Well-being, the use of technology and its interpretation on our body and mind

In this article I will analyse the information provided by Nazareth Castellanos, neuroscientist, researcher, lecturer and trainer in neuroscience. The importance of learning to take care of ourselves from a neuroscientific point of view is paramount in these times. It will be a question of becoming aware of our posture and thus transmitting a positive emotional state to our brain, that posture of our body and the perception of the brain, that which we inform through our postures, expressing constantly and daily, depending on the place where we are, raising awareness of that which we transmit and which is in us, unconsciously. Focusing our attention on the present, on everything we do, breathing consciously, will give us a physical sensation of well-being, of calm, which will be interpreted by our brain, generating pleasant emotions.

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Reading time: 13 min

To understand our brain, in part, is to enhance our well-being, to realise how we can use our body as part of our preventive medicine, a very revolutionary method.

According to Antonio Damásio, a renowned neuroscientist and medical neurologist of Portuguese origin, there is a phrase that sums up this theory from the beginning: “The body already knows what the brain has not yet realised”.

When we pay attention to all those stimuli that reach us through our senses, such as our vision, all that information goes through various parts of our brain, until finally all that journey reaches the cerebral cortex where it becomes conscious, that is why it is said that my body has found out before what I perceive, since our mind is part of our conscious side in ourselves.

From the beginning we know that our senses are five, smell, hearing, taste, vision and touch. Through neuroscience, we know that we have two more senses, in order of importance, the first one is interoception, which gives us an idea of how our vital organs are, it is that information that reaches our brain with data of how our organs are. The second sense that we have added, in importance, is proprioception, this is the information that reaches the brain about how my body is, here we refer to posture. We clarify that, our five sensory senses help us to interpret what we see, feel, for example, if we touch a hand, in touch, or what we hear, taste and smell, will help these two senses to complete the information that our brain receives. This information is received by the receptors we have in our body, and through the medulla, they reach the brain.

The important thing is that we understand that in our brain our whole body is represented as a map and that, for example, if a finger is touched, this information is transmitted through the medulla and reaches a region of the brain, which is specific to that finger. So there is a representation of the body in the brain that is represented in an area called somatosensory, this area arises from the front part of the ears, which covers the whole head, as if it were a headband that holds the hair, it is thin and surrounding until it reaches the other side of the hemisphere, that is to say it covers the right and left sides. This is where our body is represented, it is very thin and if we go deeper in the brain, we will find the insula, which is the area that interprets “who I am”, and is subject to the idea of identity.

Our brain interprets these details, in that part of the cerebral cortex called the insula, and where the information of who I am is fused, through my body posture, identified in this mental structure. In other words, in order for my brain to know who I am, it needs to have a picture of how my body is at the moment.

But if we look at this representation in the somatosensory cortex, the brain has this representation of our body. Since 1952, it has been seen that the body is not represented in proportion to the size of the body area it represents, i.e. there are parts of the body that the brain gives much more importance, for example the back, no matter how big it is, does not have more neurons dedicated to identify it.

The most important is the hand, especially the big toe, this lever movement exercised by the hand with so many forms of use in its motricity, which has been the cause of the evolution of the prefrontal cortex in primitive man, therefore, the usefulness of the hand and its forms has been related to its cerebral interpretation.

On the other hand, also of great importance in the brain map is the face, our face, i.e. the number of neurons that are processed to want to know what I feel in my hand and face is eighty percent of the total neurons that are dedicated to the body, the rest of the body is important but less important for this somatosensory area.

From here in the 1950s a representation was born which is a little man with big hands and a huge face compared to his other body parts, which was called: Penfield’s Homunculus, which highlights the most important areas in the sensory aspect and another one in the motor area. The brain perceives in more detail that to which it attaches more importance.

The hands, the mouth and its contours as well as the contours of the eyes are the most important for this representation in the brain, and this is the same for everyone, whether Japanese or Spanish. The difference in the cultures lies in the fact that an Italian, for example, has more developed hand motor skills and this will give more accurate information about this culture in the brain, but in general it is the hands and faces that are the most important in the brain representation.

From this comes the neuroscientific interpretation of why smiling is so important for our brain, the power of being aware of how our face is, in order to be able to influence our mood. For example, if my face is frowning, my brain is going to evoke the emotions that characterise that emotional state detailing being angry.

The University of Los Angeles is studying how it affects the gesture we usually have, when we spend all day looking at the notebook, or when we spend a lot of time looking at the mobile phone, because we spend more and more time interacting with this technology in our hands. It is true that most of the time we have to furrow our brows, or tense the nerves of our eye muscles, to read a message on the mobile screen and fix our gaze there. It also forces us to look down and if we look, we are using our big toe in a repetitive and unnatural way, that is to say, this posture that we acquire when we are with the mobile phone, affects the representation of our body in the brain, so look how important it is.

Scientific studies in 1948 began to study the representation of the body in our brain and it was discovered that the brain knows more about how the body is, but depending on how it is, it knows how it has to act. The information of how my body is is not passive, it is a binding relationship, as this information received is considered to know what it has to face.

In current studies from 2022, it is verified and affirmed that, with the neuroscientific advance: “everything that is represented in the somatosensory cortex is what our brain accounts for”, how the body is and how I am moving it will give information to our brain. This somatosensory area, is very well in charge of what it perceives, breaking down everything we perceive into different attributes such as colour, smell, sound, textures, movement, to then merge all that we see and feel, around us, integrating it as part of how my body is, with these attributes.

To understand more about this concept I will quote William James, one of the founders of Psychobiology, who argues his theory saying: “Emotion is the awareness of bodily changes triggered by stimuli, if bodily changes are not felt, there will only be an intellectual thought, devoid of emotional warmth” and “To refuse to express an emotion is to die”.

This is why William James, an American philosopher and psychologist with a long and brilliant career at Harvard University, affirms his theory with the following sentence: “I do not cry because I am sad, I am sad because I cry”.

When the brain computes an experience in addition to the analytical one, i.e. the data it processes in intellectual thought, for example: I won a promotion in my job, the brain completes the experience by adding also the data of the emotions that are perceived in the body, for example, joy and happiness, which is translated with what happens to us in the body, as the other important part, which adds relevant information, to complete that emotional experience, and is reflected in our body, when we receive that news.

Learning to recognise in our body, the sensations, and the response to each emotion, knowing how it is, with what emotion, allows us to make better decisions. To identify how my body is is to know how we are.

According to Antonio Damásio, it doesn’t tell us where to go, but where we are and how we are, in order to know where we have to go, so we should develop our body awareness, that is, if I am sad, identify where I feel that sadness, like any other emotion that is reflected in our body, they are like somatic markers and we don’t realise it; sometimes we don’t even notice it.

The moment we become aware of doing a body scan and going through the sensations from head to toe, we will become more aware of how we feel those emotions in it, and it will give us as a result, to know the body state at every moment, and it will give us a greater help, to know how we feel before we make a decision.

We cannot understand our feelings, opinions and actions with the intellect alone, we must also look at our body and environment.

Body position influences memory, as the importance of posture in cognition and emotion. We can remember more numbers of negative words if we are in a bent or stooped position, looking downwards; on the other hand, if we are upright we will remember more positive words in our brain.

This is evidenced in an experiment that was done in 2014 telling a young woman to sit looking at a computer that was on the floor, there she was given a list of words, with that stooped posture, similar to a sad person using the same body shape, it was shown that fewer words were remembered when closing the computer, all the words remembered in general were of a negative character. In another evaluation, the same girl was placed in a chair sitting upright with the computer at eye level, and the words that were remembered in that list were many more than in the previous one, and they were mostly positive words; this is due to the fact that posture affects cognition and memory capacity is lost. It happens to all of us repeatedly, when we are working in front of the switchboard and we are slouching forward or we also spend hours in front of the mobile phone, with our head bent downwards, and pointing at the screen, without realising that we are fixing our eyes or frowning in order to read those tiny words, Therefore, the brain interprets the body with a low state of mind and this emotional state of anxiety and tiredness has repercussions on our cognition, altering our attention, creativity and memory energies, which is very significant in the development of learning.

It has also been shown that the body position influences the endocrine system, in a position of superiority, for example, with arms crossed behind the head, holding it at the nape of the neck, increases the production of testosterone and cortisol, decreasing this production when the person is in a body position of submission, shyness or inferiority, for example, with arms crossed in a talk.

Then we realise that we can use our body to our advantage as another tool, that is what we have for our mental health, and thus, pacifying our face or correcting our posture. On the contrary, if we are already upset, we can avoid some postures that aggravate or help cortisol to rise, and generate altered emotional states, increasing, for example, anger or rage, with higher levels than we already have at that moment.

Using our body as a control strategy to enhance calm or well-being. Therefore it can be said that it is easier to reach the interpretation of our brain from the body than from our own thoughts. Changing the posture and learning to breathe has much more impact than shaping the thoughts, which are of course useful, but this requires a constant and conscious introspective look at the person who uses this resource, examining their own thoughts.

This is why we must know how to contemplate and observe ourselves, so that we can then develop the correction of the posture, without analysing ourselves, because to analyse ourselves would already be to have a judgement as to why one thing or another is happening to us.

We will always talk about observing ourselves in an equanimous way without judgement, and we will discover some things that are always pleasant to us.

The state of mind most of the time tends to wander, that is to say, to wander, it wanders from one subject to another. That is why it is said that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, causing in our days a constant feeling of discomfort or dissatisfaction, just as our body, in a state of bodily unconsciousness, will go looking for positions or gestures that we have to correct later or that move away from its upright position.

In order to still this wandering of our mind we can anchor ourselves as a single key, in our breathing, that tool that allows us voluntary control of attention, observation of the sensations that breathing produces in us. This process that we can access with breathing is by observing how we breathe, as it has been discovered that through a brain structure called the pre-bötzinger complex, which tells our brain how we are breathing, so that if we breathe in one way or another, we access a different structure in our brain. This influences memory, attention and the processing of emotions. Breathing deeply and slowly has an analgesic effect on our brain.

Therefore, developing awareness of our body posture does not mean constantly observing our posture, but our body will already warn us that we are slouching or hunching, and the importance of observing our breathing, gives us the idea of modifying an emotion, improving attention and our memory.

Finally we will be training control, having a conscious, voluntary and free idea of where our attention is going.

According to Williams James, he tells us, attention is the control of the mind, what we pay attention to, represents our reality. By having more control of where our attention goes, and with the help of the breath, we will realise to put energy into what we focus on with our mind, thus inhabiting our body and mind. From this look, a phrase of Williams James, which says: “To inhabit is to learn to take care”.

To the extent that we observe the body, its posture, we will give that information to the brain, and from there emotions will be triggered according to how we are bodily, as well as feeding cognitive attention and our memory.

Our well-being depends on knowing how to inhabit our body and mind.


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