Mindfulness is a hot topic. While its concepts and practices first emerged from Tibetan monasteries in the 1800s, it has been studied extensively by western scientists for decades and is now branching out into mainstream culture. One needn’t ascend the summit of some lofty peak or be involved in ivy league research projects to be exposed. Mindfulness related magazines, TV talk shows, and self help books abound. Mindfulness-based practices have also been effectively integrated into mainstream psychotherapy and are being used to treat everything from post-traumatic stress disorder in active duty military to chronic pain in the elderly.
With so much information now available, some of it conflicting information, the practice of mindfulness may seem discombobulating to some or too esoteric and “new agey” for others. Mindfulness practices are, in fact, grounded, skill-based exercises that strengthen one’s ability to be alert, aware and calm. Basic mindfulness skills involve intentionally directing, maintaining and shifting one’s attention. Mindfulness practices are “daily brain fitness practices”, according to Dan Siegel, a well published neuroscientist and founder of Mindsight Institute. Research has shown that daily mindfulness practices enhance neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and repair itself, and strengthen neural connections in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with emotional regulation, attention, insight, intuition, and empathy.
A recent conference at Emory University explored results from the latest neuroscience research on mindfulness meditation practices. As reported, individuals who had engaged in more than 10,000 hours of daily mindfulness meditation practice were found to have permanently changed the way their brains function. They had significantly increased activation of the brain’s left-sided anterior region, an area associated with the experience of positive emotional states. Research also showed that enhanced activation of this area of the brain also occurred in individuals who had practiced mindfulness meditation for only eight weeks.
Scientific research on mindfulness is only it its infancy yet has produced amazing results and has shed light on the profound benefits of these ancient practices.
(Originally published by Examiner.com)