. This book demonstrates that you can teach old dogs new tricks and that you can combat genetic determinism through cognitive methods, rather than psychotropic drugs (not something that the makers of Prozac want you to know). Although the subjects explored are complex, Ms. Begley does a great job of keeping the book interesting without oversimplification.
I thought the book did a credible job of covering these areas, albeit in a non exciting way (at least for me).
I think the title is misleading. "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain" implies the delivery of a actionable personal strategy , or at least the promise of action. Instead, the book delivers a fairly dry synopsis of the current state of science and the relative nature of that science to the Dalai Lama's conception of the interface of science and the ancient Buddhist system relying on insight derived through meditative practice. Those are two distinctly different foci for the potential reader who may be looking for different things based solely on the title.
One implies the book will deliver a personalized strategy. The other implies a review of the science and the amazing potential for all of us.
The book fails to deliver on the first, and is a reasonable guide to the second.
So to my evaluation of the book:
* Be sure you read the description carefully of the contents before you use the "1-click" button. Be sure this is what you want.
* If you want the science, this is a good overview.
* If you want something actually actionable immediately, research Amazon's listing and buy something written by John Kabat-Zinn or Thich Nhat Hanh and just begin with their simple suggestions. If you need something cognitive-based which will give you immediate techniques for transforming your thoughts into more useful directions, then buy "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David Burns.
The study of meditation and cognitive science by reading books about them means nothing in and of itself except for the pleasant diversion of satisfying intellectual curiosity. Unfortunately there is no free lunch in this life. Only direct action by practicing the techniques daily can deliver the actual reality of delivery the potential for neuroplasticity to make a difference in your own life. You actually do have to "Train Your Mind" to "Change Your Brain". Why not just take the step of actually doing it to conduct your own personal experiment rather that just reading the experiments of others?
So marketers: be mindful of the implied promise of your catchy titles. Be precise about what a book actually is about. Deception is not a fair technique to the potential reader who has access to the dreaded "1 click" button.
So to my ratings:
*delivers on the science and the promise
*doesn't deliver any action plan
* people who are interested in the science of this field
* those who for some reason need validation that meditation is useful
Not good for:
* someone searching for the actual transformative practices which can be implemented now. That requires more books or training.
So be sure the cost of the book meets your needs and expectations.
The book's central message is a little like the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb--mind/brain change comes to an individual who really wants to change, and has the will to exert the needed effort. But techniques of mental discipline can be learned, and with proper motivation we can truly "re-wire" ourselves, potentially to eliminate violent or selfish impulses, for instance. The Dalai Lama is one leader who has already grasped the significance of the new science of neuroplasticity. Let us hope many others can follow in his footsteps. I highly recommend this book, which is readily understandable even for those with a minimal scientific background.
". . . As late as 1999, neurologists writing in the prestigious journal Science admitted, "We are still taught that the fully mature brain lacks the intrinsic mechanisms needed to replenish neurons and reestablish neuronal networks after acute injury or in response to the insidious loss of neurons seen in neurodegen- erative diseases."
"Neuroscientist Fred Gage, one of the researchers invited by the Dalai Lama to discuss the implications of neuroplasticity with him and other Buddhist scholars at the 2004 meeting, put the objections to the idea of a changing brain this way: "If the brain was changeable, then we would change. And if the brain made wrong changes, then we would change incorrectly. It was easier to believe there were no changes. That way, the individual would remain pretty much fixed."
"But the dogma is wrong. In the last years of the twentieth century, a few iconoclastic neuroscientists challenged the paradigm that the adult brain cannot change and made discovery after discovery that, to the contrary, it retains stunning powers of neuroplasticity. The brain can indeed be rewired. It can expand the area that is wired to move the fingers, forging new connections that underpin the dexterity of an accomplished violinist. It can activate long-dormant wires and run new cables like an electrician bringing an old house up to code, so that regions that once saw can instead feel or hear. It can quiet circuits that once crackled with the aberrant activity that characterizes depression and cut pathological connections that keep the brain in the oh-god-something-is-wrong state that marks obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The adult brain, in short, retains much of the plasticity of the developing brain, including the power to repair damaged regions, to grow new neurons, to rezone regions that performed one task and have them assume a new task, to change the circuitry that weaves neurons into the networks that allow us to remember, feel, suffer, think, imagine, and dream. Yes, the brain of a child is remarkably malleable. But contrary to Ramón y Cajal and most neuroscientists since, the brain can change its physical structure and its wiring long into adulthood."
"A few findings suggest that brain changes can be generated by pure mental activity: merely thinking about playing the piano leads to a measurable, physical change in the brain's motor cortex, and thinking about thoughts in certain ways can restore mental health. By willfully treating invasive urges and compulsions as errant neurochemistry--rather than as truthful messages that something is amiss--patients with OCD have altered the activity of the brain region that generates the OCD thoughts, for instance.
By thinking differently about the thoughts that threaten to send them back into the abyss of despair, patients with depression have dialed up activity in one region of the brain and quieted it in another, reducing their risk of relapse. Something as seemingly insubstantial as a thought has the ability to act back on the very stuff of the brain, altering neuronal connections in a way that can lead to recovery from mental illness and perhaps to a greater capacity for empathy and compassion."
"The discovery that thinking something produces effects just as doing something does is a fascinating consonance with Buddhism," says Francisca Cho. "Buddhism challenges the traditional belief in an external, objective reality.
Instead, it teaches that our reality is created by our own projections; it is thinking that creates the external world beyond us. The neuroscience findings harmonize with this Buddhist teaching."
"Buddhist narratives have another consonance with the discoveries of neuroplasticity. They teach that by detaching ourselves from our thoughts, by observing our thinking dispassionately and with clarity, we have the ability to think thoughts that allow us to overcome afflictions such as being chronically angry. "You can undergo an emotional reeducation," Cho says. "By meditative exertion and other mental exercises, you can actively change your feelings, your attitudes, your mind-set."
"Indeed, Buddhism believes that the mind has a formidable power of self-transformation. When thoughts come to the untrained mind, they can run wild, triggering destructive emotions such as craving and hatred. But mental training, a core of Buddhist practice, allows us "to identify and to control emotions and mental events as they arise," says Matthieu Ricard. Meditation, the most highly developed form of mental training, "is about coming to a new perception of reality and of the nature of mind, about nurturing new qualities until they become integral parts of our being.
If we place all our hopes and fears in the outside world, we have quite a challenge, because our control of the outside world is weak, temporary, and even illusory. It is more within the scope of our faculties to change the way we translate the outside world into inner experience. We have a great deal of freedom in how we transform that experience, and that is the basis for mental training and transformation."
Although this is not a "Buddhist" book, I can genuinely personally attest from my study of Buddhism and the positive mind changes that I have experienced by incorporating "right mindfulness and loving compassion" which has significantly transformed what used to be depression, insecurity, and nervousness, into so much more inner peace. As a result, my brain (thinking) became more focused, and aligned with positive intention.
This is an OUTSTANDING book, and a deep, engaging read for anyone interested in positive transformation, and mind functioning at its peak. FANTASTIC in all regards!
Barbara Rose, Ph.D. author of If God Hears Me I Want an Answer! and Know Yourself