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Home » Daniel Siegel Discusses Mindfulness and Neural Integration at TEDxStudioCityED (Transcript)

Daniel Siegel Discusses Mindfulness and Neural Integration at TEDxStudioCityED (Transcript)

Daniel Siegel

Professor of clinical psychiatry Daniel Siegel presents Mindfulness and Neural Integration at TEDxStudioCityED Conference (Transcript)

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Mindfulness and Neural Integration by Daniel Siegel, MD at TEDxStudioCityED



Thank you. Good morning, that was beautiful.

You know, right before Fred Rogers died, his team had actually contacted me to try to present the case for why television should keep at the pace of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. And so we were about to plan that whole thing and then he passed away. But it was an amazing thing to think about the generations of people that have learned to understand their feelings, to make them mentionable and manageable.

What I’m going to talk to you today is about how schools can combine with technology in the way of promoting self-regulation. So I’m going to do this with no slides, but with one model of the brain. So if you reach under your chairs, glued underneath there you’ll find, if you reach in there, pull out your hand and take your hand model there, and put your thumb in the middle, and put your fingers over the top. And this is a very — my daughter never wants me to say this but — a handy model of the brain. And it’s oriented like this.

And we’re going to talk about the connection among three things. We’re going to talk about this brain that’s in your head, that has the face over here, and has a top of the brain, the lower parts of the brain. The part of the brain connected to the whole body comes through the spinal cord, in addition to some other ways.

And so this brain sits in your body — we’re going to talk about the brain and the body. We’re also going to talk about the mind, which is different from the brain. And we’re going to talk about the mind and its connection to the brain and the body.

Then we’re going to talk about the third thing, which is, we’re going to talk about relationships. So those three things we’re going to cover today: talking about relationships, the mind, and the brain.

When you really think about this for a while, you can come up with some fascinating ways where you can understand how, for example, Mr. Rogers’ television show experienced by a young child within a family setting could actually promote something called self-regulation. And so we’re going to have to talk about what is regulation, and we’re going to even have to address the question of what is the self.

So for me, whenever we use a word, we need to make sure we understand what we mean by it, so we have a shared understanding if we’re going to do something about it.

So, how did Mr. Rogers create the experience where kids can learn that feelings are mentionable and they’re manageable? How did he do that?

Well, when you think about how he did it, you come up with this really fundamental way that schools, in fact, can embrace the wisdom that Mr. Rogers had for all of us, and teach not only reading, writing, arithmetic — very important 3 Rs — but another 3 Rs I’m going to suggest to you, which are the core of my talk, which is reflection, first extra R, relationships, the next R, and the third one is resilience.

Because when you build a certain kind of approach to reflection, kids actually develop the capacity to mention their feelings and to then be able to manage them, exactly what Mr. Rogers said we ought to be able to do. And that’s the basis of emotional intelligence actually, and it’s the basis, as you’ll see in a moment, of social intelligence, because when you understand your own feelings and learn to manage them, you actually can understand other people. It’s actually incredible. So, this reflective ability is something schools can teach. That’s the next R.

What about relationships? Well, we’re going to see that this brain we’re going to get into in a moment has the capacity to make relationships work really well, and people actually thrive and feel good about themselves and good about others. So you develop kindness and compassion toward yourself — really an important place to start — and kindness and compassion toward others. So this R of relationships really looks at all the research on well-being and says, you know, “The number one factor whether you’re looking at mental health, physiologic health, medical health, longevity or happiness, the number one factor in all those studies is relationships.

How we have connections, positive connections with other people is the best predictor of all those things. In fact, if you study wisdom, you find that wisdom is based on having these positive relationships. And you probably have heard these amazing studies which show that when you are given, let’s say, 20 dollars, and you’re asked to either spend it on yourself or give it in the service of someone else, gift it to someone else, the circuits in your brain that show you did the right thing, these reward circuits driven by a transmitter called dopamine, they get active when you give to someone else, which goes along with the study that when you give in service of other people, you’re actually happier yourself.

So if you want to be happier, actually think about someone else. That’s the lesson from that. So relationships in schools can teach all of that. So that’s the relationship part.

And now the resilience we’re going to get into when we talk about the brain. But let’s take our hand model out and let’s look at it. Now I’m going to watch my watch because part of how I’m going to manage myself is time. So I think I’ve been going for, I would guess, 5 minutes, but I need my timer to tell me; there’s my timer right there. Beautiful. I guessed it right.

So we’re going to do this hand model of the brain, and I’m going to teach you all how to do this. And this is something that in schools that I work with, we teach kids, starting in kindergarten about this hand model of the brain. And you’re going to see that it can be very useful to do. And when kids get towards adolescence, their brain changes a lot, they really need to know about their brain.

So let’s take the hand model out. And put your thumb in the middle and curl your fingers over the top. So this is orientation of the brain. Let’s do the parts and let’s think about the question as we get into these brain parts. Why, if we’re talking about self-regulation, would we care about the parts of the brain? And what does a relationship have to do with the brain anyway? And if self-regulation is really a mental function, because the self is really a part of your mind, then is the mind just the brain, or is it something else?

So these are the kinds of things we need to really think deeply about. And in the world I work in, it’s called interpersonal neurobiology. We actually deeply dive into these scientific questions by combining all the fields of science that exist into one perspective. So it’s called interpersonal neurobiology. And the brain is a good place to start looking at this, because believe it or not, it’s actually the simplest of all that stuff. So let’s go through it.

First, you have the spinal cord, and this is basically a collection of cells, neurons, that allow energy and information to flow from the body itself, the signals coming up. The spinal cord and also a nerve called the vagus nerve, they all bring stuff from the body up into the skull part of the nervous system. Some people call that the head brain, some people just call it the brain, but actually you have a brain around your heart, and you have a brain around your intestine.

So the word brain when I use it means the whole body and how it processes information through the flow of energy. That’s basically the biological understanding of what we mean by the nervous system. But the head brain is what we’re going to focus on now, because it’s really the most studied of all these brain parts.

So when you get up into the head part of the brain, if you lift up your fingers and lift up your thumb, you arrive at the first part of the nervous system, first in the sense it’s the deepest, first in the sense that when you’re in your mother’s womb, it’s the first to develop in utero, and first also, meaning it’s the first we evolved to have. So it’s over 300 million years old. It’s the old reptilian brain, having collections of neurons called nuclei that are responsible for things like — this is a good example.

Let’s take another pause. Let’s all turn our telephones off and make sure that if they are going to vibrate, you have it near your body, not sitting next to your neighbor. And you turn the sound off, because that’s another thing that happens — technology, if you haven’t noticed, invades whatever context you’re trying to create. And rather than technology running us, we should run technology. It’s really, really important, because these things just take off — I was just walking home from the local school we have, and I saw a mom carrying her year-and-a half- year-old child in her arms, texting for two and a half blocks, and missing the opportunity to connect with her child because she allowed technology to intrude on her relationship.

And you probably know from the studies at the University of Washington by Andy Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl that the technology called “Baby” — it doesn’t matter what it’s called. It was a technology that said, “You can have your child develop faster in their brain and language if you show these videos,” and they showed it was just the opposite, because relationships are what stimulate growth and learning. And if we use technology, that’s fine, but if you replace relationships with technology, this study demonstrated, you get just the opposite of what you want to get.

So we have to actually be present fully, and check out what’s happening in the environment, and not pollute it with technology, or not pollute it with actual chemical pollutants, too.

OK, so now we’re in the brainstem. The brainstem is going to keep us awake and alert, so it has those nuclei that do that. The brainstems are also going to have the fight-flight-freeze reaction. And so when you have a lot of competing things going on, you can have a very agitated, fearful reaction to that, like it’s threatening, or you can have a fight reaction to that, or you can freeze. There’s even a fourth option, which is total collapse. It has its advantages in lots of different ways, and depending on the situation, but that’s what the brainstems are all about — very old impulses that are created.

Now if you put your thumb over the top, this is the part of the brain — we have two thumbs for it to be ideal, but most of us just have one thumb — this is a — I say that because I once gave this lecture and I didn’t give that exception, and someone said, “I went to a gas station, someone had two thumbs.” And so we want to honor that. So most of us have one. It’s left and right side once you get up there. This is the limbic area. It developed 200 million years ago, and it also is the second area to begin developing in utero. And so that goes like this.

So to demonstrate how this works up, Lewis, why don’t you come up? I want to invite a 13-year-old boy, who is going to present to you later on. Lewis, come on, say hi to everybody.

Lewis: Hey.

Daniel Siegel: Come on, step on that little red carpet. Thanks, Lewis. Have I talked to you about the brain before?

Lewis: No.

Daniel Siegel: No. So I’m going to teach you a little bit about the brain, and because I want to show that — Lewis is very bright, but you can teach this to 13-year-olds whose brains are also changing. Let’s do the hand model. Very good. Here’s what happens, Lewis: this limbic area helps you work with the brainstem to create your emotions. It actually works closely with other areas to create various forms of memory. And do you feel close to your mom?

Lewis: Yeah.

Daniel Siegel: Yeah, great. So this is the part that lets you feel connected to her, OK? Now put your fingers over the top like that. Right. Now this is a part that actually is going to grow once you come out of your mom’s belly, out of her womb, right? And this is a part that’s very much shaped by the experiences you have. Yeah. This is called the cortex; it’s the outer part of the brain. So the back here. Turn your head sideways. We’ll use it as a demo. Right there. So this is the back part of the brain like that. And so the back part of your brain in general represents the outside world. There’s all sorts of layers to it and it makes maps to the outside world. Very good. And then — you are one handsome guy! So this front part of the brain here is called your frontal cortex. It allows you to think and reflect. When we’re talking about reflections, this is the part of the brain that actually lets you be able to manage and mention your emotions. Isn’t that cool?

Lewis: That’s really cool.

Daniel Siegel: So the kinds of things that you do in your mental life, like the mind basically is — you know like when you’re playing a game, when you feel excited? That’s sensation you call subjective experience, and that’s a part of what the mind is. Do you notice sometimes you can be aware of some things, and sometimes you’re not aware of things?

Lewis: Yeah.

Daniel Siegel: Yes. So, awareness is also part of what the mind does. But the third thing the mind does is it helps regulate how all this information flow is happening in your awareness, in your subjective experience, and even in how you communicate it to other people. So the reason we’re talking about reflection — reflection, when you look inward, what I call time-in, develops this part of the brain. Now, take a look at these two middle finger nails there. This is part of an area called the prefrontal cortex. Look at me. It’s right behind your forehead, right there. Lift up your finger and put it back down. What do you notice is kind of unique about anatomical position of these two middle finger nails?

Lewis: That’s right under the thumb.

Daniel Siegel: Exactly! So it’s right under the thumb, and this is the part of your brain that actually allows the cortex to go to that thumb area called the limbic area. And notice is it also near your palm? Yes, so it also connects the brainstem to take information from the body, too. So it comes up your spinal cord, up your brain stem, to your limbic area, especially in your right side of the brain, and goes right to that area.

Now here’s the cool thing. Watch me. What did you feel when I was doing that?

Lewis: Sad.

Daniel Siegel: Sad, very good. Excellent.

Lewis: Then happy.

Daniel Siegel: Then happy, because we’re goofing, right?

Lewis: Yeah.

Daniel Siegel: So the sad thing, this part of the brain actually lets you pick up what’s going on inside of my nervous system. Isn’t that amazing?

Lewis: Yes.

Daniel Siegel: So we have a relationship, because I’m going to send energy to you, and this part of the brain, right there, which is right here behind your forehead, it’s going to take in what’s going on in me, it takes in what’s going on in your body, like your heart, your intestines, it takes in what’s going on in your brainstem, your limbic area, and what goes on throughout your whole cortex. And it takes these separate things and it pulls them together.

Now, you know what the word we use for its taking separate stuff and putting together those?

Lewis: No.

Daniel Siegel: Integration. So here’s what this area does: it integrates everything. It integrates your body, your brainstem, your limbic area, your cortex, and even your relationships with other people.

So when you reflect on things, and you have relationships where, like, two people honor each other, and then care about each other with connections and communication, we call that an integrated relationship. Here’s the amazing take home message for you and for everybody: When you have reflection, and you have relationships that are caring and connecting, you actually stimulate the growth of the integrative fibers in the brain, and these are the fibers that allow you to have resilience. So the key to this whole thing is — I know you have been experiencing video games, right?

Lewis: Oh, yeah.

Daniel Siegel: And you’ve learned — you watch this. This part of the brain allows you to be regulating your impulses. Does that sound familiar, controlling your impulses? It allows you to do that. It allows you to actually be aware of your feelings. It allows you to be aware of other people’s feelings, and understand them. It allows you actually to be moral, think about what’s good for everyone, including the planet. It allows you to actually have intuition. It allows you to know where you’ve been in the past, where you are right now, where you go in the future, and it allows you to tune in on other people. That you get by reflecting on the inner world, being able to mention and manage your feelings. It allows you to develop it when you have the relationships that are supportive, like with teachers and with parents. And it allows you to develop all this so you’re resilient.

So here’s what I say about schools. There’s a policy that they say, “No child left behind”. I say we should have a policy where we have reflection, relationships, and resilience, so it’s no prefrontal cortex left behind. How does that sound?

Lewis: That sounds better than “No child left behind”.

Daniel Siegel: There you go, good. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. You are so cool.

Lewis: You too, man. Thank you.

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