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Neuroplasticity, Dhikr and Recovery


Please refer to the definition of terms below.

Verily, it is in the rememberance of Allah that hearts find rest.

Qu’ran 23:28

It has long been known that meditation can be used as a powerful weapon with which to fight disease, however,scientists are only just beginning to discover exactly how it affects the brain. I recently read an article about research that had been done with Buddhist monks. Neuroscientists scanned the novices and monk’s brains as they performed exercises in “compassion meditation”.

“The latter showed a dramatic increase in gamma waves….activity in the left pre-frontal cortex(the seat of positive emotions such as happiness) swamped activity in the right pre-frontal(site of negative emotions such as anxiety), something never before seen from purely mental activity.” here

I have also been reading about psychologists who regard depression, anxiety, dissociation and derealisation as being triggered by a small organ in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala iniates self-preservation behaviours when a person percieves a threat. If exposed to long periods of stress however, the amygdala can “become reset, establishing anxious as the new default.” Anxiety disorders could therefore be a learned condition and as such can be unlearned. But not in the psychoanalytical way that they have been approached in the past. The brain needs to be taught to act differently. New neural pathways need to be set. Until this occurs a person’s brain can be stuck in fight mode, all the time making them exhibit behaviour that is interpreted as personality when in fact it is a neurological problem.

Dissociation and derealisation are behavioural responses to trauma and as such can be symptoms of post-traumatic stress-disorder. Originating as protective mechanisms they end up as symptoms and causes of anxiety. They are a kind of negative trance, what I would refer to as a no man’s land between reality and psychosis, a numb place with a razor sharp edge. There feels like there is no correlation here between such states and the calm trances induced by meditation, but I know nothing about such neural mapping.

The point is, that meditation(which in an Islamic sense means Dhikr and Salat) can train the brain to switch out of ‘anxiety’ mode by increasing activity in the left pre-frontal cortex (the happy side!). Obviously this cannot be done overnight and there are other factors at play with depression so don’t go throwing your meds away just yet! Most neurologists would understand this as a purely physical thing, perhaps even a way to explain spirituality away as just a higher state of consciousness caused by activity in a particular area of the brain. But as a Muslim, I have another theory. Everything in life is connected, as Ibrahim B Syed wrote in his essay on Sufism and Quantum Physics,

Enlightenment is an experience to become aware of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things, to transcend the notion of an isolated individual self, and to identify themselves with the ultimate reality.”

Why shouldn’t our physical and spiritual selves be connected? Allah has said

In time We shall make them understand Our messages in the utmost horizons and within themselves.


Qu’ran 41:53

It may seem like crude literalism to read this verse in such a way. Allahu Alam (God knows best). We have been given the opportunity to fine tune our brains to a “Higher Conciousness”, whether we do so just in order to be happy or to feel close to our Compassionate and All-Knowing Source is up to us.

I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls Me, let them also, with a will, listen to My call and believe in Me:that they may walk in the right way.

Qu’ran 2:186

Please be aware that I’m writing for myself, I’m not preaching!

Neuoroplasticity - refers to the “brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

Dissociation - is “a creative survival strategy that enables children to switch off psychologically from traumatic experience…over time however, dissociation can develop into a conditioned response to any stressful situation.

Depersonalisation Disorder - is “defined by an unrelenting or frequent feeling of disconnection/detachment from oneself during which reality testing remains intact.

Derealisation - a “feeling that you and your surroundings are not real.”But the person is aware that this is just a feeling, it’s not a psychosis.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - is a “condition which results from exposure to prolonged interpersonal trauma.

Amygdala - is a “cerebral structure of the temporal lobe which plays a critical role in the expression of emotions and the learning of new emotional responses.” Scientists have discovered that men and women store memories for emotional events differently.

Dhikr - the rememberance of Allah swt. All types of remembering Allah fit under this category but I will be specifically referring to the method of repetition of specific praises and names of the Most Merciful.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2007 at 7:39 am and is filed under post-natal depression, vastness and beauty, spiritual inadequacies, health and sanity, mental illness, depression, faith, self, spirituality, art. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.



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