Book Review: Buddha's Brain
In the field of counseling, every few years a “new “type of therapeutic or counseling technique is espoused and marketed to those working in the field or maybe directly sold to the “self-help” consumer market.
Recently, mindfulness has become all the rage in the counseling field, at first, I was skeptical about this ancient Buddhist practice but wanted to keep my mind open. Several of my Northern Virginia and Fairfax colleagues who knew of my skepticism advised that I should read this book in order to better educate myself, so I did!
I found Buddha's Brain to be very different than what I had expected. I had expected a new age type text with the usual blend of Eastern religious philosophy mixed with some pseudoscience along with a dash of some cognitive techniques for good measure. What I got was a well written, scientific based text on the neurological basis of mindfulness and what particular techniques have been shown to work best to increase brain plasticity. The authors of Buddha's Brain both have an academic background in the field of neuroscience, Dr. Hanson being a neuropsychologist and Dr. Mendius a neurologist. In fact, the first half of the book is really a primer on the structure of the brain and how various parts of it, such as the amygdala, as well as overall systems such as the limbic system (where the amygdala resides), influences our emotions and thoughts. Dr. Hanson keeps the neuroscience lesson as simplistic as possible for those without a human physiology background and with clarity explains how these various structures and systems affect all of us in our day to day interactions, both internally and externally with the larger world.
The second half of Buddha's Brain elucidates various exercises the reader can use in order to bring mindfulness into their daily life; these would be considered Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (or CBT) exercises for those of us in the field of mental health. The exercises are simple and process-based, such as filtering out distractions to dealing with your transient life (or everything is dynamic, nothing is static. )The final portion of the book discusses dietary and nutritional support in your mindfulness training. This portion of the book I felt was the weakest in terms of scientific study and medical support but it was a small portion of the text and located at the end, it can be easily skipped. At the end of every chapter was a “Key Points” summary, so if you have little time to read the entire chapter, you can hit the highlights by reading the “Key Points,” very useful I found.
I would feel comfortable recommending this book to both colleagues and clients. Here in the Greater Washington, D.C. area (or National Capital Region), mindfulness training is badly needed. I observe people all the time who are either projecting themselves into the future (e.g. when am I getting that raise, will I get fired shortly, I need to look for a better job, etc.) or living in the past (i.e. I used to make SO much more money, my ex-abandoned me, etc.). I find people would feel much happier and fulfilled in their lives if they could live more in the “here and now.” Doesn’t that sound lovely? When was the last time you just stopped and noticed your breathing?
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