As we navigate through life as young children, we are like sponges that are constantly soaking up the endless information with which the world is presenting us. Learning happens at a rapid rate as our brains are quickly forming neural networks that help us retain this information, create memories, and solidify our perceptions – all of which make up our unique life experience. This forming of neural connections is known as neuroplasticity, which is an extremely interesting process that was thought to only exist within us for the first 20 or so years of someone’s life.
We now know that neuroplasticity takes place the duration of our lives, and that we can harness this ability to target specific conditions such as physical ailments, mental illnesses, and memory retention issues. Neuroplasticity can be a complex topic, and we certainly have so much to learn about it still as science continues to progress. We’re going to talk about the working mechanism of neuroplasticity in this piece and explain a bit about how this incredible process takes place.
Neuroplasticity is the biological change that occurs in the brain in response to new experiences or changes in the environment. It is commonly referred to as the rewiring of the brain, though this term creates a much less complex indication of neuroplasticity. What the term “rewiring” refers to in this context is the creation of new neural connections as a result of repetition of information or exposure to new experiences. This becomes critical in situations of high stress or when the brain is exposed to serious trauma. It such cases, it is thought that limbic system, which is responsible for our fight or flight response, can also become overstimulated and stuck in this state after these high stress or traumatic situations.
Neuroplasticity is what gives the brain the ability to learn and recognize repeated behavior and information. It works at the neuronal level through the adaptation and changing of the neural networks to help accomplish new tasks. These tasks can be as simple as blinking or as complex as learning an instrument for the first time – these repeated behaviors are the key to neuroplasticity and the strengthening of the neural networks. They can be altered as a response to certain environmental factors or changes in structure.
There has also been research surrounding the impact neuroplasticity has on memory and learning. An example often used to support this is the concept of bilingualism. It’s often said that it’s easier for children to learn a new language, and this could be due to the fact that neuroplasticity is most active in childhood, though we do have neuroplastic abilities throughout the duration of our lives.
Synaptic pruning is a process that initiates changes in the structure of the brain by lowering the number of neurons and synapses. This is a natural process that is taking place throughout everyone’s lifespans. The purpose of pruning is to eliminate weaker connections and leave more efficient configurations, ultimately generating more effective communication. The idea is that the most commonly used synapses form stronger connections and those that are rarely or never used are eliminated, or pruned away.
Pruning takes place as the human brain develops with age. Neural growth occurs throughout adolescence and as we get older, simple connections developed in childhood are replaced with more important information. Pruning is associated with learning in a “use it or lose it” sense, where certain axon terminals, or the end portion of neurons that receive and pass along information via neurotransmitters, are essentially atrophied and lost if the connections aren’t being utilized regularly.
Neuronal unmasking is when dormant synapses open connections to compensate for other damaged areas of the brain. This gives the other, newer connections the opportunity to be activated. The unmasking method changes the inhibition of the brain through an external process. One well known example of this is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS uses a magnetic field to either augment the excitability or constrain a specific circuit in the brain. The purpose behind this is to essentially apply an artificial way to get certain neurons to fire in a desired way, in order to train them to fire in that desired way naturally. We’re also able to achieve neuronal unmasking through other methods, such as through the application of imagery and repetition exercises, which is part of our process here at re-origin.
When the brain exhibits functional recovery, which is the transfer of functions from a damaged part of the brain to other areas, this is an example of unmasking. The brain accomplishes this by opening or activating previously unused or underused connections to compensate for damage. It makes sense that this concept would relate to neuroplasticity because by definition, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and change when it experiences trauma of any kind. There is even a significant amount of support behind neuroplasticity’s contribution to helping the brain recover from damage caused by stroke or trauma.
There is still so much to uncover in the realm of neuroplasticity, but the science regarding this subject has truly come such a long way since its official discovery in the early 20th century. It’s nothing short of remarkable that we are not only able to have a grasp on this phenomenon, but that we have figured out ways to apply it to our everyday lives so that we can essentially improve our own brain functions and even recover from things like chronic illness.
re-origin® is a neuroplasticity training program that offers its members a way to channel their neuroplastic abilities to improve specific areas of their lives. Whether you are struggling with chronic stress, fatigue, insomnia, addiction, or brain fog, our program is designed to lead you through the necessary steps to reclaim your own health and return to yourself. You’ll find a community of support and encouragement through re-origin that is devoted to helping everyone regain balance and clarity and resume living a healthy happy life.