21 Day Body Love Challenge – Heart of the Brain Matter

Grey zen stone in shape of heart, on sand background

If you are reading this you have a heart. And thank you. Even if someone is reading this to you, you have a heart. It is one tangled mess of a muscle that we cannot live without.

But when you think heart, do you think of that dark red pulsing thing with its aorta and valves and ventricles? Or do you think of the simplified Valentine? Perhaps something in between. Or maybe you think more of energy and emotion. There are no wrong answers.

When I think of my own heart I first listen carefully, trying to notice my heart beat. Sometimes it’s making its presence known, at other times it’s quietly doing its job. But then I begin to attach stories and emotion to it. How many times I’ve had it broken, or put it out there. How it likes to love. Or doesn’t.

The heart knows stuff, but it’s the connection to the brain that helps us understand that stuff.

People who have undergone heart transplant surgery often report liking or disliking something they never did before. They have flashes, like someone else’s memories. There are brain cells in the heart. At the very least there is a connection.

Much research has been done in recent years on the heart-brain connection.  The heart sends more information to the brain than the other way around. According to the Institute of HeartMath, the heart sends signals to the brain that can influence perception, emotional experience and higher mental processes.

They are in cahoots. To fall in love with your own heart would be to also fall in love with your brain and ultimately your mind. This is the mind-body connection. When we are able to fully connect to both in harmony, we begin to find synchronicity in life and are treated to serendipitous moments and magic we like to think of as coincidence. We’re aware and present.  In love with life.

When our heart gets broken we disconnect. We don’t want to feel the icky feelings. Not right now. If we don’t think about it, it doesn’t exist. We’ll come back to it later when we’re feeling better, which is a lot like saying you’ll join the gym as soon as you lose some weight. The disconnect only stalls things, it doesn’t fix them.

Staying connected, even through the pain, maybe especially through the pain, allows us to live more fully. If we begin to disconnect during strong emotional times, we’ll also miss the absolute joy that is available to us.

Feel the feelings. Think the thoughts. Let them find their way to each other, then let them work it out. It’s integration and it brings with it a tremendous feeling of grounded joy.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.” – Paramahansa Yogananda

21 Day Body Love Challenge – She’s a Brainiac, Brainiac

Brain Cells and Deep Space

My brain is in love with itself. Yours probably is too. We can have a grand old time making up things to think about. Boredom? Never, we keep each other entertained, but we can also get into trouble.

My brain is brilliant; it tells me so all the time. My elementary school teachers told my parents so too, but they used phrases like, “so much potential,” “if only she’d focus,” “if she applied herself,” “if she’d just stop talking.” They were thinking Mensa, probably.

I am fascinated with the inner workings of the brain. Not enough to become a neurobiologist or some high falutin doctor, but enough to pay attention to how people are. It’s so interesting to me that people make the same decisions over and over again even though they know those choices are harmful to them. Smoking, drugs, over-eating, playing in traffic, watching the news.  Me too. Why do we do it?

What makes some people more successful than others? It’s in the brain, I’m sure of it, I just don’t know where or what it looks like. Maybe it looks like a stern father or a disappointed mother. Maybe it’s just wide open space that the brain can roll around in like a child rolling down a hill on a spring day.

How different must Hitler’s brain look from Einstein’s? Does it even?

There is a place where science and yoga intersect on the topic of the brain. Quantum physics tells us nerves that wire together fire together. Meaning if we repeat the same behavior often enough, we will continue to repeat it. We have created a neuro-pathway that is wired to do that same thing again and again. We’ve taught it.

In yoga they are called samskaras. Deep grooves held in the sub-conscious that prompt us to keep repeating the same behavior. Good or bad. Sometimes we don’t even know why we’re doing that silly thing we always do. This is why.

The good news is we can fix it. We simply have to create new grooves, new pathways with the good habits we’d like to foster. Simple, right? Simple, yes. Easy, no.

My brain has had full arguments with itself over whether or not I should have the oh-so-tiny piece of chocolate. I’m not sure which one is in charge of the mouth, but that’s the one that usually wins. If I want to change that, I need to train my brain to go for water, over and over again. The mouth controlling part of my brain is on the floor snorting with laughter right now. See what I’m up against?!

When I try to meditate, the bratty part of my brain – the one with all that potential – sits behind a table and holds up score cards. Usually they are failing marks. When I try to concentrate on one task, focus, really focus, the other part can be found semi-crumpled whining, “Come ooooonnn.” I usually go.

Full disclosure: As soon as I typed the word ‘go’ in that last paragraph, my head snapped to look outside to see what was going on. Nothing, by the way. Nothing was going on.

Creating a good habit seems more difficult than the bad ones because we usually view it as a corrective behavior. If we reframe it as just something new, the brain is likely to be pleased and pick up the new habit more easily.

So, I think I’ll go grab a big glass of water. Still laughing.  Oh, big beautiful brain, how I love thee.

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.” – Robert Frost