Follow the science: fashions in personal development

Those who’ve been interested in personal development for a while may recall when the right hemisphere of the brain was the place to be. Our left hemisphere is dominant in language and logic, while the right is generally more concerned with spatial skills and imagery. Our culture was criticized for emphasising ‘left-brained’ logic over the more creative ‘right-brain’, and personal development gurus recommended right-brain exercises to rebalance yourself. (See Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 1979).

But getting more ‘right-brained’ was gradually superseded by excitement about brainwaves. During everyday awareness our brainwaves are predominately in beta (12 – 38 Hz). When you relax – or meditate – they slow to alpha (8 – 12 Hz), while deep sleep is charactered by delta waves (0.5 – 3 Hz). Holosync, and similar brainwave entrainment systems, stimulate the brain to produce the brainwaves found in meditation and claim – erroneously I believe – to thereby put you into deep meditation itself.

brain scan image

You are not your brain

Of course things have moved on now and brainwaves are a bit old hat. Holosync started in the late 1980’s, and a decade later neurotransmitters like endorphins were the new elixir. Personal development is still pretty keen on neurotransmitters. It’s not hard to find bloggers promoting dopamine, and I’ve been lauding the endorphin effect myself! But the latest thing seems to be brain structures, with therapists and savvy bloggers now discussing the limbic system and frontal lobe.

The danger in chasing the latest neuroscience research is that we oversimplify it. Brain structure, brainwaves and neurotransmitters are all important to our understanding of mental wellbeing. During meditation, for example, left/right hemisphere communication tends to increase, brainwaves slow, the balance of neurotransmitter shifts and the signalling relationship between the limbic system and frontal lobe changes. Focusing on one aspect makes it much easier to understand – or blog about – but it misses the point; body-mind and place form the most complex system in the known universe. Just remember that the next time someone tell you they’re ‘left-brained’!

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