26 December, 2012

LATE POST: How Shamanism aids an Aging Brain

Near the end of November, I went to a conference on Behavioral Health and the Aging Brain. Although it was for my mental health job, I found myself looking at certain aspects of Neuropsychology and Neurobiology within a Shamanic viewpoint.

Many physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers spoke about the need to continually utilize the brain as humans age (especially past ~50 years or so). The field constantly emphasizes the need to learn new skills and hobbies, but this conference spent a large chunk of time focusing on Meditation (as increasing both quality and quantity of life) as treatment/prevention of mental illness and dementia disorders.

(I'm not able to directly link to the academic article used in the lecture, but here is a similar one from the magazine, Psychology Today ).

The academic article recommended a "prescription" of 5 hours per week of Meditation (any kind, as long as time is set aside for this new skill). The lecturer, from one of my favorite psychiatric hospitals (Sheppard Pratt ), stated that this prescription of Meditation, done consistently, can lead to the same sort of Deep-Brain stimulation found in more aggressive treatments of Dementia.

This blew my mind!

The field of Aging Psychology is now essentially postulating that ECTs (electroconvulsive therapies), trans-magnetic & trans-cranial magnetic therapies (TM & TCM), and other forms of Deep Brain Stimulation (read about it here ) can be prevented and/or replaced with a daily Meditation practice!

So, still with me? Now let's think about the deep brain work of Journeying, Vision Quests, Trance states, etc. How does this specific type of "Active Meditation" affect the Aging Brain?

Sadly, no one has done any brain scans of individuals who are actively Journeying (not yet, at least), but there are some small amount of data as to the biological changes of the Shamanic Brain: Biology of Shamanic states. But I like to think that Journey work can effect the same type of mental health and stamina stated above...

Although not everyone is interested or able to become a shamanic healer, I do think that with enough training, many people have the ability to Journey for themselves and communicate with some Spirits. How do you think Shamanism affects an Aging Brain (and we all have aging brains)? How has it affected yours?

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