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Mindfulness: Establishing a Relationship Between the Human Brain and the Reptilian Brain

How Cognitive Behavioural Therapists View the Brain

As you may already know, there are several ways to view the brain. There are diagrams of the brain based on functionality and there are diagrams of the brain based on behaviour. Naturally, Cognitive Behavioural Therapists are more concerned with behavioural aspects of the brain than with functionality. As seen in the diagram below, the brain is split into three regions, the neocortex – the rational or thinking part of the brain, the limbic brain – the emotional or feeling brain, and the Basal Ganglia or Reptilian Brain – the instinctual, survival driven part of the brain.

The Reptilian Brain (The Basal Ganglia)

The reptilian part of the brain is responsible for your instincts. When we were cavemen, this part of the brain helped us to survive. It told us when to run, when to scream and when to lash out at an opponent. It also governed our territorial and sexual instincts. In today’s society however, the reptilian part of the brain is much less useful than it used to be. Since most of our creature comforts (food, shelter etc) are taken care of, it does little else than cause us trouble. An overactive Basal Ganglia will lead to irrational outbursts and uncontrollable fits of rage. If we are in an important, decision making process during an overactive Basal Ganglia, we are more likely to make decisions that we will regret.

The Human Brain (The Neocortex)

The human part of the brain is responsible for rational thinking. As the name suggests, this part of the brain, is non-existent in animals. It is the reason why we have been able to build a society and why we are able to live at peace with one another.  With the human brain we are able to solve maths equations, learn how to ride a bike amongst other things. It is also the part of the brain that helps us to resonate with people and indeed with ourselves as well. It is the reason why we regret a wrongdoing. A wrongdoing is typically caused by the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain has been highly active during a moment of stress and has caused us to act in an irrational manner. Afterwards, the human brain uses logic to review what has happened and a feeling of regret is established in the limbic brain. When the human part of the brain is active, it is not aware that the reptilian brain has been active and therefore we feel embarrassment and shame at not having been able to think rationally whilst in the moment of stress.

How Mindfulness Helps to Establish a Relationship Between the Human Brain and The Reptilian Brain

To be mindful is to be aware. It is the definition of the word. More simplistic mindfulness teachings will help practitioners return to the present moment. A higher stage of mindfulness teachings will help you to do this whilst having an overactive Basal Ganglia. It will activate the human brain during moments of intense activity in the reptilian brain and help you to connect the two by being present and analysing the instinct caused by the Basal Ganglia. With proper mindfulness training you should be able to scrutinise a feeling, describe how it manifests itself in your body and be able to hold it until it goes away.

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