Brain Awareness Week Class #2 Empathy and the Limbic brain
I had a conversation with my 11 year old son this morning. We were talking about the brain and that there are stages during our life where our brain gets very active and "pruning" occurs. This means that those networks within the brain that build grooves and allow us to create patterns in how we think, talk, move, act and do just about anything are being "gelled". The two most active times are as babies and then again at adolescence. Nate said, " mom, is this your spiritual stuff or do you really mean it?" ....ha, gotta love kids to keep you humble.....I said, "Nate it's science.". How we feel and respond to feelings is a learned behavior that becomes mapped into our brain. This includes the range of emotions we tend to move thru as well as how we respond to those emotions. Science now documents that we can continue to learn and prune our brain throughout our life time, the brain changing neural patterns as we expose it to new things....
There are literally 1,000's of emotions that someone, or some people took the time to write down and describe the subtle differences between. From happy to peaceful, to bored, to joyful...all have facial expressions, body tensions that show in our postures, and information that we either notice and can respond too or that go under the surface...but they are there. Recognizing anothers emotions is call empathy and happens primarily through our "limbic" or "mammalian" part of our brain. The function of this is to connect us into our groups of support and to recognize and understand each other in a form of communication without words. Empathy can be felt from even a glance of the eyes....it's the sensation of being heard, felt, seen. It feels supportive. It's the understanding that another has had the experience of a similar emotion and doesn't interfere so much as listen and understand the situation in a deep way.
Scientists are now studying how empathy can be a healing and supportive emotion AND though our grandmothers may have already known this....science is now studying and documenting how a lack of empathy and growing up in an environment where children are mistreated is directly linked to the wiring of brain circuits, emotional regulation, especially in the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala or "fight or flight" response. The study ( on dana.org called "Early Life Experience, Critical Periods, and Brain Development by Kayt Sukel) included how a heart centered caring caregiver effected the brains of children who were mistreated. Scientists scanned children's brains after seeing a picture of their parent who mis-used them and then a picture of a caring caregiver at different times in the childs life. The study shows that there are critical periods of time for clinicians to one day step in and that having a caregiver offer the support of empathy and love could by pass the need for medications.
We explored emotions in Kai today thru noticing if and what the emotion was in particular areas of the body. We also explored postures of certain emotions like proud, confident, successful as well as contemplative, distracted, bored. Through "trying" on emotions we can become more aware of our own as well as better able to read another thru the movements of the body. This builds compassion, empathy, and frees the body up to move with more joy over all. Emotional awareness can be learned at any age!