The Science of Mindfulness
When I say 'mindfulness', I know many people envision sitting silent and still in a quiet room for extended periods of time. However, you can practice mindfulness any time - eating, walking, sitting in a meeting...more on that soon. What's important to start with is that neuroscience research suggests that mindfulness can have a range of positive effects on the brain and behaviour. Here, I share some 3 research-backed benefits so the rational part of your mind can be satisfied that it's worth trying.
Mindfulness meditation has been found to improve attention and cognitive control, which can help with tasks that require sustained focus and concentration. Studies have also shown that mindfulness can enhance working memory and reduce mind-wandering. For example, one study found that brief mindfulness meditation training improved attention and working memory performance in a group of undergraduate students (Moore and Malinowski, 2009). Another study found that mindfulness meditation reduced mind-wandering and improved performance on a sustained attention task (Mrazek et al., 2013).
REDUCED STRESS & ANXIETY
Mindfulness meditation has been found to be effective in reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce activity in the amygdala, a brain region involved in the stress response, and increase activity in the prefrontal cortex, which can help regulate emotions. For example, one study found that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training reduced anxiety and increased positive affect in a group of adults with generalised anxiety disorder (Hoge et al., 2013). Another study found that mindfulness meditation reduced neural activity in the amygdala and increased activity in the prefrontal cortex in response to emotional stimuli (Goldin and Gross, 2010).
ENHANCED COMPASSION & EMPATHY
Mindfulness meditation has been found to increase feelings of compassion and empathy towards others. This may be related to changes in brain regions associated with social cognition and emotional regulation. For example, one study found that mindfulness meditation increased neural activity in the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, brain regions involved in empathy and compassion, during a task that involved observing others in distress (Weng et al., 2013). Another study found that mindfulness training increased prosocial behavior and neural activity in brain regions associated with empathy and compassion (Klimecki et al., 2013).
So, there you have it - reasons you might consider trying out this age-old practice. In my next post, I'll share some quick-start strategies to begin developing your mindfulness muscles.
To your success!