Neuroplasticity, Epigenetics, and Your Energy Body (or How We Change)
Don’t let the title of this post scare you off – I’ll keep it simple, promise! I’ve wanted to write a post for awhile on neuroplasticity and epigenetics, two of the hottest scientific topics these days. These two relatively recent fields of study affirm the power of the mind-body connection, and (in my opinion) the possibility of energy healing and chakra work to trigger profound physical change, including in our brains and gene expression. This is the weekend to write about this, because Friday we had a solar eclipse, equinox, and supermoon (new moon at the closest point to the earth) all corresponding in a 24 hour period! It’s a transitional peak, and all about change.
Healing and personal development are in essence about our ability to change. Whether we are trying to restore a bacterial balance in our body, rid ourselves of a harmful virus, reknit a broken bone, or repair a damaged organ, physical healing is about changing our physical body from one state to another. And whether we are trying to let go of anger, become more mindful, manage stress, love more kindly, or find a new inner equilibrium, personal development is about changing our habitual mental and emotional patterns. (I am using the term ‘personal development’, rather than ‘spirituality’ because for me spirituality is not about changing ourselves, but about discovering our true nature, which is always whole, always healthy, always at peace. But this post is not about that, and most of us need to work on the levels of physical healing and personal development as part of our spiritual journey.)
Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to our ability to forge new neural pathways and synapses in our brain due to changes in our thinking, our emotions, our situation, and our environment. For a long time, scientists thought our brains were relatively static after early childhood, and real change at the neural level was not possible. We now know that profound changes can and do occur, and that they continue throughout our lifetime. Here are some examples of neuroplasticity:
- Stroke victims recovering lost functionality due to their brains reorganizing themselves so that new neural pathways take over functions previously performed by the damaged part.
- Deep sea divers seeing hundreds of feet deep underwater because they have learned to control their eye lenses and pupils through brain control the rest of us never develop.
- Professional musicians’ brains developing extra gray matter in the areas of the brain related to playing their instruments – so much so that neuroscientists can often identify a professional musician by looking at a scan of their brain.
- Tibetan monks brains’ emitting increased gamma rays, associated with higher mental activity and heightened awareness, even when they are not meditating, indicating permanent ‘upgrades’ to their brains due to meditation.
- Athletes’ visualizing perfect performance, and brain scans showing this strengthens the same parts of the brain that are activated when they are actually physically performing.
What’s the relevance of all of this in terms of energy work? They are all proof our brain changes in response to our environment, activity, or thoughts. Our thoughts change our brain, our brain doesn’t simply determine our thoughts. This sounds pretty basic to anyone involved in mind-body modalities, but it’s a revolution in neuroscience. And of course it means you can change your brain – and thus your body – through the power of your mind.
Energy work such as chakra work, subtle body visualizations, release techniques etc. take this one step further by recognizing that thoughts and emotions are really energy, or vibration, so if we learn to work directly at that level, at the level of vibration within our subtle body, we can impact physical change. We can overwrite longstanding emotional habits, mental patterns, and triggers, replacing them with healthier, happier ones. Because the subtle body is the link between mind and body – we visualize or focus on a particular chakra or location in our subtle body with our mind, and feel it in our body – this kind of work can be even more powerful than working simply at the level of thought, which engages only the mind, and can become disassociated from our body. (Really there is no separation between mind, body, and subtle body, but each ‘level’ offers different doorways or access points into ourselves for healing and self-development work.)
Epigenetics takes this one step further, by offering up the possibility that when we do manifest this level of change, we may actually change our gene expression, thereby impacting not only ourselves but our descendants. Epigenetics is the study of what factors impact how a given gene in our DNA sequence expresses itself. For example, we may have a genetic propensity for a particular medical problem, but never manifest that problem. What lifestyle, diet, and environmental factors impact whether that genetic tendency does or doesn’t manifest? This, in a nutshell, is the study of epigenetics. Our DNA does not change, but which parts of it manifest during our lifetime is more fluid than we ever thought.
One of the more groundbreaking findings within epigenetics is that some changes may actually be passed down to future generations. There is already research to suggest that trauma in particular alters gene expression, and makes us more prone to health problems later in life. Now there is also research to suggest that this gene expression may in fact be handed down to future generations, i.e. trauma in one generation negatively impacts the health of future generations. On the plus side though, there is the possibility that healing from trauma, reversing the gene expression and manifesting good health and psychological impacts, also flows down to the next generation. In other words, that when we heal, we heal not only ourselves, but future generations.
Mainstream science is a long ways away from connecting the findings of neuroplasticity and epigenetics, and certainly does not acknowledge the power of energy healing and techniques to manifest physical change. But looking at this research it’s hard not to feel that science is on the brink of validating what many spiritual and energy healing traditions have taught for centuries: That we have the power to heal, and to change, at any point in our lives, that how we choose to live and the states of mind (or vibration) that we choose to manifest impacts our body, brain, and even genes, and that this carries forward beyond ourselves, to future generations, and thus the future of our world.
When we add to this the powers that cannot be explained by science – the power of love, of insight, of spiritual connection – we can begin to see hope for the future of this world, a possibility for healing our world and our children from damage done by the massive amounts of violence and suffering happening throughout the world at any given moment.
Of course I have to add disclaimers to this. Personally I believe any kind of energy work always works best in combination with psychological and medical treatment, so that the ‘whole’ being is being addressed – mind, body, and subtle body. And manifesting new neural pathways or gene expressions isn’t simply a matter of visualizing or wishing it so. Even the traditions that speak of such powers – or siddhis – those that speak of the ability to manifest healings we would call ‘miracles’, emphasize the tremendous level of training and (more importantly) spiritual realization such healers cultivated over much time and with great dedication.
On the other hand, each and every one of us has this potential, the seeds of self-healing and personal change, within ourselves. Start with one thought or shift today – one act of kindness or self-care, one activity that shifts you out of a dark state and into a light one, one meditation session – and let it be the start of a change that you gift to all those around you and maybe even your progeny. Believe it is possible, believe in yourself.
Namaste, and Happy Equinox!