As I did back in April, once I reach a critical mass I will post the most salient points from books I’ve found highly engaging. This month’s additions to the reading list are focused on three of my most favorite of topics: stress, neuroplasticity, and the mind.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky

This book is now in its third edition and despite my being relatively late to the party, it is an immense resource on the effects of stress. The body has a surprisingly predictable set of responses to stressors, irrespective of the modality, that affect the way we think, interact, and move in the environment (though not much is addressed on the neuromuscular component of the stress response unfortunately). 

Our human condition is such that the stress-response is chronically mobilized not only by physical or psychological stressors, but also in our anticipation of them. This is of significant importance in working with clients as we are often the source of such stressors when using techniques, language, or movements that are threatening thus amplifying what we should be trying to reduce. Sapolsky’s writings were a major source of influence in my last post. Realizing that the stress response is a catalyst to alterations in the super-system ultimately causing dysfunction, if chronic, is so powerful that the importance of this book cannot be understated, bro.

Probably the best known mainstream book on neuroplasticity, Doidge writes about some of the pioneers of plasticity and their clients’  success stories. Neuroplasticity is an immune-mediated property inherent to all humans. Salient stimuli that grab our attention are particularly powerful in changing neural patterns  – something that most clinicians fail to incorporate in their treatment/training paradigms. 

Every input to the nervous system alters it in some way, perhaps transiently at first but over time repeated stimuli change the way our brain perceives the body and the environment. Without concentration and attention, learning is slow and flimsy – if it occurs at all. In order to change biobehavioral patterns we have to get our clients to pay attention. This book is full of amazing stories (and references – I geeked out following the articles referenced in each chapter) and it’s principles crucial for driving the profession as it appears many clinicians don’t know (or have forgotten) even the basics of neuroplasticity. 

I’ll keep this one short: this is a neuroscientist’s explanation of how we perceive the world around us and how the illusion of self drives much of our suffering and preoccupation with the past or future – preventing us from engaging in the present moment. Harris teaches a mindful, contemplative approach from a scientific viewpoint which eliminates much of the vagaries associated with the religious aspects of meditation. 

Back next week with some new stuff.

– Seth

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