Adopted as the latest craze, mindfulness is more than just a passing fad. This meditation technique stretches back thousands of years in Eastern cultures. While it was once a technique used primarily by Buddhist monks, modern researchers have discovered some of the immense benefits of being mindful in everyday life.
How Mindfulness Works
At its heart, mindfulness is just a way to pay closer attention to everything that is going on. It focuses on rooting yourself in the present to notice what is really happening within your mind and body. You begin to notice the things that are going on around you without judging what is going on. The flowers grow, your boss gives you a new project and cars drive by just because that is what they do. With this mindset, you stop judging and are able to just exist within the moment. Instead of allowing yourself to go into autopilot, you are able to observe your life at a distance.
While practicing mindfulness, you will want to focus on a single task or moment. For example, you could focus your full attention on flossing your teeth or driving a car instead of letting your mind drift. In this mental state, you focus on what you hear, smell, taste, hear and see. You may narrow your focus on what your body is experiencing or follow the pattern of your breaths. The entire goal is to just be mindful of the moment and to acknowledge your thoughts without being controlled by them. Every time your mind starts to wander, just return your focus to your breath and allow yourself to be reabsorbed into the meditation.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness actually can change the entire structure of your brain. In 2011, Harvard University conducted a study. In the trial, the participants had to carry out a mindfulness program for eight weeks. During this time, the density of the gray matter in their minds actually increased. In total, there were eight different regions of the mind that were affected.
With a mindfulness practice, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is improved, which allows for greater self-regulation, less impulsiveness and better focus. The gray matter in the hippocampus increases. Since the hippocampus is responsible for emotion, memories, the limbic system and cortisol, changes in this section of the brain can reduce post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and chronic stress. Interestingly, individuals with low gray matter in the hippocampus are more likely to have PTSD or depression. Due to this, mindfulness can actually reduce the impact or treat these mental conditions.
Beyond just brain changes, mindfulness has been shown to increase body awareness and introspection. Individuals who regularly practice mindfulness meditation have better pain tolerance and emotional regulation. Practicing mindfulness helps you to reduce your stress levels and alleviate depression. It can also be beneficial for dieters because it allows you to notice how the food and exercise choices that you make contribute to weight loss. Since it does lower cortisol levels and stress, mindfulness may even provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering your blood pressure.