More On The Remarkable Brain - Part 1


I don't know WHY I should be astounded and yes, I am. Astounded at all the continuing remarkable new proof available which tells me that I am right ON COURSE with what I am passionate about ... "teaching about the power that each one of us have and how to access that power". This E-Report is actually PART 1 of a book review about "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge.

Firstly I want to acknowledge and thank those who have sent me comments and feedback - they are always very much appreciated.  After one of my recent E-Reports I received an email from someone who told me about this amazing book - thank you for this.  I went to the Library to see if it was available ... and although there were several copies in the Library, they were all out on loan and all had a reserve waiting list of  7 to 10 people.  Well I put myself on the waiting list and now I have the book and have been reading it. I will be buying my own copy of this wonderful book. I find it exciting with what we can achieve and thought you may also be interested to share some of what I have learned.

There is so very much in Dr Norman Doidge's book that I could easily write 3 or more E-Reports about it.  In fact as I have become more enthusiastic with what I wanted to share with you from this book, this E-Report grew too long and I have decided to present it to you in two editions ... so the second part will follow next month.  I urge and encourage you to read this book for yourself.

From the Publisher:

We see a woman born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole, blind people who learn to see, learning disorders cured, IQs raised, aging brains rejuvenated, stroke patients learning to speak, children with cerebral palsy learning to move with more grace, depression and anxiety disorders successfully treated, and lifelong character traits changed.

This book explains how we can change our brain’s structure and functions using thoughts and activities.
From a Stroke to Climbing Mountains
The book speaks about the plasticity of our brain and the fact that we can indeed "change our brain".  The thoughts that we allow to remain in our brain have a tremendous impact.  Our thoughts can change the structure and function of our brain - even into old age.  And here is where meditation can be practised and be of enormous benefit and also help to stem a flow of damaging negative thoughts.
The book tells quite a few anecdotes, one being of a doctor/scientist called Dr Paul Bach-y-Rita - an American neuro-biologist.  Do find out more for yourself about this amazing man - you can google him.  Most notable was his work in the field of sensory substitution. The research has helped blind people navigate hallways and people with balance disorders walk easily. He revolutionized the fields of neurobiology and rehabilitation.
He was inspired by his father's "miraculous" recovery from a stroke (and indeed this recovery was years after he suffered the stroke).  Paul's brother George - also a doctor - defied conventional wisdom that would have condemned his father to a nursing home, by creating a rehabilitation program that led to his full recovery. Yes it took time and persistence and .... his father went from not being able to walk, to climbing mountains unaided. Paul and George's father died of a heart attack up a mountain living a full life. It is really worth reading about the entire process.
My comment is that I am aware of the brain being able to do just this - one key is to commence action the moment that the stroke hits - recovery is faster. See Bill Robertson's Story.
Increasing Memory
Again in  USA, Dr. Michael Merzenich has been a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research for 3 decades. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant.  He has especially studied the neuronal reorganisation that may occur after implants of artificial cochlears, or inner ear mechanisms. He has developed software that applies principles of brain plasticity to assist children with language learning and reading. 
To quote Doidge: Dr Merzenich’s specialty is improving people’s ability to think and perceive by redesigning the brain by training specific processing areas, called brain maps, so that they do more mental work.  He has also, perhaps more than any other scientist, shown in rich scientific detail how our brain-processing areas change.  Merzenich’s most ambitious claim is … that brain exercises may be as useful as drugs to treat diseases as severe as schizophrenia.
Dr Merzenich believes that new neurons can form in the brain at the later stages of life and memory can improve substantially by engaging in certain exercises.  There is scientific evidence (a 2006 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study) that people 60 years or older can improve their memory by 10 years or more by using Merzenich's Brain Fitness Program.
Changing the Brain of Amputees 
Dr Vilayanur S. "Rama" Ramachandran has done work with amputees.  We have all heard of the phenomenon that when an arm or leg is amputated patients continue to vividly feel the presence of the missing limb – a "phantom limb". In the early 1990’s Dr Ramachandran began using this phenomenon as a probe for exploring neural plasticity in the adult human brain. He suggested that "feeling" phantom limbs might be due to changes in the brain, rather than in the peripheral nerves and he realised that phantom limb sensations could be due to "cross-wiring" in the somato-sensory cortex.  His work in this area is fascinating to read about.
The Remarkable Barbara Arrowsmith
Chapter 2 of this book is devoted to the work of Barbara Arrowsmith Young who had a learning disability as a child.  Norman Doidge tells us about Barbara's incredible story and details just how the brain adapts to compensate for any disabilities or injuries.
Rarely is the person who makes a discovery the one with the defect.  Barbara Arrowsmith Young is an exception.
She was born with a devastating set of learning disabilities, as well as having some extraordinary gifts and a determination, which after years of work, allowed her to invent the treatment that transformed her own life and now changes the lives of those students who attend her special school.
As a child Barbara had some areas of brilliance – especially auditory and visual memory ability. Her frontal brain lobes were exceptionally developed, but her brain was “asymmetrical,” meaning these parts coexisted with areas of retardation.
She had trouble pronouncing words and had no spatial capability. With no mental map of things in space, Barbara lost things all the time so she had to keep everything she was playing or working with in front of her, and keep her cupboards and drawers open. Outside, she was always getting lost. She also had difficulty recognising objects by touch and knowing where her body or limbs were and she couldn’t tell her left from her right. She  was also very clumsy.
She had trouble understanding logic, cause and effect, and grammar. For example, she could not distinguish between the father’s brother and the brother’s father. She couldn’t read a clock because she couldn’t understand the relationship between the hands of the clock. She could understand symbols only with effort and constant repetition. She reversed b and d, and q and p, and learned to read and write from right to left.  She didn’t understand why, if her brothers were in the same school, she couldn’t leave her classroom and visit them whenever she wanted.  She got through school by using her memory, always hoping and praying that the exams would be fact based, knowing she could score 100 percent, using pure memory.
Her emotional development also suffered. Like many kids with multiple learning disabilities, she began to think she might be mad and became depressed and suicidal. She was under incredible academic pressure as her entire family were high achievers.  What Barbara has achieved now is nothing short of a miracle.
No Left Brain - the Right Takes Over
Another chapter in this book tells of a girl who was born with only half a brain - Michelle Mack. Here is what Norman Doidge himself says:
During the course of writing "The Brain That Changes Itself" I met Michelle Mack, a woman who was born with half a brain – without her left hemisphere. One would have thought she would be mute, on a respirator in intensive care. Yet Michelle speaks normally, holds a job, loves and has a sense of humour because her right hemisphere reorganised itself to take over what the non-existent left “should” have been doing. But the brain does not only change in extreme situations like this; that is how it normally works. That is its modus operandi from cradle to grave. 
We hear about using only 10% of our brain, but Michelle proves otherwise.  The reason why she was born with half a brain is that her left hemisphere was almost completely destroyed by a stroke she suffered in her mother's womb. But Michelle's verbal and object-recognition capabilities, normally seated in the missing left brain, are hardly compromised at all. Michelle's right hemisphere controls tasks usually handled by most people in the left brain. The compensations Michelle's brain has made does come with a price; Michelle struggles with visual-spatial tasks, which are normally processed in the right brain. It's as if the two abilities, linguistic and visual-spatial, had to compete for space in the one half of Michelle's brain - and language won.
This extraordinary case is yet more evidence that the brain is flexible and competitive, always prioritising and re-organising.  Dr Jordan Grafman who is also mentioned in this book works with Michelle ... you can google him to find out more about the work he does.
Dr Doidge mentions a book called "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards which I myself have used in past years, during children's seminars.  He says ... people without disabilities can benefit from liberating one hemisphere from another ... people can learn to draw ... by developing ways to stop the verbal, analytical left hemisphere from inhibiting the right hemisphere's artistic tendencies.  Apparently Betty Edwards was inspired by the work of Roger Sperry and her primary tactic was to deactivate the left hemisphere's inhibition of the right by giving the student a task the left hemisphere would be unable to understand.
There is much more in this book, so please "stay tuned" for Part Two! 
So, nurture and protect your own brain and indeed your mind by thinking positively ... and when adversity strikes (as it will for all of us at some stage during our lives) - learn tools and strategies to handle those down times that life presents us with ... and determine what lesson you may gain from this.  The simple saying of "garbage in ... garbage out" has never been more true in these times of constant bombardment of stimuli to our brains ... especially as much of it in the media is of a negative nature.  Here's to health!
All the Best
  Sandy signature
Sandy MacGregor 

Success Story - With a difference

The following is what I am offering as a Success Story this time (although I am sure by now that most of you have seen it by now and are aware of it).

I had tears streaming down my face - it is Stunning, Motivational, Moving and  Inspirational. It is about 47 Year old Susan Boyle wowing the judges with her performance in the auditions for Britain's Got Talent, singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miserables". 

I have received this You-Tube link from so many people, so there is every chance that you have as well, but if you have not seen it then please do view it at the link.

Here are the Lyrics  - which add even more poignancy and emotion to this event ...

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high,
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

Then I was young and unafraid
When dreams were made and used,
And wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung,
No wine un-tasted.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hopes apart
As they turn your dreams to shame.

And still I dream he'll come to me
And we will live our lives together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms
We cannot weather...

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seems
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.


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