There is a mounting body of evidence which consistently demonstrates the beneficial impact of practising mindfulness. Studies show that a daily mindfulness practice of just 30 minutes can have a profound impact on our wellbeing, our physical health, our ability to cope with stress and challenges, the quality of our relationships, and our workplace performance.
Because mindfulness training is based on the principle of what scientists call neuroplasticity, which basically means that our brains are changeable.
minutes a day
The neuro-protective effect of mindfulness exactly corresponds to the amount of hours of mindfulness practice we have done.
The phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ (summarising Hebbian theory) points to the understanding that how we use our minds shapes our brain. If there are two nearby neurons that often produce an impulse simultaneously, their cortical maps may become one. For example, if I have a strong habit to ruminate on things I’ve got wrong, then the neurons will wire together to form highways that reinforce the tendency of this habit. These thought patterns then cause me to feel different and I will experience low mood or anxiety and possibly depression. My brain shapes itself into a brain with a tendency for depression.
In mindfulness practice we learn how we can interrupt these cycles by working skilfully with our attention. Consistent practice has been shown to lead to the growth of key brain regions associated with emotional regulation, concentration and self-control; and reductions in grey-matter density of the amygdala – the region of the brain central to the stress response, fear and anxiety.
we can cultivate the positive qualities of our mind and heart
growth of key brain regions associated with emotional regulation, concentration and self-control
So in the same way that we can develop the skill of playing the piano, we can cultivate the positive qualities of our mind and heart through practice. This means we can teach our minds how to be happier. Our wellbeing, our strength of character, our capacities for resilience, insight, courage, kindness and confidence, are not fixed. We can consciously develop them. Mindfulness enables us to access these inner resources. In this way we can feel empowered to live lives that fulfil more of the enormous potential that we each have.
The graph on the left, created by the Mindfulness Research Guide, shows how the number of scientific studies on mindfulness has grown exponentially over the last 3 decades.
Mindfulness allows us to access a non-stressed state at any time, not only when we've sat down in a comfy chair or got into a hot bath.
fMRI scans show that the thickness of the Prefrontal Cortex for a 50 year old mindfulness practitioner is the same as that of a 20 year old, says neuroscientist Elena Antonova of King's College London
Mindfulness has a neuro-protective function this means that it arrests the degeneration of our brain - good news for old age!
New activities keep the brain healthy. Mindfulness teaches us how to approach life with a fresh perspective which is a bit like taking up a new activity in each moment.