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Retrain Your Brain: The Study of Neuroplasticity

By Mary Pettigrew
brain-2062057_1920-(1).jpgIt is human nature to choose paths most familiar in life. People don’t like change. We do things of which we’re most accustomed to doing in our day-to-day activities. In some ways, I liken this to “auto-pilot.” Whether we’re right handed or left, we brush our teeth with the same hand, we use the same hands, movements and otherwise to do everyday activities. The more we can teach ourselves new movements, new things, the better. Whether we have multiple sclerosis or not, it’s important we attempt tasks that challenge us. This is where our brain comes into play. Unlike a computer, we can create our own updates, new pathways, and create new ways of navigation throughout the injured or illness damaged brain.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt. Split up the word and you’ll find neuron and plastic. Neurons refer to the cells in our brain. When you add plastic to the picture, it means to mold, sculpt, or to modify. In other words, the brain has the chance to find a new way to adapt. The brain can navigate ways to meet your need and more so. The outcome can be uplifting, empowering and make way towards opportunities unthought of. 

I had no idea I had been practicing the science of neuroplasticity for several years. After my diagnosis of MS in 2001, I was going through a difficult divorce, so in search of a therapeutic outlet I gravitated towards my first love: music. I had a background in choir, piano, and decided to teach myself the acoustic guitar. I tried my hand at writing song lyrics, yet the composition and lyrics never came together, so my lyrics morphed into poetry. Therefore, my love of poetry and writing in general ensued. I carry this passion for writing and learning as much as I can to this day. My lesion activity is still problematic within my spine, however, my brain scans have remained stable for the past several years. My neurology team agrees this could be due to the neuroplasticity exercises I continue to adhere to.

It’s really not that difficult. You simply need to be open to trying something new. Try teaching yourself something new, learn something different or activities foreign to your day to day living. Here are a few simple ways to practice neuroplasticity – different ways to retrain your brain:

1. Learn a foreign language: There are many apps or online courses which are sometimes free of charge like Duolingo, Babble. Rosetta Stone, or chat with people who speak another language than yourself.

2. Teach yourself to play a musical instrument: Depending on your mobility and finger dexterity, a keyboard or guitar are great instruments to work with. There are many “how to” lessons on YouTube as well. 

3. Listen to Music: Go to YouTube and listen to your favorite music especially new music.

4. Explore art: Enroll in classes or purchase clay, canvas, or sketch books and explore on your own

5. Write: Start keeping a journal, write a blog, poetry, or otherwise to express your thoughts or feelings.

6. Find new hobbies: Crochet, quilting, knitting, cooking, scrapbooking, etc.

7. Enroll in college classes online: Fullsail University, Arizona University, or other classes available to explore.

8. Switch hands: If you’re right handed, switch hands to brush your teeth.

This is by all means, not a cure, however, this is a way to retrain your brain. This can be a way to re-wire your brain. There are several neuroplasticity groups on Facebook and a variety of YouTube videos, online activities, books and TED Talks if you’d like to learn more. I wish you the best in you journey towards finding your power, if you have the desire, to sculpt your own brain and find the healing powers possible.