The power of the brain over itself


The CERVO research centre at Laval University recently launched a new Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neuroplasticity, with neurologist Steven

Laureys for holders. The aim of the chair is to understand how meditation, sleep and physical activity contribute to the transformation of the brain and thus improve health and well-being.

It is important to take care of your brain and that is exactly what Steven Laureys, professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Laval University, recommends. The chair, announced last March, aims, among other things, to document the process of neuroplasticity in order to understand how lifestyle affects the brain. Neural activities, that is, cognitive training such as meditation, sophrology, self-hypnosis and neuromodulation, can improve brain health and well-being, explains the clinician. As the title of his book published in 2019 suggests: Meditation is good for the brain.

Improve your well-being through meditation

Although we tend to neglect our brains, Steven Laureys believes we have the ability to act on our mental well-being, especially through meditation. When it comes to anxiety, depression, chronic pain
or insomnia, “the effect of meditation can also [important] than those of medication,” he says.

Meditation is an act of training one's own attention, explains the neurologist, which leads to changes in attention networks and perception, but also in emotional stability, creativity and the immune system. Breathing meditation, repeating a mantra, mindful walking, even prayers have a positive effect on the brain, emphasizes Steven Laureys.

When the neurologist and his team studied the effects of meditation on the brain of Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, they found that from a neurological point of view, he was 10 to 15 years younger. “We observe that the brain of a person who meditates frequently is more developed,” he continues, and that this increases the volume of gray matter, connections and white matter.

In a person suffering from cognitive loss, meditation can be part of the proposed interventions as a complementary measure. However, according to the professor, this is challenging because doctors
There is a lack of information and patients are not sufficiently informed about the benefits. “It will take a few more generations,” he estimates.

Steven Laureys reminds us that meditation can be practiced “anywhere, anytime”: while brushing your teeth, taking a walk, doing housework, or even in traffic.

Neuroplasticity at work

Our thoughts and actions throughout the day affect our brain and its connections, or neural plasticity. Neuroplasticity is “billions of synapses that allow us to learn throughout our lives,” explains Steven Laureys. Neuroplasticity has positive effects in cases of head trauma or brain injury, and the same applies to psychological trauma, insomnia, anxiety, depression and all brain diseases, he says.

The brain cannot help but daydream, it thinks and relives what is happening. This activity can harm us, especially when we are reliving a traumatic event, which leads to rumination and therefore negative neuroplasticity. The same goes for the catastrophic scenarios that we can imagine, says the neurologist. It is then important to notice this in order to decide to direct attention elsewhere by being in the “here and now”.

However, the doctor indicates that you must allow yourself moments in which you daydream, because this allows the brain to form associations and develop its creativity. On the other hand, these phases, if excessive, can also increase anxiety and lead to negative neuroplasticity. So we can break the “vicious circle”, because it is often a negative spiral, by moving towards reconditioning (Rewiring in English).

As for technology, especially social media, depending on how it is used, it can have a negative or positive impact on neuroplasticity. The specialist believes that we must “protect ourselves [de] ourselves in the face of these algorithms that make us click for a while shot of dopamine in the reward system.

Based on science, the professor wants to build bridges to a “more humanistic medicine” that listens to patients and gives them the opportunity to take care of their well-being.

This content was created by the Special Publications Team of Dutyin connection with marketing. Writing the Duty did not participate.

To watch in video