The Benefits of Practising Mindfulness

Nicola MacDonald
Written by Nicola MacDonald

Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme) describes mindfulness as…

“…paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”

But what does that really mean?

Do you ever feel like you’re merely existing? Drifting through life like a zombie or in a state of mild panic most of the time with endless chatter in your head? Essentially missing the important, beautiful things in life with a look in your eyes that says you’re not really engaged, not fully present?

I have felt that way many times in my life. Feeling like a scrap of myself getting through the day with my amygdala (fight or flight part of the brain) on constant alert ready for attack.

Mindfulness helped me to wake up to the present – actually noticing and truly experiencing what is around me. It has brought me a sense of calm and resilience helping me to cope with stress better.

How does Mindfulness affect us?

Mindfulness is essentially guided meditation with some serious backing by neuroscience.  This is why I am so passionate about it – it is not too ‘fluffy’ or ‘out there’ as some may think! Harvard professors are singing its praises and proving that mindfulness can actually reshape the brain.

After an 8 week MBSR course participants’ brains were scanned with key parts increasing in size such as the hippocampus (responsible for learning, memory and emotional regulation) and the temporoparietal junction (responsible for empathy and compassion). The amygdala (emotional regulator – the fight or flight stress response/alarm bell) actually decreased in grey matter.

Take a look at neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s Ted Talk on ‘How Meditation can Reshape Our Brains’.

Mindfulness brings a sense of calm helping you to approach life with greater resilience and more balanced emotions. You learn to be kinder to yourself which then has a positive ripple effect onto your relationships with others.

According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson, meditation also helps numerous medical conditions, boosts the immune system and enhances psychological functioning. (Adapted from Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson, PH.D with Richard Mendius, MD, published 2009, p96).

Mindfulness and Modern Society

Mindfulness is already sweeping into modern society in many fields. It is on the radar of the NHS, recommended to help with anxiety, mild depression and other common mental health problems. It is also coming into education, law, business, sport, politics, technology and government. Some businesses use a form of mindfulness to start their day – a five minute meditation to focus the mind on the company’s true ambition before getting caught up in day to day challenges.

It is safe to say that mindfulness has many benefits so why not give it a try yourself to see how life changing it can truly be.