Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain : How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves
In this fascinating and far-reaching book, Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to reveal that, contrary to popular belief, we have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds. Recent pioneering experiments in neuroplasticity-the ability of the brain to change in response to experience-reveal that the brain is capable of altering its structure and function, and even of generating new neurons, a power we retain well into old age. The brain can adapt, heal, renew itself after trauma, compensate for disabilities, rewire itself to overcome dyslexia, and break cycles of depression and OCD. And as scientists are learning from studies performed on Buddhist monks, it is not only the outside world that can change the brain, so can the mind and, in particular, focused attention through the classic Buddhist practice of mindfulness.
With her gift for making science accessible, meaningful, and compelling, Sharon Begley illuminates a profound shift in our understanding of how the brain and the mind interact and takes us to the leading edge of a revolution in what it means to be human.
"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. . . . This is a terrific book."
-Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
"Excellent . . . elegant and lucid prose . . . an open mind here will be rewarded."
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 (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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November 19, 2007
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Excerpt from Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley
Chapter 1 Can We Change? Challenging the Dogma of the Hardwired Brain The northern Indian district of Dharamsala is composed of two towns, lower Dharamsala and upper. The mist-veiled peaks of the Dhauladhar (“white ridge”) range hug the towns like the bolster on a giant’s bed, while the Kangra Valley, described by a British colonial official as “a picture of rural loveliness and repose,” stretches into the distance. Upper Dharamsala is also known as McLeod Ganj. Founded as a hill station in the nineteenth century during the days of British colonial rule, the bustling hamlet (named after Britain’s lieutenant governor of Punjab at the time, David McLeod) is built on a ridge, where hiking the steep dirt path from one guesthouse to another requires the sure-footedness of a goat and astute enough planning that you don’t make the ankle-turning trek after dark and risk tumbling into a ravine. Cows amble through intersections where street peddlers squat behind cloths piled with vegetables and grains, and taxis play a game of chicken with oncoming traffic, seeing who will lose his manhood first by edging his car out of the single lane of the town’s only real thoroughfare. The road curves past beggars and holy men who wear little but a loincloth and look as if they have not eaten since last week, yet whose many woes are neatly listed on a computer printout that they hopefully thrust at any passerby who slows even half a pace. Barefoot children dart out of nowhere at the sight of a Westerner and plead, “Please, madam, hungry baby, hungry baby,” pointing vaguely toward the open-air stalls that line the road. From the flagstoned terrace of Chonor House, one of the guesthouses, all of Dharamsala spreads out before you. As soon as the sun is up, the maroon-robed monks are scurrying to prayers and the holy men crouched in back alleys are chanting om mani padme hum (“hail to jewel in the lotus”). Prayer scarves fluttering from boughs carry the Tibetan words May all sentient beings be happy and free from suffering. The prayers are supposed to be carried by the wind, and when you see them, you think, Wherever the wind blows, may those they touch find freedom from their pain. Although lower Dharamsala is inhabited mostly by Indians, residents of McLeod Ganj are almost all Tibetan (with a sprinkling of Western expatriates and spiritual tourists), refugees who followed Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, into exile. Many of those remaining in Tibet, unable to flee themselves, have their toddlers and even infants smuggled across the border to Dharamsala, where they are cared for and educated at the Tibetan Children’s Village ten minutes above the town. For the parents, the price of ensuring that their children are educated in Tibetan culture and history, thus keeping their nation’s traditions and identity from being erased by the Chinese occupation, is never seeing their sons and daughters again. McLeod Ganj has been the Dalai Lama’s home in exile and the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile since 1959, when he escaped ahead of Chinese Communist troops, which had invaded Tibet eight years earlier. His compound, just off the main intersection where buses turn around and taxis wait for fares, is protected around the clock by Indian troops toting machine guns. The entrance is a tiny hut whose physical presence is as humble as the guards are thorough. From its anteroom, large enough for only a small sofa, dog-eared publications in a wooden rack, and a small coffee table, you pass through a door into the security room, where you place everything you want to bring in (bags, notebooks, cameras, tape recorders) on the X-ray belt before entering a closet-size booth, curtained at both ends, for the requisite pat-down by Tibetan guards. Once cleare