After the movie “Lucy” came out, many more people are asking the question, how much of our brains DO we really use? Is it a myth that we only use 10%? And the answer is YES! It is a total myth.
Many neuroscientists have been interviewed recently about this issue and as Dr. Barry Gordon, a US behavioral neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist, told Scientific American, we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.’
The brain uses a disproportionate amount of calories based on it’s body weight — it’s only 3% of your total body’s weight but it uses up 20% of your body’s total energy and calories because it is so metabolically active all of the time, even during sleep! In fact, when you are asleep, different parts of the brain become active and your brain produces more slow waves then when you are awake but the brain definitely doesn’t shut down every night when your head hits the pillow!
The transition from being awake to asleep, the sleep-promoting areas of the brain are most active, like the part of the hypothalamus called the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus (VLPO) and these sleep areas get active and inhibit activity in areas of the brain responsible for promoting wakefulness, like the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) or SCN, resulting in you being in the sleep state. Sometimes people also think that we humans use more of our brains then other mammals and animals, and that is what makes us so much smarter, which is also not true. What determines intelligence are things like the size of the prefrontal cortex, the number of cortical neurons and conduction velocity i.e. how fast the brain cells can talk to each other and process information.
Where Did the 10% Myth Begin?
The 10% statement may have been started with a misquote of Albert Einstein, according to some sources or Dr. Karl Lashley’s work in the 1920s and 1930s, when he was doing research in rats and removed large areas of the cerebral cortex or grey matter in rats and found that these animals could still relearn specific tasks even without fully intact brains. We know that it is true that if you lose a part of the brain to stroke or brain injury, especially if it happens before adulthood, that the brain has an incredible ability to adapt thanks to neuroplasticty, where undamaged areas of the brain can take over certain tasks the damaged brain parts usually performed and this is why it is possible to recover speech after a stroke that affects speech centres even in an aging brain in older adults.
The myth has also been perpetuated through advertising and pop culture, because many companies over the past 50 years have used the ‘you only use 10% of your brain’ myth in ad campaigns, like one airline that supposedly had an ad campaign that said “It’s been said that we use a mere 10% of our brain capacity. If, however, you’re flying with us, you’re using considerably more.”
So we do use all of the brain at certain times, depending on what we are doing. There ARE however, different neural networks that are active at certain times. When we are daydreaming, not really engaged in directed activity and just ‘doing nothing’ the brain network called the default mode network is active. The key difference in how this network talks to each other can lead to better coping with stress and being able to ‘quiet the mind’ vs. not being able to shut off thoughts and trouble meditating, if the anterior and posterior parts of this network and not talking to each other, for example.
Just because we use most of our brain, doesn’t mean you can’t IMProve your brain CAPaCTY. We do this all the time when we learn something new and when we train our brains to do something new.
Calming the limbic system and decreasing the fight or flight response so our brains are primed for learning also helps to increase your brainpower because we can’t learn if our brains are in fight or flight overdrive and the brain thinks we are running away from a tiger constantly!
That is often the state of mind that many of us exist in much of the time in hectic fast paced modern life. And this is what yoga and meditation does for your brain, it helps you break that brain stress cycle so you can improve your brainpower! When you meditate and do yoga to calm the brain and improve focus and conctartion, you are actually chaining your neural networks, decreasing the activity of brain areas related to mindless mental chatter like the PCC and increasing activity of brain areas like the anterior cingulate gyrus. You are actually creating new connections between multiple brain cells at once so we are actually improving how our brain cells talk to each other—we are in effect getting rid of static over the telephone switchboard in our brains!
So I hope that gives you some cool facts to impress a friend about busting the 10% brain usage myth and now you know how your brain actually works And how to make it work even better!
And if you don’t meditate or do yoga already, I recommend starting with a simple 15 minute practice at home each day. If you want some help getting started, check out my…( yoga for beginners video and my yoga nidra meditation practice, both two great ways to get started if you are a beginner and don’t know where to start!) OR my MBM crash course with beginner yoga videos, meditations and guided recordings to help you out.