By now most of us know something about the concept of mindfulness. Well, mindfulness has definitely gone global! It made the cover of Time Magazine in January 2014 in an article entitled: “The Mindful Revolution: The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture.” Reading the article reminded me of the powerful implication of neuroplasticity, something I’ve studied recently, particularly as it bears on my work with patients. Drs. Allan Schore and Daniel Siegel have made the most powerful links between the brain and the mind, and between neuroscience and psychotherapy. According to Dan Siegel (Siegel and Kornfield, 2010), there is clear scientific evidence that tell us specific circuits of the brain can be activated by focusing out attention. In turn, how you activate those specific circuits, under certain conditions, has actually been found to change the underlying structure of the brain. This is called Neuroplasticity. Siegel goes on to state that the focus of attention is the “scalpel that lets you remold the structure of the brain.” Where you focus attention activates the neurons in the particular circuits that correlate with that activity, meaning they fire together. Neurons that fire together, wire together. Focused, careful, massed concentration seems to work the best. If you’re going to do 20 hours of practice, better to do it all during a weekend retreat than over the course of six months. If you’re going to be in psychotherapy, you might want to go twice a day for a month then once a week for a year. Psychoanalysis had it right, Dan Siegel says, because reflective practice can create massed and focused attention on particular areas of oneself. In particular, mindfulness involves the process of paying attention to your body, and then back to your affect, to allowing your mind to wander, catching that, and moving back to the moment. When we follow this flow of activity, it creates an integrated state of neural firing because where you focus your attention creates a state of activation. With the repeated creation of an intentional state of awareness over time, particularly an integrated state of neural firing, the brain changes so that you develop a trait, which is what emerges when the architecture of the brain changes. Those traits are an amazing list of traits, according to Dan Siegel. What you find is that the practice of mindful awareness harnesses the social circuitry of the brain, which overlaps with the regulatory circuitry of the brain. So the traits you begin to experience are stress reduction, improved immune function, enhanced capacity for empathy and compassion, ability to balance one’s emotions, and insight. Siegel also says the following - if you have a psychology that doesn’t have a contemplative dimension, it means you can only be with the active, busy, and engaged mind and there are whole dimensions of your mind and of being human that you’re missing. What research is proving is that we can encourage people to reflectively observe the flow of information, both the busy mind and the contemplative mind, and when this occurs, you can learn to regulate it, and most importantly, modify it. These are wonderful reminders for the work of psychotherapy. Research is proving that the end result is a positive change to one’s emotional, physical and spiritual conditions. Amidst the frenetic pace of most of our lives, it is a good reminder to intentionally create space for reflective and contemplative pausing because to do so is to change the very architecture of our brain!