What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a particular type of systematic ‘mind training’ that allows individuals to be present to what is happening with kind acceptance. It can be described as noticing what is happening right now without judging yourself or others.
Mindfulness uses a variety of simple to learn techniques for developing present moment awareness. These include focused concentration activities such as focus on the body, breath or an object, open monitoring, movement and ethical enhancement activities. Like any skill, mindfulness requires practice to learn, and as with physical exercise, the mental benefits of mindfulness are sustained through ongoing practice.
What does it do?
As a method, mindfulness impacts:
- Self-awareness – increases our awareness of our mental habits
- Self-regulation – increases our ability to manage our reactions and impulses
- Self-transcendence – helps us to develop more positive relationship with others; increases our pro-social behavior.
Mindfulness has been shown to have positive impacts on the rates of emotional and mental distress, reducing stress, depression, and anxiety as much as medication therapies.
Due to some intriguing findings in neuroscience, there is a lot of research interest in mindfulness right now, with over 1,000 studies undertaken last year alone. Using fMRI imagery, researchers have shown that mindfulness training seems to impact brain function in the following ways:
- Decreases in the activity of the areas of the brain associated with mind wandering, rumination and fear (Default Mode Network).
- Increase in activity and neural thickness of areas responsible for motivation/intention (Posterior Cingulate Cortex), emotional regulation (Cingulate Gyrus, among others), meta-awareness, attention (Prefrontal Cortex) and pro-social behavior (Mirror Neuron System).
- Seems to delay the reduction of gray matter that occurs over time.
It has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the blood. Increased cortisol is thought to contribute to the physical damage stress has on the body (chronic inflammation, heart disease, etc). Mindfulness has also been correlated with a delay in the loss of telomere length, a process of aging.
Isn’t Mindfulness just Buddhism?
Meditation has been practiced for many hundreds of years, with all the major world religions having a contemplative discipline. However, science has shown over the last 30 years that the practices that make up mindfulness can be separated from their spiritual history and taught in a completely secular way. This is what is taught by the Center for Mindful Living.