in the Mainstream
Mindfulness has moved into the mainstream. Courses are appearing at yoga studios, workshops are being used by many businesses, and mindfulness sessions have even been introduced in elementary schools.
Mindfulness meditation has two important functions: it suggests we suspend judgment of the activity of the mind and encourages us to notice what is happening in the moment.
As a result of this practice, attitudes of empathy and compassion emerge, which have positive effects on our well-being, and that expand outward into our lives and relationships with others.
One of the longest running mindfulness centers in the country was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn is the UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness where extensive training and research has been carried out since 1982. More than 25,000 people have attended the center’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training program, including this writer back in 2016. Researchers at the center have documented a range of health benefits including:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower heart rate
- Slow respiration (breathing) rate
- Less anxiety
- Lower blood cortisol (the stress hormone) levels
- More feelings of well-being
- Reduced stress levels
- Deeper relaxation
What exactly happens in the brain when we practice mindfulness? In short, a consistent mindfulness practice activates an intentionally created state, which can lead to long term effects that change the structure of the frontal cortex of our brain. Such changes affect the amount of gray matter in certain parts of the brain that impact learning, memory, and regulation of emotions.
These structural changes involve the amygdala, which is an almond-shaped structure in the brain that controls our ability to feel emotions, such as the flight or fight response. Scientists have long known that that the amygdala becomes activated when we feel threatened. Recent mindfulness research has shown that images of the amygdala in participants of MBSR training show less activation after the mindfulness training than before, confirming that mindfulness practices is impacting the brain in positive ways.
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