Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #98 with researcher Dr. Dawson Church[i], the author of the new book called Bliss Brain: The Neuroscience of Remodeling Your Brain for Resilience, Creativity and Joy[ii]. Dr. Church is an award-winning science writer who blends cutting-edge neuroscience with the stories of people who’ve had firsthand experience of brain change. Neural plasticity—the discovery that the brain is capable of rewiring itself—is now widely understood. But what few people have grasped yet is how quickly this is happening, how extensive brain changes can be, and how much control each of us exerts over the process of our thinking.
My name is Andrea Samadi, and if you are new here, I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field, with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are an educator, or in the corporate space, to take your results to the next level. If we want to improve our social, emotional and cognitive abilities, it all starts with an understanding of our brain.
Welcome Dr. Church, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, and sharing the fascinating research you have been doing for the 50-plus years you’ve spent investigating human potential since first learning to meditate as a teenager, is that correct?
Dr. Church, before getting to the questions, I’ve got to say that I loved seeing Dave Asprey, the author of the book, Superhuman, and the creator of Bulletproof Coffee as your Foreword. I’m a longtime Dave Asprey follower and fan and loved to see his perspective where he mentions that the top performers he’s come across in his career, those people he calls “Game Changers” all meditate to improve the quality of their life.
Q1: This interview is timely and important, since the world is experiencing such difficult times, (on a day to day basis we are all experiencing significant change no matter what part of the world we are living in) your book is needed, and I do hope that people around the world listening to this episode will read your book (Bliss Brain) and implement the ideas. Can you explain what you have discovered to be the secret for tuning our brain towards positivity, directing our thoughts, habits and behaviors to support a long and happy life?
Q2: Most people who are listening to this podcast are aware of the importance of meditation, but I do hear some places where people often get stuck with their practice. Can you explain how it’s possible to release emotions that keep us in a reactive state—responding to the past—rather than the present so we can learn to be in the moment, rather than somewhere else?
Q3: I remember when I first started to meditate (around 2014), it was because I received a course as a gift that included a meditation program, and I thought I had better use it, knowing I would be asked what I thought about it. I started with sessions that were about 30 minutes long and found it to be a huge learning curve, mainly to sit still and clear my mind. Why do people find it so hard with learning to meditate? What can you tell us about our brain so that we can bypass this roadblock to learning to implement this valuable and important skill?
Q4: I think everyone could use more resilience these days, with the world we are living in. It’s not easy to push forward during such adverse times. Can you explain what your research has shown about how we can learn to relax, even during the most stressful times, explain the brain waves associated with relaxation and resilience, and what exactly does this do to the body/its effect on aging or even our energy?
Q5: What exactly happens to the brain when we meditate? What health and cognitive benefits do we receive?
Q6: What is “the bliss molecule” and how can we access it?
Q7: Can you sum up the benefits can we expect to see from developing a meditation practice and how soon will we see the results?
Thank you very much Dr. Church for taking the time to speak with me today about this important work, and years of research that’s needed right now in the world today. For people to learn more about your work, is the best place http://blissbrain.com/
Bliss Brain reviews studies that provide remarkable evidence of rapid and radical brain change. In just eight weeks of meditation practice, 12 minutes a day, brain remodeling begins. Over time, these structural changes in brain anatomy make us calmer, happier, and more resilient.
When we cultivate these pleasurable states over time, they become traits. We don't just feel more blissful as a temporary state; the changes are literally hard-wired into our brains, becoming stable and enduring personality traits.
The startling conclusions of Church’s research show that neural remodeling goes much further than scientists have previously understood, with stress circuits shriveling over time. Simultaneously, the “Enlightenment Circuit”—associated with happiness, compassion, productivity, creativity, and resilience—expands.
During deep meditation, Church shows how “the 7 neurochemicals of ecstasy” are released in our brains. These include anandamide, a neurotransmitter that's been named “the bliss molecule” because it mimics the effects of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. Meditation also boosts serotonin and dopamine; the first has a chemical structure similar to psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), the second to cocaine. He shows how cultivating these elevated emotional states literally produces a self-induced high.
The foreword is by Dave Asprey[iii], of “Bulletproof” fame. The book includes numerous “Deeping Practices” that apply this brain science in a practical program of self-transformation. Presenting the latest research in non-technical language understandable to a lay audience, Bliss Brain makes an intriguing case for the potential each of us has to rewire our brains for happiness.