A parent, at a PTA meeting, asked me, “What do you know about mindfulness meditation?”

I replied, “I meditate frequently but I am not sure what is mindfulness meditation.”

I did some research and I couldn’t believe the amount of research and literature out there on this topic.

Read on and find out what is mindfulness meditation and what are the benefits of practicing it.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that entails paying attention to the present moment without judgment.

You can build a deeper awareness of yourself and the environment around you by paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. This form of meditation is non-religious and anyone, regardless of beliefs or background, can do it.

A brief history

For thousands of years, people from many cultures and traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, practiced mindfulness meditation. This meditation technique gained popularity in the Western world in recent years, with many scientific studies confirming its benefits.

While there are many ways of practicing mindfulness meditation, the most well-known technique is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) method taught by Jon Kabat Zinn.

The science of mindfulness meditation

Research studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can have a profound effect on the brain. One amazing aspect of doing this form of meditation is its ability to alter the brain physically.

Studies have found that regular meditation practice improved the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in executive function and decision-making. It also helped in expanding the hippocampus, which is essential in learning and memory (Fox, et al.).

Another study discovered that people who practiced this form of meditation for eight weeks had increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region associated with emotion control. This study also found increases in other brain areas that are involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation like reducing feelings of despair and anxiety, and perspective taking (Holzel, et al.)

Mindfulness meditation benefits

Let’s look at some of the brain benefits you will get when you do the meditation:

Cognitive function

One of the most significant benefits is improved cognitive function. According to a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, mindfulness meditation increases cognitive flexibility and creative thinking (Colzato, et al.).

Another study found that just four days of practice led to improved working memory, verbal fluency, and visual coding (Zeidan, et al.).

Focus and attention

Another mindfulness meditation benefit is improved focus and attention. In one study, subjects who went through two weeks of meditation practice improved their focus and attention (Jha, et al.).

This study also discovered that participants who practiced regularly showed increased activity in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in executive function and attention (Jha, et al).

Memory retention

Doing mindfulness meditation can also improve your memory retention. This was demonstrated in a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease where the practice increased connectivity in the default mode network, a brain region involved in memory consolidation (Singh).

Another study discovered that meditation improved memory recall in older adults. (Mrazek, et al.).

Stress and anxiety

The potential of using mindfulness meditation to alleviate stress and anxiety is one of its most well-known effects. A research study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the practice can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms significantly (Goyal, et al.).

Another study, this time published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, found that participants in the mindfulness intervention group experienced less work-related stress, less emotional exhaustion, and more job satisfaction than those in the control group (Hulsheger, et al.).

Emotional well-being

Mindfulness meditation has also been demonstrated to improve emotional control. According to one study published in the journal, Emotion, meditation boosted emotional control and lowered emotional reactivity.

Another study using neuroimaging discovered that doing meditation practice enhanced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain area related to emotion control (Chiesa, et al.).

Self-awareness

Finally, mindfulness meditation can help with self-awareness, which is necessary for emotional control. A study found that mindfulness meditation practice can enhance self-awareness while decreasing self-centeredness (Brown & Ryan).

Another research published in the journal Brain and Cognition discovered that mindfulness meditation increased activity in the insula, a brain area associated with self-awareness and emotional processing (Zeidan, et al.).

How to practice mindfulness meditation

Here are the steps to practicing mindfulness meditation:

1. Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes without being interrupted. You can either sit crossed-legged – the lotus position is great if you can manage that pose – on the floor, or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.

2. Once you’ve found a comfortable position, focus on your breathing. Pay attention to the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body. Notice your chest rising and filling, or the movement of your abdomen. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath without judgment.

3. Do this practice for a few minutes every day. It’s a good idea to start with a few minutes of meditation and gradually build up to a longer period, like 20 minutes, over time.

Conclusion

Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool that will improve your brain power, emotional regulation, and overall well-being. There is a lot of scientific evidence that supports its many benefits.

In this blog post, we discussed the science behind mindfulness meditation and the positive effects it can have on your mind and body. We also talked about how you can incorporate this practice into your daily life.

If you are new to mindfulness meditation, it may take some effort to get the hang of it and start seeing the benefits. However, with consistent practice, it can become a powerful tool to improve your mental and physical health.

If you are interested in exploring mindfulness meditation further, there are many resources available, including mindfulness meditation apps, guided meditations, and mindfulness courses. We run a mindfulness workshop regularly and you may want to check that out

Remember that mindfulness meditation is a personal practice, so different people have different ways of doing it. What matters most is finding a method that works for you and sticking to it.


References

  • Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. “The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and its Role in Psychological Well-Being.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 84, no. 4, 2003, pp. 822–848.
  • Chiesa, A. & Serretti, A. “A Systematic Review of Neurobiological and Clinical Features of Mindfulness Meditations.” Psychological Medicine, vol. 40, no. 8, 2010, pp. 1239-1252. doi:10.1017/S0033291709991747
  • Fox, K. C., et al. (2014). “Is Meditation Associated with Altered Brain Structure? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Morphometric Neuroimaging in Meditation Practitioners.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 43, 2014, pp. 48-73.
  • Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E., et al. “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA Internal Medicine, vol. 173, no. 3, 2014, pp. 357-368.
  • Hölzel, B. K., et al. “Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density.” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, vol. 191, no. 1, 2011, pp. 36-43.
  • Hülsheger, U., Alberts, H., Feinholdt, A., et al. “Benefits of Mindfulness at Work: The Role of Mindfulness in Emotion Regulation, Emotional Exhaustion, and Job Satisfaction.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 98, no. 2, pp. 310–325.
  • Jha, A.P., Krompinger, J. & Baime, M.J. “Mindfulness Training Modifies Subsystems of Attention.” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 7, 2007, pp 109–119.
  • Singh, K. & Singh K. “Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence Stands.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 48, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-12.
  • Zeidan, F., et al. “Mindfulness Meditation Improves Cognition: Evidence of Brief Mental Training.” Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 19, no. 2, 2010, pp. 597-605.