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It’s Very Hard to Have a Healthy Mind If You Don’t Have a Healthy Brain

healthy_brainThis is obvious, but very often overlooked. People spend hours of their day, their month and their year cultivating their minds through meditative practice and other Mindfulness-type exercises. But what about the grey matter, the mass of neural networks that process these thoughts and feelings?

For many of us, the difference between the brain and the mind is a head-scratcher (excuse the pun). But a distinction is necessary. The human brain is an organ and one not very dissimilar to a gorilla’s brain. But the human mind? That’s another thing entirely! My short-hand definition is that the *mind* is the human brain (evolved over about 100 million years) plus human culture, i.e. language, norms and customs, art, beliefs, religious practices, science, mathematics, sport, law, norms and customs, etc. Human culture has been evolving too, of course, but it’s much more recent than human physiology. Let’s pick a nice round number like 1 million years since the beginning of human culture.

In theory at least, a human with a human brain could be dropped off in the jungle at birth, and raised in the wild by gorillas. But contrary to what you might have been led to believe by the Tarzan cartoon series, 10 years later this creature would not have a human mind, and certainly wouldn’t be able to do algebra or play chess, or write interesting short stories, as my friend’s 10 year-old already can.

There is the individual human mind and what is sometimes called the “collective mind,” which is, by the way, one way of seeing the Internet. But let’s focus for now on the individual mind. It exists inside a human body, with a specific concentration in the brain (as well as, perhaps, within the gut, the heart and other organs).

This human brain can be healthy or unhealthy or something in between. The health of the brain is dependent upon many if not all of the same factors that drive the health of other organs. And it’s especially vulnerable to inflammation and its deleterious effects. So what inflames the brain beyond that which inflames other organs? Answer: highly elevated stress levels, unproductive conflict, lack of sleep, lack of rest, lack of play, lack of quietude, lack of time in nature, lack of beauty, lack of art, lack of music, lack of poetry, lack of story-telling with loved ones by the fire.

Sure, many of us can get by with semi healthy brains that get minimal amounts of brain nourishment. And we can do OK most of the time with substitutes, for example watching TV in the evening instead of sitting around the fire telling and listening to stories. But at some point in the absence of most of these sources of brain nourishment, inflammation increases and the brain become overwhelmed, inefficient and even incoherent.

The human mind kicks in to try to fix things, but often this merely results in a hyper state of arousal and anxiety. The mind is trying in vain to fix the brain when what is first needed is the whole human being seeking out and receiving nourishment from a benign natural environment.

In summary, a healthy mind starts with a healthy brain. And to keep that simple, a healthy brain is developed with: sleep, good food, sunlight, fresh air, and exercise – ideally every day. It’s that simple and that difficult!

Topics: Healthy brain, healthy mind, mental healthy, Mindfulness, inflammation, stress reduction, hyper arousal, sleep and the brain, brain health