Posts Tagged ‘Interpersonal Neurobiology’

The Wheel of Awareness

May 10, 2014

The Wheel of Awareness can be found in Dr. Dan Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal NeuroBiology.  The purpose of this wheel of awareness is to provide a map to guide meditation.  This map was developed by Dr. Siegel to guide meditation independent of any specific religious practice.    At the center of this hub is the awareness of the meditator.  There are four spokes going out of the hub to the rim of the wheel.  One goes out to exteroception, the awareness of external inputs to our five senses..  The second spoke goes out to interoception, the awareness of feelings internal to our bodies.   The third spoke goes out to mental activity.  The fourth spoke goes out to interpersonal relationships.  The purpose of the wheel is to guide awareness  so that important issues are not bypassed or overlooked.
So the meditator can place awareness on  each of the five senses and try to be consciously aware of everything on each sense to the exclusion of everything else.  There is an exercise that can be done with a raisin.  First the raisin is examined visually.  Then the raisin is felt, perhaps with the eyes closed.  Then the raisin is sniffed.  Next the raisin is placed in the mouth.  In addition to tasting the raisin, the texture of the raisin would be felt.  Finally, when the raisin is swallowed, it’s progress down the alimentary canal would be followed.
Now for interoception the focus is on one’s internal bodily feelings.  That is, how does one feel internally?  Any complaints from vital organs, muscles, or nerves?
Mental activity covers a lot of ground.  What thoughts are coming to mind and why.  Here is where one thinks about one’s own thinking.  One question is whether I am thinking when I say or do certain things, or are these automatic responses from my System 1 processes (Kahneman).  Are there biases  in my thinking of which I am unaware?
The fourth spoke is concerned with interpersonal relationships.  How are they going?   If there are problems, they can be pondered for understanding and possible solutions.
Dr. Siegel says that this is about a twenty minute practice, and if time is a constraint, perhaps it can be divided into five minutes per spoke done on consecutive days.
As the hub becomes stronger with individual practice we can imagine that part of the neural correlate of the hub, the middle prefrontal region, also becomes synaptically enhanced as well.   One when becomes advanced meditating with the wheel the person can focus a spoke back on the hub as well.  “Bending the spoke, in the mind’s eye, back towards the hub enables people to experience first hand what direct awareness of awareness itself feels like1.
Information and exercises on the Wheel of Awareness, along with other resources can be found on Dr. Siegel’s website, http://www.drdsiegel.com.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS)

April 19, 2014

This post is based largely on entry point 25 (Time-In and Mindful Awareness Practices) of the Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology by Daniel J. Siegel. William James, who is regarded by many as the father of modern psychology, proposed more than one hundred years ago that the exercise of returning a wandering attention again and again would be the “education par excellence” for the mind. I remember reading his words when I was a student many years ago thinking “right on.” My mind wandering during my studies was a constant source of frustration. Later in my life I read James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. If memory serves me correctly, eastern religions were not among the varieties of religious experience discussed. Unfortunately there is an anti-eastern/pro-western bias in western education. Had James reviewed these eastern religions, he would have discovered practices in meditation and mindfulness that addressed this very problem.
The UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) uses the term mindful awareness practices (MAPS) to the many approaches for developing the skill of being mindfully aware. These strategies focus attention on the present moment. They focus attention on intention and also create awareness of awareness. When the breath is supposed to be the object of attention, the focus of the mind usually wanders and becomes distracted, the intended goal is to redirect attention back to the breath again and again. If the intention of the practice, to focus on the breath, is forgotten, then the exercise will not be performed well. Stabilizing attention requires being aware of awareness, and paying attention to intention. These are the keys to mindful awareness that strengthens the mind itself.
Time-in is a term used to refer to the ways in which we can take time to focus inward, to pay attention to our sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts (SIFT). That is, we SIFT the mind’s inner experience. Doing this each day can promote improvements in emotion regulation, attention, and empathy. Increasing the capacity to be aware of awareness and pay attention to intention strengthens the brain’s circuits for executive functions. These executive functions include the ability to sustain attention, to avoid distractions, to selectively change attention and then focus on the designated target, and to allocate the resources necessary to complete a task successfully. Research done at MARC found as much executive function improvement as is found using stimulant medication in adolescents and adults with attention deficit challenges. Other research at the University of California has found that sustaining mindful awareness can increase telomerase, the enzyme needed to maintain the telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes that sustain the life of the cell.
There is some debate regarding whether being mindful is primarily a way of focusing attention on the present-moment experience or whether it also entails a state of positive regard for self and for others. COAL is an acronym for the notion of being aware that is imbued with kindness. COAL stands for curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love. One kind regard it as either ironic or justified, but being concerned for others also benefits one’s personal health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Our Future Brains: Forbidden Planet?

March 29, 2014

My favorite science fiction movie is Forbidden Planet. In the movie human space explorers traveled to a planet in a distant solar system 16 light years from earth. They were looking for what had happened to another expedition that had not been heard from for many years. Before they land they are warned by Dr. Morbius, a member of this previous expedition, to stay away. Nevertheless, they do land and discover Dr. Morbius, his daughter, and Robbie the Robot. Dr. Morbius tells them that this planet had previously been occupied by a highly intelligent species, the Krell. The Krell had become extinct due to some mysterious force. Shortly after the human space explorers arrive they experience attacks from an invisible force that kills them. Apparently they are defenseless. One member of the crew undergoes a brain boost using a device developed by the Krell. He comes to understand the source of this deadly force, explains what it is, and then dies from the brain boost. In turns out that this force is the same force that resulted in the extinction of the Krell.
Understanding the nature of this force requires some understanding of Freudian psychology. According to Freud, there are three mental entities, the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the source of all our primal desires and emotions. The ego is the means for dealing with reality on a rational basis. The superego works as a moral force overlooking both the id and the ego. Unfortunately for the Krell, they learned how to use their mental powers to kill and destroy. So their ids overrode their egos and superegoes resulting in their own destruction. Dr. Morbius was using this same mental force to destroy the visiting humans. Eliminating Dr. Morbius stopped the death and destruction.
So allow me a to take a new science fiction journey. This one with a species that masters the Triangle of Well-Being through mindfulness. The mind develops the brain using neuroplasticity for beneficial synaptogenesis, myleinogenesis, neurogenesis, and epigenesis to an extraordinary degree. The mind uses these enhanced capabilities of the brain to develop and grow beneficial interrelationships. Moreover, mindfulness practices have influenced executive function to include emotional regulation and the focus of attention, as well as emotional and social intelligence. Included here are the anterior and posterior cingulate , the orbitofrontal cortex, and both the medial and the ventral aspects of the preftontal region, including the insula and the limbic hippocampus. People become empowered to work for the benefit of all. Crime becomes extremely rare, and wars are no longer possible. This fantasy is Forbidden Planet with a happy ending. Let us not go the way of the Krell.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mindful Awareness

March 25, 2014

This post is based on Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology who describe mindful awareness as a form of awareness in which we are alert and open to present experience without being swept up by judgments and prior expectations. This implies discernment or a moral stance that is one of positive regard for others, and a nonjudgmental awareness that is imbued with acceptance at its core, of compassion towards oneself and others.
A direct quote from 6-3 of the Pocket Guide follows: “Studies of those with mindful awareness using a broad application of these features reveal that it is of benefit to the health of the mind, in terms of balanced emotional regulation, flexibility, and approaching rather than withdrawing from challenging events. Being mindful makes you more empathic and improves the health of relationships. And being mindful improves the health of the body in terms of enhanced immune function and increased telomerase—the enzyme that maintains the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes and thus enhances cellular longevity. Mindfulness also helps you have more resilience in the face of chronic pain. Mindful awareness helps minds, relationships, and our embodied lives.”
Mindful awareness practices are available for children and adolescents as well as for adults, so mind-training practices have the potential to promote well-being and resilience throughout the life span. According to the annotated index mindful awareness practice is skill building training that focuses attention on intention and the cultivation of awareness of awareness. Repeated and regular practice has been shown to strengthen to regulate emotion and attention, improve empathy and insight, promote healthy immune functioning, move the electrical activity of the brain toward a “left shift” of approaching challenging situations and increase the activity and growth of regulatory and integrative regions of the brain. Examples of mindful awareness practices include mindfulness meditation, centering prayer, yoga, and tai chi chuan. More examples of mindfulness and meditation can be found by entering “mindfulness” or “meditation” into the healthymemory blog search block.
These practices have affected the integrated areas of the brain that link the cortex, limbic area, brainstem, and social inputs from other brains. These areas influence executive function to include emotional regulation and the focus of attention, as well as emotional and social intelligence. Included here are the anterior and posterior cingulate , the orbitofrontal cortex, and both the medial and the ventral aspects of the preftontal region, including the insula and the limbic hippocampus.

Attention

March 22, 2014

My views regarding attention have changed somewhat after reading Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. But my views regarding the importance of attention have been further strengthened. According to Siegel, “Attention is the process that shapes the direction of the flow of energy and information. Attention can be within consciousness, so that we are aware of the object of our attention. Attention can also be nonconscious, in that energy and information flow is being directed, but we are not aware of that flow. The formal terms for these are focal (conscious) and nonfocal (non-conscious) attention.”

In other words, little important happens absent attention. What is new for me is the notion of nonfocal attention. I have always thought of attention as being consciousness or focal attention. However, upon reflection, I found examples of non-conscious attention. In this blog I have spoken of being unable to recall some information. I try and try, yet remain unable to access it. Then, much later, hours, sometimes days, the information suddenly pops into consciousness. There are also cases of scientific ideas and problem solutions popping into mind, seemingly out of nowhere.
But they did not pop out of nowhere. Apparently they were the result of nonfocal attention continuing to search for the item or solution long after the conscious mind had given up.

Being able to focus our attention so that we bring mental energy where it is needed is critical to the functioning of a healthy memory. And we have the consolation of knowing that our nonfocal attention might keep on working and learning even after our conscious efforts have ceased.

I’ll conclude this post with an excerpt from Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. “From an interpersonal neurobiology perspective, attention is the “scalpel” that helps us remold neural pathways: Attention is to a clinician or teacher what a scalpel is to a surgeon. Individuals can be empowered with focal attention to move the neural proclivities of trauma into new states of integrative firing. Children whose teachers capture their imagination and inspire them to pay attemtion will be able to learn and build a scaffold of knowledge about the world and themselves. Attention is the driving force of change and growth.”1

1Siegel, D.J. (2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobioloty: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.