The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

The buzz behind mindfulness meditation has no doubt grown in recent years. Countless websites, audio tracks, books, YouTube clips and apps are dedicated to mindfulness meditation techniques and practices. Despite its popularity today, mindfulness meditation has roots in Buddhist traditions around 2,500 years old. However, the benefits shown through regular practice make it no longer necessarily a spiritual practice. More recently, brain imaging and a wide range of scientific evidence have brought new insight into the extraordinary effects regular mindfulness meditation practice has on the brain. But what exactly is mindfulness meditation and is the hype all its cracked up to be?

 

“Mindfulness is a meditation technique and a way of being which involves training oneself to pay full attention to each moment and one’s experience of that moment.”

It can be described as open attentiveness and involves a willingness to receive whatever we experience whether this is viewed as positive or negative. Mindfulness is a quality or state of mind that is natural but needs to be cultivated through practice. Mindfulness meditation focuses on breathing, thoughts, emotions and physical sensation by acknowledging thoughts as they come and go without judgement or actively trying to change them. Buddhists describe the “monkey mind” as fleeting from emotion to emotion to avoid discomfort. Rather than our natural instinct to react to our internal experiences, mindfulness meditation involves sitting with them, accepting them, acknowledging them and disconnecting from them to eventually gain control over them[1].

 

“Mindfulness is a quality or state of mind that is natural

but needs to be cultivated through practice”

  

For approximately 10 years, mindfulness has been used as an effective therapy technique for the treatment of anxiety and depression. In addition, research in recent years have provided compelling evidence that regular practice of mindfulness meditation has a range of physical and emotional health benefits such as reducing stress levels, increased self-reports of quality of life, increasing resilience, improving pain symptoms, and improved concentration.

Mindfulness practice can also re-wire our brains. Research on mindfulness at the University of Pittsburgh found regular mindfulness practice changes the way that different areas of the brain behave and communicate with each other. After an 8 week course of mindfulness practice, brain imaging technology found that they amygdala, the core area of the brain activated with stress, fear and emotion appeared to shrink and become less connected to other areas of the brain, whilst the pre-frontal cortex, which is the area responsible for awareness, concentration and higher order thinking became thicker with stronger connections to other areas of the brain that aid the regulation of stress responses[2].

The Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, Professor Mark Williams found similar results in clinical trials conducted over the past 8 years with almost 600 patients. By studying brain patterns in depressed patients they found that mindfulness reduces the risk of depression by up to half. Negative thought patterns common with depressed patients showed an overactivity in the brain area associated with the stress “fight or flight” response, however mindfulness was shown to dampen this area[3]

Mounting research and a strong incorporation of mindfulness meditation into psychotherapy has brought an ancient spiritual practice into the modern day. The ease with which you can access and incorporate a mindfulness meditation into your everyday routine makes it an accessible and beneficial tool for all.

If you would like to try some basic mindfulness practice, some free apps and resources are listed below –

 

[1] MacDonald, C. (2014). The Science of Mindfulness. U of T Magazine.

[2] Ireland, T. (2014). What does Mindfulness Meditation do to your Brain? Scientific American.

[3] Williams, M. (2011). The Science of Mindfulness. Oxford Mindfulness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GVwnxkWmSM