Per a recent CNN article by Jen Christensen (CNN Health, Medical, & Wellness Unit Producer), Studies have found that practicing mindfulness daily can have many health benefits, including reduced stress levels, sharpening the mind, a reduction in anxiety, and an increase in focus. According to Mindful.org, Mindfulness can be defined as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” This may seem like a straight forward concept, but it can be surprising how many of us are unable to fully achieve mindfulness on a day to day basis. It can be viewed as meditation, but also as a mindset and way to live your life- never allowing your emotions to overcome and distract your brain from what is happening in the present moment.
Scientists and researchers have found that humans spend much of their time thinking about things other then what is happening immediately around them. Surely many of us can relate. Often, we find ourselves thinking about the things in our lives that cause us stress and anxiety, not allowing ourselves to truly be present in the moment and focus on the task at hand. One study tested this theory by texting people at random times throughout the day to ask what they were doing and what they were thinking about. Not surprisingly, about 46% of adults (nearly half) were not focused on the task at hand, but thinking about something else while working. Some of us would simply call this “multitasking,” but there are signs indicating it is non-beneficial to our health. Those in the study that reported “regular mind wandering” were found to be less happy then those who could remain focused.
So how do we become mindful? And how do we stay mindful daily? Science has found that both sleep and meditation are very beneficial for maintaining a sharp mind. The Dalai Lama, a master of meditation, sleeps for approximately nine hours per night and spends 5 hours meditating every day. He practices analytical meditation, meaning he spends time thinking about and analyzing the world around him. He finds this extremely helpful in remaining sharp and focused.
Recent research found that monks who spent many hours meditating show signs of change in their brains. Through MRI’s, doctors could observe signs of neuroplasticity, “meaning the monks’ brains were reshaping to become more resilient.” This is a fascinating concept considering that for many years we believed that a person’s brain became fully developed as an adult, with little to no change occurring thereafter. Scientists found that these monks could activate the part of their brain responsible for controlling their over-all well-being and immune system, thus allowing them to reach “a deeper level of consciousness.”
The good news is that we do not have to become monks to become more mindful and conscious. Scientists also spent time studying those who were new to meditation and monitored them for 8 weeks as they received mindful attention training. These studies also found an improvement in the region of the brain that controls our emotions. Additionally, it was determined that practicing mindfulness tends to make people more productive, stable, and have more self-control. The article goes on to discuss how mindfulness may be beneficial for those trying to overcome mental issues including depression and addiction. While there is still much research and experimentation to be done, it can certainly be concluded that mindfulness has positive effects on the human mind and body, perhaps more so than we know. For more information about mindfulness or to check out the full article, here.