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Book review: 'Your Brain is a River, Not a Rock' by Dr Fred Travis

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12 December 2014

For those who really enjoy understanding what 'is going on in our heads' reading Dr. Fred Travis's book Your Brain is a River, Not a Rock is a must. Written by the leading researcher in the field of Transcendental Meditation and brain neurophysiology, this book provides a background to understanding the impact of meditation. The book is packed with the latest findings in the field of neuroscience, is easy to understand, and enjoyable to read.

Transcendental Meditation for 'brainiacs'—what's happening inside our heads

Dr. Fred Travis begins by asking the reader to do a series of practical exercises. These fun tasks clearly demonstrate the extent to which our perception of reality is created just as much by what's going on within as by what is happening outside of ourselves. Then, having allowed our own experience to be the judge that indeed, reality is not just 'what's out there', Dr. Travis goes to deepen our understanding of the brain's fascinating characteristics.

Throughout the book the reader is given a well formulated, easy to grasp overview of how interaction between brain and experience shapes our world—from infancy to childhood, from adolescence to adulthood. These accounts of children's developmental stages not only provide evidence for the central argument of the book but also, without imposing, offer gentle yet powerful nudge for parents in the direction of understanding their children at any age much better. Not only does the book help to face the difficulties associated with different ages. There are also plenty of amusing facts to be uncovered—like why a 3-year-old cannot catch a ball, or why some teenagers have a tendency to bump into things and knock stuff down. Dr. Fred Travis, father to three daughters, also illustrates some of the points with delightful personal anecdotes.

Brain is a river, not a rock

The central argument of the book is that our brain is, literally, in an unceasing flow. As Dr. Travis explains, 70 percent of our brain connections change every day. Even as grown-ups, our brain retains amazing plasticity.

To have the reader really ingest this idea Dr. Travis uses real life examples ranging from how the brain enables the blind to learn the Braille to how stroke patients' unaffected brain side can be 'forced' to take over command of the affected limbs. Dr. Travis also describes how the brain of London taxi drivers—who need to master the challenge of navigating all parts of the huge and chaotically planned city—differ from those of the city's bus drivers who only need to follow set routes.

Yet the book does not constrain itself to merely describing the scientific findings. Your Brain is a River, Not a Rock also maps out a way in which each of us, if determined, can induce changes in our neural circuits. In short—how each of us can change the way we see the world. As Dr. Travis says: ''The brain controls what you can see and do today; and in turn what you see and do today changes the brain for tomorrow. It's a feedback loop that we can control.''

The applications are endless. For example, by digesting and accepting the research results about differences between female and male brains, and the associated tendencies of behaviour, the reader can effectively improve his / her social skills. Knowledge itself can change the way you handle your next meeting at work or approach relationships inside your circle of family.

How you can make your river-brain calm and clear

Dynamic brain is first and foremost a responsibility. No longer can we hide behind the excuse of fixed genetic resources or formative events which, long ago and for good, made us who we are today.

We influence and change our brain every single day. Dr. Travis talks about the neurological impact of our food and beverage choices, sleeping habits, alcohol, nicotine and drug consumption, environment and stress levels.

Meditation enters the picture when Dr. Travis discusses whether it is possible to reset the functioning of a brain which is running havoc as a result of perpetual stress response. The answer to the question is that yes, Transcendental Meditation practice, which provides the experience of safety, wholeness and fullness can accomplish such a feat.

The reason for this, as Dr. Fred Travis explains, is that Transcendental Meditation brings about restful alertness—a condition in which ''sensory content is dampened and ultimately stopped, while the wakeful circuits from the brainstem are accentuated.'' It is explained in the book that ultimately, as a result of consistent practice of Transcendental Meditation, the immovable inner silence becomes a predominant basis for one's self-identification; conversely, the constantly changing outer activities leaves less and less of a mark.

Watch Dr Travis explain brain plasticity and mapping of brain coherence during Transcendental Meditation

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