For years, mindfulness and meditation have been a kind of a taboo theme on the west. But with years, that changed and now more and more people are adopting the habit of either being mindful or meditating and reap the benefits of it. But is it real? Does science approve of it?
There are numerous benefits of practicing mindfulness and meditation:
- reduced stress and anxiety,
- decreased depression,
- improved focus,
- feeling less pain,
- improving your mood and psychological well-being,
- reduced risk of heart disease and stroke,
- decreased inflammation
Also children can benefit from mindfulness, according to MindfulnessInSchools.org.
When using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), there have been numerous positive effects of mindfulness and meditation seen. Sara Lazar showed that the brains of subjects thickened after an eight-week meditation course. Gaëlle Desbordes took before-and-after scans of subjects who learned to meditate over the course of two months. She scanned them not while they were meditating, but while they were performing everyday tasks. The scans still detected changes in the subjects’ brain activation patterns from the beginning to the end of the study, the first time such a change — in a part of the brain called the amygdala — had been detected. (Source: The Harvard Gazette)
The process of mindfulness (and mindful meditation)
When we start being mindful, multiple brain areas light up almost simultaneously. They start interacting and communicating with each other through electrical and chemical impulses, that can travel at speeds up to 268 miles/hour or 431 km/hour. It starts in a split of a second and it all starts in your Neocortex, also know as the rational brain. Neocortex is what sets you apart from the rest of living species and it appears to be heavily related to your ability to make a conscious choice.
When you start being mindful, your blood flow increases in the left part of Prefrontal cortex (PFC), the brain part that’s mostly associated with attention and goal-oriented behavior – where you make decisions and take actions. And here is where mindfulness starts. What is happening in your brain is that activity in the Visual Association area, located in the temporal lobe of the Neocortex, decreases, resulting in the reduction, or even elimination of external noises and internal thoughts. At the same time, activity increases in the so-called Orientation Association Area, located in the parietal lobe. Here is where time and space can dissolve and a complete sense of oneness can occur. This chain of event remarkably modifies the activity in your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). How? By restoring balance between its two systems: the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which is active when your body is resting and repairing itself and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which gets activated when you are under any sort of physical or emotional stress, real or imagined. This change in their activity has a direct, visible impact on two of the main structures of the Limbic System, also known as your emotional brain: the seahorse-shaped Hippocampus and the Amygdala.
They tend to react quite quickly and even overreact, sometimes, to any input coming from the outside world or from your own mind. They are designed to detect a threat before conscious awareness. Your body is literally flooded with electrical and chemical impulses that modulate and balance the activity in your Parasympathetic System,causing a peaceful state to arisein your Sympathetic System,resulting in a state of clear, mental alertness. (Source: Medium)