10 Great Benefits of Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.” - Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley
To take that definition a bit further, mindfulness requires a nonjudgmental acknowledgment and acceptance of our thoughts and feelings; acknowledging our feelings but judging them.

1. Mindfulness of thoughts and emotions promotes well-being

One might confuse mindfulness with self-regulation. However, mindfulness is a state that is characterized by introspection, openness, reflection, and self-acceptance.

The research is clear on one of the main outcomes of practicing mindfulness: there has been strong evidence coming out recently that demonstrates that mindfulness is significantly correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction, and overall well-being.

2. Mindfulness can improve working memory

Working memory is the memory system that temporarily stores information in our minds for further recall and future processing. A research was done that involved comparing a group of participants with a month-long mindfulness retreat against a control group which received no mindfulness training (MT). All participants from both groups first undertook a memory recognition task before any MT had been providing. The second round of a memory recognition task was then undertaken by all participants after the month’s training.

Results were positive — while accuracy levels were comparable across both groups, reaction times were much faster for the group that had received mindfulness training. These results suggested that MT leads to attentional improvements, particularly in relation to the quality of information and decisional processes, which are directly linked to working memory.

3. Mindfulness acts against the depressive symptoms

A self-report study conducted at the University of North Carolina measured the level of discrimination experienced by participants as well as the present severity of their depressive symptoms. Participants also completed a questionnaire that measured their level of mindfulness as a trait or strength, which is characterized by a tendency toward a conscious awareness of the present.

The results showed that, as expected, the more discrimination participants experienced, the more depressive symptoms they had. It was also found that the more mindful people were, the less depressed they were.

4. Mindfulness can help make better use of ones’ strengths

Mindfulness can help an individual express their character strengths in a balanced way that is sensitive to the context and circumstance they are in. Mindful awareness is a form of experience that changes not only structure but also the function of our brain throughout our lives.

A lot of research has shown that mindfulness influences mental health and personality. Mindfulness and strengths have been deeply intertwined for thousands of years. In Buddhism, mindfulness meditation is not only an effective method of relieving suffering, but it is also a way to cultivate positive characteristics and strengths such as compassion, wisdom, and well-being.

5. Mindfulness practice can raise happiness set-point

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres: the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. We know that the right prefrontal cortex is highly active when we are in a depressed. On the other hand, our brain has high activity in the left prefrontal cortex when we are happy and energetic. This ratio of left-to-right activity shows our happiness set-point throughout daily activities. So, what happens to this ratio when we practice mindfulness meditation?

The research of Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn shows that a simple 8-week course of 1-hour daily mindfulness practice led to significant increases in left-sided activation in the brain — an increase that is maintained even after 4 months of the training program.

6. Mindfulness can make one more resilient

In the most basic terms, resilience refers to an individual’s ability to recover from setbacks and adapt well to change. The little corner of our brain that is relevant to resilience is a region called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is located deep in the center of the brain. The ACC plays an important role in self-regulation and learning from past experience to promote optimal decision-making.

The research findings of Tang and his colleagues show that mindfulness training groups that completed 3-hour mindfulness practice session have higher activity in ACC and also show higher performance on the tests of self-regulation and resisting distractors, compared to the control group.

7. Mindfulness shrinks the stress region in the brain

Every time we get stressed, a little part of our brain called the amygdala takes control. The amygdala is a key stress-responding region in our brain and plays an important role in helping us cope with anxious situations. It’s a well-known fact that high amygdala activity is associated with depression and anxiety disorders.

The good news is that mindfulness practice can actually shrink the size of the amygdala and increase our stress reactivity threshold. Recent research performed by Taren and colleagues showed a connection between long-term mindfulness practice and amygdala that is decreased.

8. Better sleep

Studies have shown that people who practice meditation report improved sleep. It’s one of the most wholesome and best-appreciated long-term benefits that meditation provides. Medical professionals are now encouraging patients who suffer from insomnia to try different guided meditation techniques.

The American Journal of Medicine once reported on a study that aimed to determine the effects of meditation on insomniacs. The results were incredible — all of the patients involved in the study reported improved sleep quality, and 91% reduced their sleeping pill intake or stopped using them altogether.

9. A healthier immune system

Just as they calm the mind, long-term effects of meditation also benefit the entire body. Some studies have indicated that people who practice meditation produce a higher number of antibodies more rapidly than those who don’t.

More antibodies mean you’ll fight diseases more effectively — pathogens will be detected and eliminated with much more efficiency. So meditation not only improves your state of mind, but it also strengthens your body’s disease-fighting mechanisms. A healthy body is one reflection of a peaceful mind.

10. Improved alertness and ability to focus

We all need to be able to focus in order to carry out our different responsibilities. Any activity that is performed without the proper focus and attention is bound to produce lackluster results. It’s hard to do a good job when you’re stressed and exhausted, and even more so when you can’t concentrate on the task at hand.

Happily, studies have shown that one of the long-term effects of meditation is improved concentration. Experts now recommend mindfulness meditation to help pacify the mind and increase our ability to remain alert. Instead of multitasking, try picking one job or activity and apply yourself to it.

Mindfulness requires a nonjudgmental acknowledgment and acceptance of our thoughts and feelings.

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