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Is neuroplasticity the next game changer in self-care?

The brain’s ability to change and adapt can be enhanced positively through exercise, sleep and artistic pursuits

Practicing art regularly can help enhance neuroplasticity, emotional balance, build resilience and develop a positive mindset.
Practicing art regularly can help enhance neuroplasticity, emotional balance, build resilience and develop a positive mindset. (Unsplash/Ari He)

Self-care today includes everything from maintaining a daily exercise routine to eating healthy, meditating regularly and sleeping on time. In this process of the world trying every possible method to improve their lives, multiple programmes have now emerged that are aimed to tap the root – or the power circuit– that drives our motivations: the brain. The reason for this exploration into our habits and the brain has been driven by a term that has been doing the rounds in the past couple of years: neuroplasticity. 

To define it, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt due to experience, growth and reorganisation. It is the ability of the brain to form new connections and pathways and change how its circuits are wired. Rewiring the brain may sound daunting but in reality, there are several ways in which you can alter the neural pathways of your brain and create new ones as well.

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UK-based neuroscientist and MD, Dr. Tara Swart, a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity, works with companies and individuals worldwide to help them achieve mental resilience and peak brain performance, improve their ability to manage stress, regulate emotions, and retain information. In her book, The Source, she shares that for optimum brain function, one’s essential priorities should be rest, nutrition, hydration, exercise, and mindfulness. Her book mentions that “Brain agility and neuroplasticity are attributes that make us more adaptable and resilient and also increase our sense of agency in an ever-changing world.”

Brain agility includes mastering our emotions; understanding the brain-body connection; trusting our intuition; making decisions for social good; staying motivated to reach our goals; and reframing creativity to allow us to design a future we can feel good about. She stresses that creativity can harness the most from the power of neuroplasticity to make social innovation more effective and have a positive impact on the brain.

Art is considered to be an effective method to rewire the brain. Sandra Dimitrovich, a NeuroGraphica® Master Trainer from the Psychology of Creativity Institute, Zurich, Switzerland explains her signature therapy–Art for Brain©. “It is a perception-altering drawing method that promotes mental health and wellness, imagination and creative flow, allowing to successfully implement change. It includes NeuroGraphica® drawing which is a biologically verified graphic method and uses transformative abstract drawing that forms new neural connections in the brain, inspires new thoughts and insights,” she explains.

Regularly practicing art is said to enhance neuroplasticity of the brain, improve health, regain emotional balance, build resilience and develop a positive mindset to extend one’s health-span free from illness and medication. “Creating art can help you see the world in new, unique ways. Artistic pursuits also help create new pathways and strengthen existing connections in your brain, leading to better cognitive function overall which can boost introspection, memory, empathy, attention, and focus,” Dimitrovich further reiterates on the sidelines of her visit to Atmantan Wellness in Pune for the whole month of October as a practitioner. 

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Not just art, there are other practices which you can try to boost neuroplasticity.  Dr. Shambhavi Jaiman, consultant psychiatrist at Fortis healthcare, Gurugram insists that learning continuously while taking up new challenges and acquiring new skills is key to enhancing neuroplasticity. “Stay mentally active. You can solve puzzles and engage in strategic games. Exploring new activities and environments also helps. Of course, exercising regularly, prioritising quality sleep, stress management and socialising are of essential importance for one’s overall mental agility,” she shares. Consistency in these practices supports neuroplasticity and cognitive well-being. 

Psychotherapist Mansi Poddar from Kolkata agrees. “What we are referring to is ‘experience-dependent plasticity’ which means if you practice something consistently, such as meditating, exercising or learning how to implement new reactions in relationships, you’re likely to change your brain to respond differently. This also applies in the opposite way: if you keep expressing anger by yelling , you will become an angry yelling person. If you keep complaining, your brain will become wired to perceive only complaints,” she justifies.

According to Jaiman, the concept of neuroplasticity might seem unfamiliar or even doubtful to some but it is a well-researched phenomenon that shows our brains have a remarkable ability to adapt and change throughout our lives. “Think of it like a muscle that can be trained and strengthened. Just as physical exercise improves our bodies, mental exercises and learning new skills can rewire our brains. This can lead to positive changes in our abilities, emotions, and overall well-being,” she simplifies. Historically, neuroscience might not have functioned on the knowledge of the brain’s capacity to adapt.

It was presumed the brain couldn’t change once you reached a certain age. Now, it has been discovered that this isn’t always true. A process called neurogenesis proves that new neurons and new connections between existing ones are sometimes created by having new experiences and building new skills. 

“NeuroGraphic theory is built on solid scientific principles, combining visual thinking with the laws and patterns identified by various schools of psychology namely neuropsychology, analytical psychology, gestalt psychology, psychosynthesis, social psychology and modern management theory,” adds Dimitrovich. 

Research on this topic is limited but promising. One can definitely try to incorporate some new activities as a complementary way to aid mental health.

Aditi Sarawagi is an independent writer who writes on wellness, travel and food.

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