Neuroplasticity is a Social Construct

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s capacity to change with experience—plastic meaning mutable. If we play the piano once, we briefly stimulate the piano-playing centers of the brain, and not much changes. Play every day for a year, however, and the brain transforms in several ways. It can grow new cells. It can enhance cell size or cell activity. It can prune away pathways that are no longer used, a process known as neural sculpting. And it can forge new relations between entire networks of cells; this is called connectivity. These cellular changes occur in service to getting better at what we practice—in this case, playing the piano. We practice other things, too, some of them not so harmless. Neuroplasticity is also a social construct. It evokes the way communities shape themselves through practice. We change or stay the same because of and in relation to one another. Think of the …

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Ode to the Unbroken

I had a list of things I wanted to write about, including the art of watching and its relation to being present, and the relationship between neuroscience and magic. And I will, later. But something important got in the way. This week, I returned from a memorable teaching trip to Vancouver to find several members of my yoga community in the throes of an emotional crisis that took varied forms: panic attacks, PTSD, depression, acute grief. As I talked with each of them, several themes emerged that were so powerful, so universal, I had to share them with you. As you read these words, you might think something like “Why isn’t yoga taking care of all that?” or “Why can’t these yogis deal with a little stress—many people have it really tough.” If you think these things, you’re not alone; each person I talked with had the same inner dialogue …

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