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Brain Care is Self Care
California Institute of Integral Studies
November 1, 2014
Linda Graham, MFT
[email protected]
Self Care
 Exercise
 Sleep
 Touch
 Nature
 Stress reduction
 Emotional Health
 Healthy relationships
 Meaningful work
Brain Care
 Exercise – grow new brain cells
 Sleep – housekeeping; consolidate learning
 Touch – safety and trust; equilibrium
 Nature – reverie, insights
 Stress reduction – reduce damage to brain
 Emotional Health – antidote negativity bias;
connect to resources
 Healthy relationships – develop inner secure base
 Meaningful work – thriving and well-being
Human Brain:
Evolutionary Masterpiece
 100 billion neurons
 Each neuron contains the entire human genome
 Neurons “fire” hundreds of time per second
 Neurons connect to 5,000-7,000 other neurons
 Trillions of synaptic connections
 As many connections in single cubic centimeter of
brain tissue as stars in Milky Way galaxy
Brain Care
 Recover from impact of stress and trauma
 Rewire automatic habits
 Resilience and well-b eing
Context of Brain Care
 Evolution of human brain
 Neuroplasticity
 Learning and Memory
 Three Mechanisms of Brain Change
 Tools to rewire brain for resilience and well-
Evolution of Human Brain
 Reptilian – brainstem
 Mammalian – limbic
 Human - cortex
 Brainstem – assess safety-danger
 Limbic – automatic survival responses
 Fight-flight-freeze
 Shut down, numb out, collapse
 Cortex – strategies for withdrawal, limits and
boundaries, defenses
 Brainstem – seek pleasure/reward
 Limbic – seek protection and comfort
 Cortex – seek empathy, understanding,
validation; conscious reflection, choices
 Brainstem – social engagement system
 Limbic – fear-attachment-exploration motivational
system; emotional valence of experience
 Cortex – regulate emotions; “rules” of relationship,
social-emotional intelligence
 Attachment kindles maturation of pre-frontal cortex
Pre-Frontal Cortex
 Executive center of higher brain
 Evolved most recently – makes us human
 Development kindled in relationships
 Matures the latest – 25 years of age
 Most integrative structure of brain
 Evolutionary masterpiece
 CEO of resilience
Functions of Pre-Frontal Cortex
 Regulate body and nervous system
 Quell fear response of amygdala
 Manage emotions
 Attunement – felt sense of feelings
 Empathy – making sense of expereince
 Insight and self-knowing
 Response flexibility
Evolutionary legacy
Genetic templates
Family of origin conditioning
Norms-expectations of culture-society
Who we are and how we cope….
…is not our fault.
- Paul Gilbert, The Compassionate Mind
 Given neuroplasticity
 And choices of self-directed neuroplasticity
 Who we are and how we cope…
 …is our responsibility
- Paul Gilbert, The Compassionate Mind
The brain is shaped by experience. And because
we have a choice about what experiences we
want to use to shape our brain, we have a
responsibility to choose the experiences that
will shape the brain toward the wise and the
- Richard J. Davidson, PhD
Modern Brain Science
The field of neuroscience is so new,
we must be comfortable not only
venturing into the unknown
but into error.
- Richard Mendius, M.D.
Neuroscience of Resilience
 Neuroscience technology is 20 years old
 Meditation improves attention and impulse
control; shifts mood and perspective; promotes
 Oxytocin can calm a panic attack in less than a
 Kindness and comfort, early on, protects against
later stress, trauma, psychopathology
 Greatest discovery of modern neuroscience
 Growing new neurons
 Strengthening synaptic connections
 Myelinating pathways – faster processing
 Creating and altering brain structure and circuitry
 Organizing and re-organizing functions of brain
 The brain changes itself - lifelong
Mechanisms of Brain Change
 Conditioning
 New Conditioning
 Re-Conditioning
 De-Conditioning
 Experience causes neurons to fire
 Repeated experiences, repeated neural firings
 Neurons that fire together wire together
 Strengthen synaptic connections
 Connections stabilize into neural pathways
 Conditioning is neutral, wires positive and
 Brainstem: No! Yes.
 Limbic: attachment patterns – secure,
avoidant, anxious, disorganized, 12-18 months
of age
 Cortex: relational intelligence
Relational Intelligence
 Compassionate listening
 Setting limits and boundaries
 Negotiating change
 Resolving conflicts
 Repairing ruptures
 Forgiveness
New Conditioning
 Choose new experiences
 Gratitude practice, listening skills, focusing
attention, self-compassion, self-acceptance
 Create new learning, new memory
 Encode new wiring
 Install new pattern of response
Cues to Practice - ANTS to PATS
 Identify habitual negative pattern of response
 Identify new, positive response to counter/replace
 Identify cue word or phrase to name negative and
 Criticism - Compassion
 Use cue to break automaticity and change the
 Repeat the practice as many times as necessary
 Memory de-consolidation – re-consolidation
 “Light up” neural networks
 Juxtapose old negative with new positive
 Neurons fall apart, rewire
 New rewires old
 Resource with memory of someone’s compassion
toward you
 Evoke compassion for your self
 Evoke memory of someone being critical of you
(or inner critic)
 Hold awareness of criticizing moment and
compassionate moment in dual awareness
 Drop the criticizing moment; rest in the
compassionate moment
Modes of Processing
 Focused
 Tasks and details
 New conditioning and re-conditioning
 De-focused
 Default network
 Mental play space
 De-conditioning
 Default network
 De-focusing, loosens grip
 Creates mental play space
 Can open to worry, rumination
 Can open to plane of open possibilities
 Brain makes new links, associations
 New insights, new behaviors
 Imagination
 Guided visualizations
 Guided meditations
 Reverie, daydreams
 Brain “plays,” makes own associations and
links, connect dots in new ways
 Reflect on new insights
Wiser Self
 Imagine being in your safe place
 Imagine meeting your Wiser Self who embodies
all of your best qualities and strengths
 Ask your Wiser Self
 How did you come to be wise, happy, content?
 What did you have to overcome?
 Listen to words of advice for your journey
 Receive object to remember Wiser Self by
Practices to Accelerate Brain Change
 Presence – primes receptivity of brain
 Intention/choice – activates plasticity
 Perseverance – creates and installs change
Mindfulness and Compassion
Awareness of what’s happening
(and our reactions to what’s happening)
Acceptance of what’s happening
(and our reactions to what’s happening)
Attention circuit and resonance circuit
Two most powerful agents of brain change known to
science; both foster response flexibility
Take Mental Breaks
 Focus on something else (positive is good)
 Focus for more than a few minutes (flow is
 Talk to someone else (resonant is good)
 Move-walk somewhere else (nature is good)
 Every 90 minutes; avoid adrenal fatigue
 Somatic - body-based, rewire trauma
 Emotional - from survival responses to thriving
 Relational - heal heartache, access havens and
resources, navigate peopled world
 Reflective – conscious awareness; catch the
moment, make a choice
 Manage disruptive emotions
 Tolerate distress
 Down-regulate stress to return to baseline
Window of Tolerance
 SNS – explore, play, create, produce…. OR
Baseline physiological equilibrium
Calm and relaxed, engaged and alert
Relational and resilient
 PNS – inner peace, serenity…. OR
Numb out, collapse
Hand on the Heart
 Touch – oxytocin – safety and trust
 Deep breathing – parasympathetic
 Breathing ease into heart center
 Brakes on survival responses
 Coherent heart rate
 Being loved and cherished
 Oxytocin – direct and immediate antidote to
stress hormone cortisol
 Hormone of safety and trust, bonding and
belonging, calm and connect
 Brain’s direct and immediate antidote to stress
hormone cortisol
 Can pre-empt stress response altogether
 A single exposure to oxytocin can create a lifelong
change in the brain. – Sue Carter, PhD
 Hand on heart, hand on cheek
 Head rubs, foot rubs
 Massage back of neck
 Hold thumb as “inner child”
 Hugs – 20 second full bodied
Calm through the Body
 Hand on the Heart
 Body Scan
 Progressive Muscle Relaxation
 Movement Opposite
Calm – Friendly Body Scan
 Awareness
 Breathing gently into tension
 Hello! and gratitude
 Release tension, reduce trauma
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
 Body cannot be tense and relaxed at the
same time
 Tense for 7 seconds, relax for 15
 Focused attention calms the mind
Calm through Movement
 Body inhabits posture of difficult emotion (40
 Body moves into opposite posture (40 seconds)
 Body returns to first posture (20 seconds)
 Body returns to second posture (20 seconds)
 Body finds posture in the middle (30 seconds
 Reflect on experience
 “Power posing” – Amy Cuddy TED talk
Compassion – Self-Compassion
 Compassion: care and concern in the face of other people’s
pain and suffering
 Self-Compassion: care and concern for one’s own pain and
 Mindful Self-Compassion:
 Awareness of experience of suffering
 Kindness toward self as experiencer of suffering
 Felt sense of common humanity; all human beings suffer
Benefits of Self-Compassion
 Normalize vulnerability as part of human
 Not weak or selfish; powerful motivator out of
care and wishes for well-being
 Less anxiety, depression, stress, rumination,
shame, fear of failure
 Greater responsibility for past mistakes
 More self-confidence and resilience
Self-Compassion Break
 Notice-recognize: this is a moment of suffering
 Ouch! This hurts! This is hard!
 Pause, breathe, hand on heart or cheek
 Oh sweetheart!
 Self-empathy
 I care about my own suffering, me as experiencer
 Drop into calm; hold moment with awareness;
breathe in compassion and care
 May I meet this moment fully; may I meet it as a
Do One Scary Thing a Day
 Venture into New or Unknown
 Somatic marker of “Uh, oh”
 Dopamine disrupted
 Cross threshold into new
 Satisfaction, mastery
 Dopamine restored
 Signals to take action
 Adaptive action tendencies
 Anger – protest injustice, betrayal
 Sadness – pull in comfort
 Fear – move away from danger, toxicity
 Guilt – healthy remorse, make amends
 Joy – expand, connect with others
Positive Emotions-Behaviors
 Brain hard-wired to notice and remember
negative and intense more than positive and
subtle; how we survive as individuals and as a
 Leads to tendency to avoid experience
 Positive emotions activate “left shift,” brain is
more open to approaching experience,
learning, and action
Positive Emotions
Positive Emotions
 Less stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness
 More friendships, social support, collaboration
 Shift in perspectives, more optimism
 More creativity, productivity
 Better health, better sleep
 Live on average 7-9 years longer
 Resilience is direct outcome
Left shift
 Positive emotions cause more neural firing in
left hemisphere of brain
 Left hemisphere more oriented to approach
stance toward experience, openness to
 Openness to learning, flexibility, options =
 2-minute free write
 Gratitude journal
 Gratitude buddy
 Carry love and appreciation in your wallet
Take in the Good
 Notice: in the moment or in memory
 Enrich: the intensity, duration, novelty,
personal relevance, multi-modality
 Absorb: savor 10-20-30 seconds, felt sense in
Positivity Portfolio
 Ask 10 friends to send cards or e-mails
expressing appreciation of you
 Assemble phrases on piece of paper
 Tape to bathroom mirror or computer monitor,
carry in wallet or purse
 Read phrases 3 times a day for 30 days
 Savor and appreciate
Attachment Styles - Secure
 Parenting is attuned, empathic, responsive,
comforting, soothing, helpful
 Attachment develops safety and trust, and
inner secure base
 Stable and flexible focus and functioning
 Open to learning
 inner secure base provides buffer against
stress, trauma, and psychopathology
 Parenting is indifferent, neglectful, or critical,
 Attachment is avoidant of people and
emotions, withdrawn, compulsively self-reliant
 Stable, but not flexible
 Focus on self or world, not others or emotions
 Rigid, defensive, not open to learning
 Neural cement
 Parenting is inconsistent, unpredictable
 Attachment is clingy, needy, compulsive
 Flexible, but not stable
 Focus on other, not on self-world,
 Less able to retain learning
 Neural swamp
 Parenting is frightening or abusive, or parent is
“checked out,” not “there”
 Attachment is paralysis, fright without solution
 Lack of focus
 Moments of dissociation
 Compartmentalization of trauma
Relational Intelligence
 Compassionate listening
 Setting limits and boundaries
 Negotiating change
 Resolving conflicts
 Repairing ruptures
 Forgiveness
Compassionate Listening
 Resonance – vibe of person
 Attunement – felt sense of emotions
 Empathy – make sense of story
 Compassion – care about the experiencer
 Acceptance – “Given what happened, of
course you would feel/behave the way you
Setting Limits and Boundaries
 Permission to assert request without
aggression or collapse; Dance of Anger
 Cultivate mindful empathy for self and other
 State values, needs, desires
 State the limit and consequences
 (When practicing, partner accepts limit)
Negotiating Change
 Code to initiate dialogue; agreement to follow
 Speaker states topic, then shares experience,
progressing from perceptions of behaviors to
emotional needs, fears, desires
 Listener listens; no debate, defense, rebuttal
 Summary of concern
Negotiating Change, part 2
 Speaker identifies three behaviors he/she is
willing to do to address emotional needs
 Speaker identifies three behaviors partner can
do to address emotional needs
 Each chooses one; must be specific, positive,
within defined time frame
 Each acknowledges when other does the new
Resolving Conflicts
 Acknowledge conflict
 Identify possible misunderstandings, mis-
 Take responsibility for your part in conflict
 Convey your responsibility to other; ask them
to reflect on their responsibility for their part
 Brainstorm possible solutions; come to
Repairing Ruptures
 Focus on repairing the relationship, not on
right v. wrong
 Value of relationship, motivation to repair
 Mindful empathy for each other
 Share experiences, not opinions
 Convey understanding of experience, care for
 Re-engage from more resonant space
Forgiveness - I
For the many ways that I have hurt and harmed
myself, that I have betrayed or abandoned
myself, out of fear, pain, and confusion,
through action or inaction, in thought, word or
deed, knowingly or unknowingly…
I extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I
forgive myself. I forgive myself.
Forgiveness - II
For the ways that I have hurt and harmed you,
have betrayed or abandoned you, caused you
suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my
pain, fear, anger, and confusion…
I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your
Forgiveness - III
For the many ways that others have hurt,
wounded, or harmed me, out of fear, pain,
confusion, and anger…
I have carried this pain in my heart long enough.
To the extent that I am ready, I offer you
forgiveness. To those who have caused me
harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.
Theory of Mind
I know that you can be thinking and feeling
something completely different
from what I’m thinking and feeling,
and that’s OK.
Wished for Outcome
 Evoke memory of what did happen
 Imagine new behaviors, new players, new
 Hold new outcome in awareness,
strengthening and refreshing
 Notice shift in perspective of experience, of
Mindfulness – Observing Ego
 Pause, become present
 Notice and name
 Step back, dis-entangle, reflect
Catch the moment; make a choice
- Janet Friedman
Every moment has a choice;
Every choice has an impact.
- Julia Butterfly Hill
Mindfulness-Observing Ego
 Catch the moment; make a choice
 Shift perspectives; shift states
 Discern options
 Choose wisely – let go of unwholesome,
cultivate wholesome
 Spacious awareness; timelessness
 Absorption in process
 Balance between stress and boredom
 Focused attention – brain works well
 Spacious awareness – brain works well
 Multi-tasking
 Switching attention requires metabolic energy
 Switching fatigues brain
 Brain becomes tired, confused, foggy
Autobiography in Five Short
Chapters – Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost…I am helpless
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in…it’s a habit
My eyes are open,
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
-Portia Nelson
Mindfulness Dissolves
the Stuff of “Self”
 Quantum physics investigates matter
 Matter is more space than stuff
 Mindfulness investigates “I”
 Self is not static or fixed; is ever-changing, ever-unfolding
 True Self is flow of beingness
Learning Model
 Unconscious Incompetence
 Conscious Incompetence
 Conscious Competence
 Unconscious Competence
Find the Gift in the Mistake
 Regrettable Moment – Teachable Moment
 What’s Right with this Wrong?
 What’s the Lesson?
 What’s the Cue to Act Differently?
 Find the Gift in the Mistake
Coherent Narrative
 This is what happened.
 This is what I did.
 This has been the cost.
 This is what I learned.
 This is what I would do differently going
 Eat more
 Protein
 Vegetables
 Supplements
 Eat less
 Caffeine
 Sugar
 Allergens
 Reduces cortisol; lowers blood pressure
 Increases oxygen and blood flow; reduces risk of
heart disease and stroke
 Triggers catecholamines; brightens the mind
 Promotes productivity, creativity, problem-solving
 Reduces mistakes; promotes efficiency
Learn Something New
 Speak a foreign language
 Play a musical instrument
 Juggle
 Play chess
 Crossword puzzles when you don’t know the
Hanging Out with Healthy Brains
 Brain is social organ; matures and learns best
in interactions with other brains
 Social engagement regulates nervous system
 Resonant interactions prime the brain’s
neuroplasticity; promotes learning and growth
There is a natural and inviolable tendency in things to
bloom into whatever they truly are in the core of their
All we have to do is align ourselves with what wants to
happen naturally and put in the effort that is our part
in helping it happen.
- Dave Richo
Brain Care is Self Care
California Institute of Integral Studies
November 1, 2014
Linda Graham, MFT
[email protected]

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