Changing the brain/Rewiring the brain/Training the brain: Managing fibromyalgia

“Every man (sic) can, if he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain”, Santiago Ramon Cajal

I have before me books, newspaper clippings, magazines that speak to the phenomenal advances that are occurring in the area of brain science and remapping the brain. Just this week I have read in our Canadian newspaper (The Globe and Mail) about brain research exploring the differences in social economic status (SES) of children, in particular regarding children raised in poverty. The  June edition of Yoga Journal speaks to training the brain through meditation. The book Buddha’s Brain explores the brains of those who meditate, while the magazine Shambhala Sun has an article  (May edition) on this very topic as well. All of these I have read  (or re-read) in just one week. Interestingly, apart from the Buddha’s Brain book,  and the research cited in the newspaper, the other two are magazines not known to be ‘scientific’ in nature.

Mapping the brain through the astounding imaging techniques makes the brain visible! This can allow us to ‘recreate ourselves’, as Rita Carter writes in her book The Mind.

Some music therapists, physiotherapists(THANK YOU, NICK MATHESON, FOR LEADING ME TO THIS PATH), occupational therapists, yoga instructors, art therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, psychologists (among many others) are using various strategies to rewire the brains of clients who suffer from a range of dis-abilities. Those scientists whose work is dedicated to this field of study will change the face of medicine and health care like it has never  been thought possible before. Neuroplasticity is the wave of the future. The 20+ books on this topic that I now have  on my shelf  are only  the beginning of the mountain of research that is being done on changing the brain.

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While the exact term neuroplasticity is not used frequently in all of the readings, the assumption of the term is obvious.  The brain does have the ability to change itself; it is not static; it is ‘plastic’. The research is growing in leaps and bounds about how it is possible to change the brain and  neuroplasticity is the language that the neuroscientists are using. Basically what this means is what we focus on impacts on how our brains work. The attention that we give something reinforces itself in the wiring of the brain. For those of us with chronic pain, the focus tends to be on our ‘symptoms’, our bodily sensations which are unpleasant. Our thoughts dwell on our suffering and the brain actually gets ‘stuck’ in that wiring. I keep thinking and writing about this over and over and still find myself singing the same tune to the brain. It’s a boring song. The neuroscientists tell us that even old brains like mine can be trained/changed/rewired.

However, upon reading an article in The Journal of Neuroscience, April 11, 2007, 27(15):4004-4007 by Anil Kuchinad et al, I am less than optimistic.  The article is entitled “Accelerated Brain Gray Matter Loss in Fibromyalgia Patients: Premature Aging of the Brain”. The article is much too technical for those of us who are not brain researchers, however the results indicated that through brain imaging of fibromyalgia ‘patients’, they were able to discern that  “gray matter loss occurred mainly in regions related to stress and pain processing which might reflect their long term experience of their symptoms”.  Furthermore,” the longer the individual had had fibromyalgia, the greater the gray matter loss”. It seems that they have concurred with what I have been writing about all these years regarding fibromyalgia as a CNS dysfunction. The “alterations in sensory processing” is no doubt what those of us with fibromyalgia call ‘brain fog’, or what they call “cognitive deficits”. I have noted that with aging I am less and less able to handle emotional distress and excitement, which concurs with their findings. Mental fatigue occurs more rapidly than before.

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MEDITATION. MOVEMENT. BREATHING. DISCIPLINE. CREATIVITY. Can I change this aging brain if as the findings suggest I have an accelerated gray matter loss?

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