You’ve probably seen the buzzword ‘mindfulness’ around a lot recently, from broader media and marketing, to the titles of countless books. Although the concept is evidently popular, seeming to some like the latest New Age fad, we should not undervalue the true potential of mindfulness and much of the evidence-based science behind it.
Put simply, mindfulness is a state of nonjudgmental, open and flexible attention to the consciousness, including that which is unpleasant (uncomfortable thoughts and feelings).
The practise is utilised within many ancient religious traditions but can also be undertaken in a secular manner, meaning it does not have to involve ‘wishful thinking’ or the belief in a form of doctrine to be practised, yet can still be used to explore virtues such as love, compassion, moral goodness, and self-transcendence.
Within the last 40 years or so, Western psychology has become aware of the many psychological and well being benefits of mindfulness and there is now a substantial amount of literature on its practise, having proven effective in improving cognitive function (attention, problem solving, memory etc.) and with conditions such as addiction, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
On further investigation, neuroscience research has shown that long-term mindfulness practise can actually change the structure of our brains;
- preventing the thinning of the prefrontal cortex – responsible for memory
- dampening activity in the amygdala – responsible for stress
- increasing the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex – responsible for stress and information processing
- increasing the volume of the hippocampus – responsible for learning, memory storage and the regulation of emotions
- increasing the volume of the temporal junction – responsible for empathy and compassion
- increasing the volume of other areas of the brain used for self-awareness and perspective taking.
Interested in practising and learning more about mindfulness? Sign up for one (or all!) of our step-by-step mindfulness classes.