Spring into new growth

Waxing Lyrical column by J. Kathleen Thompson, April 6 Grand Forks Gazette.

Do you know anyone who is maladaptive to spring?  Who shudders at the thought of more warmth, sunlight, birdsong and new bursts of colour in their garden?  Who rankles at the increased activity in their neighbourhood? Who are completely oblivious to the seismic shift that happens to our outlooks and our energy when those first warm shafts of sun begin to loosen the clasp of winter? If so, doubtful they can remain that curmudgeonly for the entire season!

Spring, to me, has always been synonymous with transition and change. A good time not only to reorder the closets and garage, but reassess one’s priorities and invite new challenges into one’s life. To launch into a daring house reno, a walk across Spain, to take up tennis, to get serious about learning that instrument or language you’ve always wanted to learn. Each require a bit of courage, belief and a lot of dedication and determination, but the outcomes— the new kitchen, proficiency or skill—fulsomely reward our grit and efforts. And new findings in brain research confirm that success is more widely available to all of us at any age than we originally thought.

For centuries the brain was thought to be a fairly fixed and unregenerative organ, but in the late 20th century, studies began demonstrating that many aspects of the brain remain changeable or “plastic” throughout our lives. This potential for the brain to reorganize itself as it needs became known as neuroplasticity. Psychiatrist and pyschoanalyst Richard Doidge found ample proof for this theory and published his findings in The Brain that Changes Itself. Through a variety of cognitive and muscular exercises, heat, light and sound therapies and visualization techniques, Doidge and fellow researchers   have helped numerous patients overcome disorders by stimulating unused circuits of the brain, thereby building new neural networks.

Researchers at St. Mary’s College in California has come to similar conclusions about adult learners: “As adults we have well-trodden pathways in our synapses—we have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up so that new synapses grow. Stretching the brain best keeps it in tune—you need to push yourself, to get out of your comfort zone to truly nourish the brain.” Continuing studies found that long-lasting change in the setting up of new neural connections take at least ten months of daily repeated practise.

So if brain cells and connections can grow and learning can improve throughout our life span provided we are dedicated to it, what is preventing us from trying? My own experience into language learning is yet another testimonial for the plasticity of our brain. Not wanting to be one of those insensitive travellers who presume that the whole world will understand you if you speak in English, I have attempted to become at least politely conversant in languages of many countries I have visited. Given that Spanish is a beautiful language, spoken by 400 million people around the globe, and that most of these speakers live in warm and sunny countries as close as a five-hour flight from us, it has been the language I have focused on the most. And while my attempts to learn it had sputtered along for years, it was not until I was in my ‘senior years’ that I began to gain confidence in conversation.

So, hats off to all you multilinguists and adult learners out there! And once you’ve gained this “mental capital,” don’t be surprised if the new neural pathways charged stir up recollections of faces, names, recipes, lyrics and facts that have eluded you for so long. And that you’ll be taking up Greek next!

You can follow more of Joan’s posts at her blog-site:



Just Posted

Young Grand Forks angler wins top B.C. fishing award

Nine-year-old Noah Dalla Lana was honoured at this year’s BC Wildlife Federation Gala

Kaslo bus fueled by vegetable oil to begin service next month

Mountain Man Mike’s will run routes to Vancouver and eventually Edmonton

Grand Forks woman lays wreath at grave of local soldier buried in England

Cpl. Alfred Gyde Heaven lied about his age to enlist in the Canadian army in 1916

The quirks and perks of living in England

From Grand Forks to Great Britain: Kalyeena Makortoff on becoming a U.K. permanent resident.

One year later, I know we’ll be okay

‘Collectively, we can’t afford to be complacent, nor can we afford for our leaders to be.’

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Victoria Day

How much do you know about the monarch whose day we celebrate each May?

Top women’s hockey player Natalie Spooner coming to B.C.

Natalie Spooner special guest at annual Grindstone charity weekend in Kelowna

Take-home drug testing kits latest pilot to help curb B.C.’s overdose crisis

Researchers look to see if fentanyl testing could be a useful tool for those who use drugs alone

Facebook takes down anti-vaxxer page that used image of late Canadian girl

Facebook said that the social media company has disabled the anti-vaccination page

Search crews rescue kids, 6 and 7, stranded overnight on Coquitlam mountain

Father and two youngsters fall down a steep, treacherous cliff while hiking Burke Mountain

Raptors beat Bucks 118-112 in 2OT thriller

Leonard has 36 points as Toronto cuts Milwaukee’s series lead to 2-1

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Rescue crews suspend search for Okanagan kayaker missing for three days

71-year-old Zygmunt Janiewicz was reported missing Friday

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Most Read