Counsellor in Wrexham, Kim, reflects on neuroscience on a dog walk.

2015-06-28 21.28.58I was in the Lake District last weekend, just me and my dogs,  staying in a part I was unfamiliar with.  I decided to explore local dog walks and one of my adventures led me to “The Helm”.  I have no internal SatNav and cannot read a map so I trusted the paths that had been made before me.  The picture above shows some of the criss-crossing of paths on the Helm.  Either side of the paths were many different types of grasses, tall wild flowers and ferns making the pathways very obvious.  While I was walking I started to notice that the  paths were all different.  Some paths were muddy tracks, others short grass and others much longer grass.  I was clearly able to see the the routes more commonly taken, and those that had become overgrown through not being used any longer.  This led me to reflect on how our brains are “plastic”and just like the Helm contain some connections more deeply ingrained than others.  For example the pathways for playing tennis will be very “deep” for Andy Murray, whereas for me (I last played tennis at school) these pathways in my brain will be very overgrown! These pathways are formed by neurones which can make new connections, changing the structure and function of the brain.  We can see the result of this on brain scans and famously the brain scans of London Taxi Cab drivers who have taken “the knowledge” show that their hypothalamus is bigger due to the increased usage of visual-spatial related neurones.  These neural connections explain how we learn and develop new habits.  For me these pathways in the grasses and ferns on the Helm represented neural pathways-some used more than others and also that new pathways could be formed (with repeated use) and old ones left to grow-over. This concept is very exciting as it demonstrates that we are not “fixed” or unchangeable-we can change by making the pathways we want in our brains.  I was reminded of the work of Rick Hanson, “neurones that fire together wire together”.  By doing something new we are making those neurones fire together in a new way and with repetition will wire together, or create a new pathway.  How exciting!

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