The Brain’s Way of Healing: A book review by Bob Morris

Brain's WayThe Brain’s Way of Healing: Stories of Remarkable Recoveries and Discoveries
Norman Doidge, M.D.
Viking Press (2015)

How to strengthen our neuroplastic abilities so that our mind “can direct its own unique restorative process of growth.”

I am not a neuroscientist or even a scientist so I need to rely on an appropriate dictionary when reading a book such as this. Here is what I learned about neuroplasticity. Briefly, it is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment. Brain reorganization takes place by mechanisms such as “axonal sprouting” in which undamaged axons grow new nerve endings to reconnect neurons whose links were injured or severed. Undamaged axons can also sprout nerve endings and connect with other undamaged nerve cells, forming new neural pathways to accomplish a needed function.

According to Norman Doige, the body and mind can become partners in the healing of the injured brain. And because these approaches are so noninvasive, side effects are exceedingly rare. “Neuroplastic approaches require the active involvement of the whole patient in [a high tech physician’s] own care: mind, brain, and body…In this approach, the health professional not only focuses on the patient’s deficits, important as they may be, but also searches for healthy brain areas that may be dormant, and of existing capacities that may aid recovery.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Doidge’s coverage:

o A Lesson in Pain — The Kill Switch (Pages 3-6)
o A Neuroplastic Competition (11-16)
o The MIRROR Acronym: Motivation, Intention, Relentlessness, Reliability, Opportunity, and Restoration (18-21)
o “How Exercise Helps to Fend Off Degenerative Disorders and Can Deter Dementia (33-36)
o Exercise and Neurogenerative Disease (41-43)
o The Science Behind the Conscious Technique (59-61)
o The Controversy (65-69)
o The Science Behind the Walking (78-85)
o Deferring Dementia (95-100)
o The Stages of Healing (108-113)
o Light Enters Our Bodies [and Our Brains] Without Our Knowledge (116-121)
o How Lasers Heal Tissue (139-143)
o Using Lasers for Other Brain Problems (153-157)
o Origins of the Feldenkrais Method, and, Core Principles of New Methods (162-178)
o Putting It All Together (208-214)
o Why the Tongue Is the Royal Road to the Brain (231-233)
o The Early History of the Device That Resets the Brain (237-240)
o Three Resets Parkinson’s, Stroke, and Multiple Sclerosis (244-249)
o Four Types of Plastic Change, and, New Frontiers (272-279)
o Autism, Attention Deficits, and Sensory Processing Disorder (317-337)
o The Disorder That Isn’t: Sensory Processing Disorder (340-343)

I appreciate the fact that, for non-scientists such as I, Doidge does not dumb down the presentation of recent research on neuroscience and sharing what it suggests about what the potential benefits and significant consequences of neuroplasticity. Consider, for example, the “explosion” of understanding about the subcortical brain. Obviously, there is so much more yet to be learned about what he characterizes as “the invisible art,” one that somehow reaches places in the mind and heart that nothing else can touch.

Norman Doidge suggests that, regardless of the culture we are born into, “we all begin life in darkness, and we do our most substantial growth within it. Our first contact with existence is enclosed within the vibrations of our mother’s heartbeat, the tide of her breathing, and the music of her voice, its melody and rhythm, even without our knowing the meaning of her words. Such longing as this engenders remains with us forever.

This is by no means an ”easy read.” However, I think it will generously reward those who read and then re-read it (as I did with appropriate care and, yes, patience) when proceeding through the narrative and sharing the experiences of real people who have “transformed their brains, rediscovered lost parts of themselves, or discovered capacities within that they never knew they had.”

So can those of us who read this book, nourishing and strengthening our neuroplastic abilities so that our mind “can direct its own unique restorative process of growth.” That is indeed a “marvel.”

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