What is the hype with Mindfulness (…& Meditation)?

Why are so many people talking about ‘Mindfulness’? To answer this question, I will start by explaining what Mindfulness is, before highlighting some of the benefits. Upon becoming aware of the benefits, I have no doubt you will want to start practicing it. Therefore, I have provided some direction for you to get your practice underway.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness involves practicing being present, through heightening your awareness of what is going on in the ‘here and now’. This stands in contrast to getting distracted and making judgments (i.e. making interpretations about what you are experiencing). Psychologists often introduce clients to Mindfulness strategies, as the effects can significantly improve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Mindfulness meditation

What are the benefits of practicing Mindfulness?

A vast amount of research has been conducted on the effects of Mindfulness. A summary of some of the findings from this research is outlined below.

  • Reduces stress and anxiety: Research from 163 different research studies suggests it has a positive effect on our experience of stress and anxiety. It has been found to lead to a 36% reduction in stress levels, when practiced at work. Research in people with clinical levels of anxiety found 90% experienced a significant reduction after practicing Mindfulness.
  • Prevents episodes of depression: Research found that sufferers of depression, who engaged in regular Mindfulness practice, were three times more likely not to experience depression, the year after starting their practice. There have even been research findings that suggest Mindfulness-based meditation can be more effective than pharmaceutical interventions in treating depression.
  • Improves attention and memory: Benefits have been found after only 4 days of Mindfulness training, for 20 minutes each day (n.b. Just 12 minutes a day has also been found to make a significant positive difference).
  • Improves immune function.
  • Increases our sense of compassion for others (i.e. kindness and empathy): those who practiced Mindfulness-based meditation over 8 weeks, showed a 50% increase in compassionate behaviours, compared to those who did not practice.
  • Improves relationships: those who practice Mindfulness often report increased relationship satisfaction.
  • Increases our creativeness and problem solving abilities.
  • Allows us to manage emotional pain and physical pain more effectively
  • Enhances our ability to fall asleep quickly, and stay asleep for longer: Practicing Mindfulness over an 8-week period has been found to significantly reduce symptoms of insomnia and pre-sleep brain ‘chatter’.
  • Enhances our ability to change habits (e.g. quitting smoking): Neuroscientists have found that people who meditated a total of 11 hours had structural changes in the part of the brain that is involved in monitoring our focus and self-control.
  • Assists in recovering from eating disorders.
  • Can help improve our physical health: it improves our heart health and preliminary research suggests it can have a powerful effect on psoriasis (a skin disease).

How do we practice Mindfulness?

There are numerous exercises that we can use to practice Mindfulness. A psychologist can provide you with information on these. However, should you wish to engage in these without the assistance of a psychologist, I recommend the exercises in the book ‘The Happiness Trap’ (by Dr Russ Harris). Furthermore, I highly recommend the smartphone app ‘Headspace’. This app provides guided Mindfulness-based meditations. Performed effectively, a Mindfulness-based meditation is like a gym work-out for your brain. They can help you become familiar with the qualities of Mindfulness.

The changes that meditation brings about, occurs through the effects of neuroplasticity (i.e. ‘rewiring’ the brain). Research findings show that meditation weakens areas of the brain that are associated with unhelpful ways of being. More specifically, meditation has been found to reduce activity in the area of the brain that is associated with experiencing stress, anxiety, and mind-wandering (i.e. becoming distracted). Alongside meditation reducing activity in these areas of the brain, meditation creates/ strengthens areas of the brain that are associated with helpful ways of being. These include, staying focused, boosting activity in the areas of the brain that is associated with positive mood, learning and memory.