The Science Behind Stress: Part 2 – Neuroplasticity


I had to split my blog into two parts to approach stress scientifically. The first part is about the neurological processes we all experience under stress as humans. In part 2, I try to offer solutions that have a beneficial effect on stress reduction.
I want to thank Jef Crab, my Tai Chi teacher and founder of the E.A.S.T. Institute, for all the wisdom he shared and the patience he must have to teach me the inner movements of the Tai Chi.
I would also like to refer to the excellent book from Elizabeth A. Stanley called “Widen the Window”.
Both made it possible to write these last two blogs.


I ended my last blog with the following words:
In other words, dysregulation can affect all aspects of our mind-body system – and thus manifest as a range of cognitive, emotional, physiological, spiritual, and behavioural symptoms.
So, it is time to see what solutions we can offer you.
Especially before offering the possible solutions, I would like to discuss three more neurobiological processes.

1. Neuroplasticity

This process describes our brain's ability to change both structure and function. These changes result from repeated experiences/activities and happen regardless of age. So, our brains don't just change at a young age. We can benefit and make use of it during our whole life. This is the good news.


The bad news is that repeated activities also strengthen the structure. Your brain will strengthen certain cell connections and repress other connections. This means that you will always have the same reaction in the same situation. You are creating a Grand Canyon in your brain. The deeper the canyon, the more energy is needed to elicit a different response.

2. Epigenetics

This process describes the possibility that even your DNA is modified by environmental input and habits. In other words, you can pass on your stress and anxiety to your children. A study with rats indicated that this transmission could go up to 3 generations.
In other words, we need to handle stress and anxiety carefully.
What remains essential is that every repeatable experience matters.

Check the video from Veritasium


3. Interoceptive awareness

Our survival brains can only communicate via Emotions and physical sensations.
Please reread the last sentence.

Yes, we cannot use our thinking brain to measure or manage our stress and anxiety.
To read and understand our thinking brain, we need to increase our Interoceptive awareness. This awareness will recognize bodily sensations, emotional states, physiological processes (including allostasis).
The region responsible for interoceptive awareness is the Insular Cortex and Anterior Insular Cortex.


The good news is that Interoceptive awareness is available even when the thinking brain is degraded during stress.
And guess what: Tai Chi, Mindfulness and Yoga improve interoceptive awareness by building up our capacity to pay attention to our 5 internal sensors:

1. Pressure
2. Temperature
3. Pain
4. Phase of the muscles
5. Position of the joints

However, this is not enough.

Why is Mindfulness not enough?

If your Window is too narrow or way above your threshold, you will only enforce the dysregulation and make things worse.
In this case, you need to decrease the allostasis load below the threshold first.


You need to pair Mindfulness with other skills for nervous system regulations, by training two general skills *:
1. Attentional control is the ability to direct and sustain attention deliberately on a chosen target over time. Attention control leads to improved concentration, more capacity to inhibit distractions, and more capacity to remember and update the relevant information.
2. Tolerance for challenging experience is the ability to pay attention to, track, and stay present with such experience without needing it to be different. Such challenging experiences can be external (harsh environmental conditions or difficult people) or internal (e.g. physical pain, stress activation, intents emotions).

(*) from 'Widen the Window' - Elizabeth A. Stanley)


Of course, it will not be a surprise that we teach Tai Chi and emphasize the other skills in our training platform. For this, I use the techniques of the E.A.S.T. Institute (especially the eNRBI© exercises) and meditation.

Each class always consists of at least four parts

  1. Introduction, where I stimulate the 5 internal sensors
  2. The relaxation exercises of the Tai Chi in combination with eNRBI ©.
  3. The 37 Yang form Tai Chi
  4. Meditation

Please pay us a (free) visit and find out yourself.


2 thoughts on “The Science Behind Stress: Part 2 – Neuroplasticity”

  1. Pingback: Chronic Stress: Inoculate Yourself | Tai Chi School

  2. Pingback: We can’t successfully decide with only our heads

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