… simply a practical way of coping with life’s challenges…
… and with scientific evidence for its benefits.
Think about what you’ve heard so far about ‘mindfulness.’ What images come to mind? A serene, crazily-flexible person sitting cross-legged on a rock with their eyes closed, perhaps? Do you imagine mindfulness as a purely religious practice or believe that it takes years of practice to gain any benefits?
You may or may not be surprised to hear that these are all misconceptions but, even if you already know something about what mindfulness is really about, you might still be surprised at the depth of scientific evidence for the benefits of practising mindfulness. In this blog post, we’ll introduce you to the practical nature of mindfulness and to some of its scientifically-researched health benefits.
What does practising mindfulness really involve, then?
Mindfulness involves training yourself to pay attention to your experiences, in the present moment, in a way that is non-judgmental, accepting and kind. The techniques you use to do this can be very simple. For example, you might practise being consciously aware of the sensations you experience:
- When you’re walking or eating
- In the different parts of your body, as you sit in a chair
- As your breath moves in and out of your body.
While these practices are simple, you do need to make an effort to become good at them – practice is essential, as with any other skill you want to acquire. That it’s worthwhile making the effort is demonstrated by over 30 years’ worth of scientific studies into the benefits of mindfulness.
Who says mindfulness is good for you?
Using MRI scans, researchers at Harvard University detected changes in the structure of the brains of a group of people taking part in an eight-week mindfulness course. The changes, which were not seen in the equivalent MR images from a non-meditating control group, included:
…increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress…
Research has also shown that practising mindfulness can boost your immune system and reduce the impact of chronic pain, as well as improving your general feeling of well-being and your quality of life.
Using mindfulness techniques has also been shown to help people cope with a range of conditions and illnesses, such as tinnitus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma and depression.
Hear more about the health benefits of mindfulness from Dr Simon Whitesman, Chairperson of the Institute for Mindfulness, South Africa:
Mindfulness is a practical and effective life skill that can be used at home, at work, while you’re eating or walking. Practising mindfulness improves your focus and your resilience; you can use mindfulness techniques to improve your performance in your work, in your sport or in your studies.