Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the external and internal experiences happening in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.
It gives you a space in the present moment to be able to more safely deal with the painful and distressing memories of things that might have happened to you in the past.
Buddhists and psychological conceptualizations of mindfulness both highlight attention and awareness training as essential components, in which levels of mindfulness can be cultivated with the practice of mindfulness meditation.
The physical act of meditation generally consists of simply sitting quietly, focusing on one’s breath, a word or phrase. Anyhow, a practitioner may also be standing or walking.
The science behind meditation and why it makes you feel better:
The process of meditation, as well as its effects, is a growing sub-field of neurological research.
Modern scientific instruments and techniques, such as EEG (electroencephalogram) and MRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), have been used to study how daily meditation affects individuals by measuring brain and bodily changes.
Here are a few studies:
A 2009 study with the descriptive title, “Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem.” neuroscientists used magnetic resonance images to compare the brains of non-meditators and meditators.
The structural differences observed led the scientists to speculate that certain benefits, like improved emotional, cognitive, and immune responses, can be tied to this growth and its positive effects on heart rate and breathing.
In 2010, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baltimore, looked at participants who practiced focused-attention meditation for about 5 hours daily over the course of 3 months.
After conducting concentration tests, the meditators were shown to have an easier time sustaining voluntary attention. Focused attention is very much like a muscle, one that needs to be strengthened through exercise.
A 2012 study at the UCLA Department of Neurology concluded that people who meditate exhibit higher levels of gyrification (the process by which the brain undergoes changes in surface morphology). Though the research did not prove this directly, scientists suspect that gyrification is responsible for making the brain better at processing information, forming memories, making decisions, and improving attention.
A study from 2013 showed that meditators have a different expression of brain metabolites than healthy non-meditators, particularly those metabolites linked to depression and anxiety.
And finally, a 2014 study established a significant cortical thickness increase in individuals who underwent a brief of 8 weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training program and that this increase was coupled with a significant reduction of several psychological indices related to anxiety, worry, and depression.
Health Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation
This type of meditation yields a surprising number of health benefits, including better memory, increased creativity, improved attention, and even stress reduction.
According to a 2015 meta-analysis of systematic reviews of RCTs, evidence supports the use of MBSR programs to alleviate symptoms of a variety of physical and mental disorders, in the adjunct treatment of cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic pain, depression, anxiety disorders and in prevention in healthy children and adults.
Practicing Mindfulness Relieves Chronic Stress
According to the American Psychological Association, the six leading causes of death in the United States are all associated with stress – cancer, heart disease, lung ailments, cirrhosis of the liver, accidents, and suicide, and research has implicated chronic stress as a major contributor to various diseases and health issues such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Suppressed immune system
- Sleep disorders
A 6-week mindfulness-based intervention was found to correlate with a compelling gray matter increase within the precuneus.
Interestingly a positive relationship has been found between the volume of gray matter in the right precuneus (the superior parietal lobule forward of the occipital lobe) and the meditator’s subjective happiness score.
One of the more interesting things we know about meditation is that it makes you need less sleep.
The 2010 study at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA, was conducted on people who just started meditating, not on those who have practiced for years.
Nevertheless, what the study found is that 40 minutes of daily meditation can be a better means of resting than 40 minutes of sleep.
Meditation In Five Steps
Find a place where you can sit adequately, without interruptions, for at least 10 minutes. Although complete silence isn’t necessary or even desirable, for this meditation, the room should be free of obtrusive noises such as television, music, constantly ringing phones and nearby conversations.
On the other hand, background noises like the bark of a dog, the sound of traffic, or a ticking clock should not be considered obstacles, and in fact, can be legitimate objects of mindfulness.
Sit down, relax and rest your hands on your lap. You can sit on the floor cross-legged with the support of a meditation cushion, or on any chair with your feet resting on the ground. It is not necessary to force yourself into a lotus position if you are not used to it.
Close your eyes softly. Take some deep breaths. Bring your awareness to your breath, noticing the inhalations and exhalations of each breath.
Let go of your thoughts for a minute. Let go of things you have to do later today or imminent projects that need your attention. Simply let yourself be still for one minute. When you notice emotions or thoughts coming up that you do not wish to engage, release them and choose not to put your focus on them.
Purposefully watch your breath, focusing your senses on its pathway as it enters your body and fills you with life, and then watch it work its way up and out of your mouth as its energy dissipates into the world. Any time you experience unpleasant emotions or thoughts, return your focus to your breathing.
Don’t fight the thoughts or emotions. Simply acknowledge them and let them pass, like clouds floating by in a summer sky.
Through the regular daily practice of mindfulness meditation, we can completely transform our relationship to stressors while at the same time tremendously reducing the side effects of chronic stress.
Remember, it’s necessary to follow the proper technique in order to get the most from your daily practice. As you gain some experience, slowly increase the duration of your meditation sessions. For best results, we recommend 45 minutes to an hour.