In Buddhism, mindfulness is the key.
Mindfulness is the energy that sheds light on all things and all activities, producing the power of concentration, bringing forth deep insight and awakening.
Mindfulness is the base of Buddhist practice.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, author of “The Miracle of Mindfulness”
You may already be more familiar with the practice of mindfulness than you might think.
Some forms of mindfulness meditation you may be familiar with:
- body scan meditation
- loving-kindness meditation
- walking meditation
‘Mindfulness’ seems to be a buzzword these days but how do we actually practice it in daily life?
Why would be even want to?
What are the benefits?
Well… let’s find out…
The Science-Based Benefits of Mindfulness:
The best way to capture moments is to pay attention.
This is how we cultivate mindfulness.
Mindfulness means being awake.
It means knowing what you are doing.
– Jon Kabat Zinn, author & creator of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction)
The benefits of mindfulness are similar to the benefits of meditation.
Daily practice of mindfulness helps meditators’ experience deeper and longer-lasting stress relief.
It increases their quality of life.
Mindfulness meditation can help to lower blood pressure and improve immune function. (1)
Studies on mindfulness meditation techniques and MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) point to several key benefits of adopting this practice in everyday life:
1.) “The Clinical Use of Mindfulness Meditation for the Self-Regulation of Chronic Pain” (2)
90 chronic pain patients underwent a 10-week mindfulness meditation program.
They found that:
“Statistically significant reductions were observed in measures of present-moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity by pain, symptoms, mood disturbance, and psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression.
Pain-related drug-use decreased.
Activity levels and feelings of self-esteem increased.”
2.) “Three-Year Follow-up and Clinical Implications of a Mindfulness Meditation-based Stress Reduction Intervention in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders” (3)
In the study prior to this follow up 22 anxiety disorder patients showed “clinically and statistically significant improvements in subjective and objective symptoms of anxiety and panic” after an 8-week mindfulness meditation program.
In this 3 year follow up study, 18 of the initial 22 participants were assessed.
These subjects showed “maintenance of the gains obtained in the original study.”
The study concluded that ongoing mindfulness meditation practice can have “long term beneficial effects in the treatment of people diagnosed with anxiety disorders.”
Mindfulness meditation also helps to re-wire the brain for the better.
Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar, PhD. runs a research lab with the purpose of studying the effects of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga on the brain.
More specifically, the effects these things have on our cognitive and behavioral processes such as problem-solving and the ability to override negative thoughts.
“Our results suggest that meditation can produce experience-based structural alterations in the brain.
We also found evidence that meditation may slow down the age-related atrophy of certain areas of the brain.” (4)
Her journey into mindfulness research began when she sustained an injury while training for a marathon:
“I had some running injuries, so I saw a physical therapist who told me to stop running and just stretch.
So I started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy.
I started realizing that it was very powerful, that it had some real benefits, so I just got interested in how it worked.
The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart.
And I’d think, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m here to stretch.’
But I started noticing that I was calmer.
I was better able to handle more difficult situations.
I was more compassionate and open-hearted, and able to see things from others’ points of view.” (5)
So she decided to study why it was she felt such a tangible shift, and what was going on inside her head during these practices.
She set out to uncover what happens to our brains as a result of practicing these activities and found that consistent mindfulness practice has multiple benefits:
1.) It can increase thickness in the cortex, the part of the brain that’s associated with self-regulation capacity, the ability to learn from past experience, and optimal decision making. (6)
2.) It increases gray matter in the hippocampus, which counters the degenerative effects of anxiety and chronic stress. Those who experience anxiety and chronic stress are found to have a smaller hippocampus. Science points to the fact that this particular brain region plays an important role in the cultivation of resilience. (7)
3.) As little as 8 weeks of consistent mindfulness practice is enough to tame and shrink your amygdala (the brain’s emotional center). What’s more, Lazar’s research shows that the amygdala taming is correlated with the change in stress. “The more stress reduction people reported, the smaller the amygdala got,” she says. (8)
4.) Again, just 8 weeks of consistent mindfulness practice is enough to strengthen brain areas associated with: mind wandering and self-relevance, learning, cognition, and emotional development, empathy, and compassion. (9)
Practice Mindfulness In Daily Life
Remember that the practice of mindfulness is like any other skill – practice and consistency are key.
The more you practice these mindfulness techniques the more second nature this state of being will become.
Your mental health will flourish.
The key to practicing mindfulness lies in first becoming mindful of our breathing.
In fact, Buddha taught that breath awareness meditation is a foundation for mindfulness.
Here’s a mindfulness practice you can use anytime as part of your own personal stress reduction program:
Sit upright and get comfortable.
Relax the neck and shoulders.
Relax your face, tongue, and jaw.
Soften your gaze.
Bring your awareness to this present moment.
Bring your awareness to your breath.
Notice the inhale.
Notice the exhale.
Pay attention to the breath coming in through your nostrils.
Pay attention to the breathing going out of your nostrils.
Breathe coming in.
Breathe going out.
Like ocean waves.
Noticing the sensations of breathing.
Feeling the sensations of breathing with awareness.
Our presence is our offering to the altar of this moment.
Breathing and noticing.
Bringing our full attention to our breath.
Watching the flow.
Merging with it.
Allowing the breath to be as it is.
Without the need to change it.
Allowing ourselves to breathe.
Savor this moment.
Present moment awareness.
If the mind wanders simply bring your attention back to the breath.
The breath is the bridge to crossover to be here, now.
Becoming fully aware of bodily sensations.
Fully aware of the breath.
Here are two guided meditation sessions for you to follow:
18-minute Mindfulness of Breath Meditation: