Below are some examples of how different categories of techniques can address specific obstacles to the functioning of your MPFC and heart brain, thus giving you greater access to your inner core of calm, ease, and contentment.
In general, breathing exercises have a
direct impact on your autonomic nervous system (ANS), the part of the
nervous system that regulates your energy.
So if you’re feeling tense, nervous, or agitated, you can do a simple breathing exercise that will help you to quickly feel calm and relaxed. On the other hand, if you’re feeling sluggish or your mind is dull, there are other breathing techniques that will quickly energize your mind and body.
However, breathing exercises are extremely versatile and can also be used to relax your muscles, activate either your right or left hemisphere (depending on what’s needed at the time), and directly strengthen both your MPFC and heart-brain. They are an integral part of almost every other technique on this site, which is why we put them first.
Relaxation is specifically geared
toward releasing muscle tension from your body. Since tension in your
muscles is related to tension in your mind and emotions, relaxing your
muscles can release mental and emotional stress as well. Being in a
relaxed state will also help you to benefit more fully from any of the
Imagery activates the right hemisphere of
your brain. This can be useful in our modern society which tends to
over-activate the left hemisphere of the brain.
The left hemisphere is often caught up in its beliefs, theories, and stories about the world, and can be deaf to the valuable information about our physical and emotional state that our body and emotional brain have to offer.
The right hemisphere, on the other hand, has extensive neural connections to our emotional brain, instinctive brain, heart-brain, and gut brain. When we use imagery to activate the right hemisphere, it helps us to be more in touch with our emotions and instincts. That means we don’t have to be unconsciously ruled by them. It also helps us to be more sensitive to the intuitive intelligence of our heart brain, and the "gut feelings" of our gut brain.
All this added intelligence makes it easier for us to balance our emotions, and to deal more flexibly and constructively with external challenges.
Concentration is about
learning to choose how you focus your attention. Different ways of
focusing attention activate different hemispheres and different
parts of your brain. When you understand the differences, you can choose
to focus in a way that will be most useful for the task at hand.
Focusing attention is one of the main jobs of your MPFC, so any time you practice concentration, you strengthen your MPFC, as well as those capacities which the MPFC makes available - such as a greater ability to stick to healthy habits, and to tune into and connect to other people.
There’s another powerful benefit to practicing concentration. The more you’re able to focus your attention, the more effectively you’ll be able to practice all the other techniques, and the more power they will have to change your life.
There are many kinds of meditation
techniques, and people meditate for many different purposes. But as
we’re presenting it here, meditation is essentially a method for
directly accessing the core experience of calm, ease, and contentment,
and living more consistently from that place".
Because meditation incorporates so many of the other techniques, it has many positive effects:
more you develop your capacity to meditate, the more your entire life
will be shaped by the deep sense of meaning and purpose that come from
being more connected to your core.
Although we will be adding a variety of other supplementary meditation practices, we focus on two essential kinds of meditation:
Mindfulness is the practice of using your MPFC to attend calmly, without
judgment, to whatever is occurring in your experience in the moment
(you may get a better feel for what it’s like to be mindful by watching
the Amazing Brain video).
Developing this kind of non-judgmental, present-centered attention is perhaps the most powerful way to strengthen your MPFC. It also creates a safe, shame-free inner environment in which your heart brain can more easily share its wisdom.
Attending to things from a calm inner stance makes it possible for you to see through the distorted stories, beliefs, and expectations of your left-hemisphere, and the emotional biases of your lower brain. Without the heavy influence of these distortions, you can see other people and events with more clarity and greater accuracy. This makes it easier to understand others on their own terms rather than in terms of your needs, desires, and fears. Being able to attend calmly to the impulses of your lower brain is perhaps the strongest foundation for freeing yourself of old, destructive habits and addictions.
One of the great discoveries of the past several decades is that it’s
possible for you to deliberately evoke positive emotions and
positive states of mind. Not by talking yourself into them, or pumping
yourself up, but by using some extremely simple and fast-acting
heart-centering techniques to activate the neural circuitry that will
naturally bring about those positive states.
Evoking a positive state strengthens both your heart brain and MPFC, bringing balance and harmony to all the parts of your brain and all the systems of your body. Like mindfulness, heart-centering helps you to "step back" from the activities occurring on the rim of your "wheel of awareness" and to stay centered at the "hub", in the simple experience of being.
The fundamental principle of CBT is
that it is not outer events that are the ultimate cause of your
suffering – not even extremely traumatic events. Rather, it’s the way
your brain interprets the events that determines your emotional
response. So the essential goal of CBT is to reduce your mental and
emotional suffering by examining and transforming the way
your brain interprets events.
Before starting to examine your interpretation of an event, it’s a good idea to see if you can bring a calm, neutral, non-judgmental attention to whatever is troubling you about the event. If you can, that alone may change your interpretation of what happened enough to considerably reduce your suffering.
It’s also a good idea to start with a moment of heart-centering which will calm your emotional brain’s reactivity, and make it easier for you to see the people involved in a more neutral, and maybe even more compassionate, light.
heart-centering and mindfulness may not totally take care of your
suffering. You may then need to go on to examine the story you’re
telling yourself about the event and/or the person or people involved.
With the help of an evolutionary understanding of the brain (see Our Unbalanced Brain), you can begin to see the
distorting influences your instinctive, emotional, and thinking brains have on your story, and gradually come to a more realistic and constructive
view of the situation.
To the extent you’re able to maintain a somewhat mindful and/or heartful stance, the whole CBT process will become easier and more accessible.
Believe it or not, every time you laugh, you activate your MPFC and
heart-brain. Once activated, they provide some distance and perspective
on those things you’ve been caught up in. That’s why a good laugh can be
welcome relief from the everyday stresses which, at the time, can seem
so all-important and overwhelming.
Laughter also frees us from taking ourselves too seriously. When we can laugh at ourselves, we’re generally a lot easier to be around – both for ourselves and for others. And when we laugh together, love and friendship can flow more easily.
When you use the various techniques to balance your energy, relax your mind and body, balance the left and right hemispheres of your brain, focus your mind and free yourself from the automatic control of distorted beliefs and reactive emotions, your MPFC and heart brain will become stronger and freer to more effectively do their job of connecting you to your core, and to its wide array of positive qualities.