The benefits of mindfulness

There are many benefits to practicing mindfulness, meditation, and science is beginning to prove what the ancients knew.

The benefits of mindfulness

First let’s remind ourselves what mindfulness is: the moment to moment awareness & acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, emotions & behaviour, without judgment, criticism or beating ourselves up.

Mindfulness is like exercise for the brain, the more you do, the more you’ll benefit. As little as 20 mins 3 times a week can change the neuron pathways in your brain.

Physically mindfulness improves our health: we are more relaxed; our heart is healthier; we tend to sleep better; our immune system is stronger & mindfulness is more effective at pain relief than morphine.

Scientists have discovered that mindfulness helps to rebuild telomerase – this is the little cap on the end of our DNA which gets eroded over time & especially with stress; meditation helps to rebuild these caps, essentially slowing the aging process.

The benefits to our mind include improved focus, reduced rumination, better memory, a clearer mind whilst restoring emotional balance & building resilience.

Studies in mindfulness have shown it to be more effective than medication at reducing depression rates by up to 50%; teenagers & adults report a 38% reduction in anxiety levels after practicing mindfulness consistently; it also helps us manage stress, anger & frustration, reduce feelings of loneliness & improve feelings of happiness & well being, whilst lowering anger levels.

It helps us to improve our social relationships since it gives us the time & space to respond instead of reacting.

Mindfulness also helps us become more aware of & sensitive to the needs of our body – recognizing the signs of stress, anxiety & overwhelm & doing something kind to care for our selves.

The science of neuroplasticity is beginning to reveal that by practicing mindfulness we can literally rewire our brains, changing the way we think & interact. Neurons that fire together wire together!

Mindfulness is not just a relaxation technique it helps us notice what is going on, we become more aware of patterns in our mind & body, we can identify real & perceived threats, shift away from negative thoughts & reconnect to the present moment, a calmer more compassionate space in which to reside.

Mindfulness shrinks the amygdala, the almond sized part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response. When the amygdala is activated, it floods the body with the stress hormone cortisol getting you ready to fight or run away. Cortisol makes the amygdala more sensitive so it’s more likely to be triggered & a vicious cycle begins. Mindfulness helps to shrink the amygdala making it less sensitive, introducing a virtuous cycle instead of a vicious cycle.

Meditation engages the prefrontal cortex which helps to offset stress & bring the nervous system back in alignment reducing the feelings of overwhelm & anxiety.

Meditation helps to change our grey matter. Matthieu Ricard a scientist who became a monk is known as the happiest man on the planet after they found his brain had the highest level of gamma rays, those associated with attention, memory & happiness ever recorded by science.

Meditation, just like mindfulness helps to reduce stress by lowering the production of cortisol the stress hormone, it helps to reduce anxiety & depression, build resilience & emotional balance, it increases focus & creativity & improves memory.

But both mindfulness & meditation are a practice – so it takes practice. Just like we can’t expect to get a 6-pack doing 10 sit-ups, you won’t experience all these benefits with 1 meditation. The more often you practice the more you’ll benefit. I tend to think little & often is more beneficial than extended practices irregularly. It’s not an overnight cure all, some days will be easier than others but it has changed my life & I believe it has the power to significantly improve the lives of others.

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More posts from within the Harvey Nash Group on health and wellbeing.