The Science Behind Mindfulness & How It Effects Our Mind

Updated Sep 9
Ever wondered what the science is behind mindfulness ? Let's take a look at what research says about living a mindful life, and what benefits it actually has.
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Mindfulness can be a great tool to add to your life, especially when dealing with stress and anxiety. Though there is a very large spiritual aspect when it comes to mindfulness, which can be beneficial in life, there is the true science behind mindfulness and its success in helping build a happier and healthier life.

Through many of the studies that have been done around the field of mindfulness, it is evident that the practices allow for better coping mechanisms and increased brain function. This is due to neuroplasticity, which is a process in the brain that allows new connections to be formed. Basically, through mindfulness, you are rewiring your brain, creating these new pathways to ensure a more fulfilling life.

Understanding the science behind mindfulness may help you really get a good grasp on why mindfulness is becoming a very popular lifestyle among the population of the world. So to help you with this we're going to take a look at mindfulness and how it works from a scientific aspect as well as give you some research results that should help you determine whether mindfulness is a good fit for you.

Defining Mindfulness

Before we can dive into the science behind mindfulness as it is, we have to understand what mindfulness actually is. Mindfulness is a practice that has been done for centuries that is centered around the human capability to really be present in the moment.

That means when executing mindfulness activities, the ultimate goal is to be aware of your surroundings, your feelings, and the moment at hand. This allows you to not be as reactive and less overwhelmed with your life.

There are many different types of mindfulness, and many people automatically go to meditation. This is of course a form of mindfulness, as many of the pillars that go with any type of meditation practice are the same as with mindfulness.

However, they are not the same. There is a specific mindfulness meditation that is targeted at getting rid of judgments and clearing the mind for a more symbiotic relationship with the energies both within and without.

How It Works: The Science Behind Mindfulness

Most of the time when talking about mindfulness, many people focus on the spiritual aspect of the practice. This is a large part of the overall construct of it, but when you dive deep, there are proven changes that happen within the body when you begin to really embrace mindfulness.

When it comes to these changes on a scientific level, it all has to do primarily with the body’s ability to form new neural connections in the brain. This of course is called neuroplasticity, and because of this, many research studies have shown that mindfulness practices can help build resilience, help you cope with difficult situations, and allow for better brain functions.

This is basically the idea that you are rewiring your brain to be able to handle difficult situations and remain present in the moment so that you can reduce your levels of stress. Over the past decade, there has been research on just exactly how mindfulness changes the brain.

There are multiple regions in the brain and many of these studies have focused on several of them and have shown that in all of these regions there have been significant changes when one begins to utilize mindfulness and meditation in general.

These changes have all been seen across each of these regions. There was a marked change in the density of the brain as well as the thickness of the brain tissue. Maybe the biggest change though was an increase of neurons and other connectors within these regions.

Other changes included cortical surface area and an increase in white matter fiber density. These changes help increase cognitive capabilities as well as the communication between the regions of the brain, which allows the individual to feel better.

Studies surrounding mindfulness meditation all focus on multiple regions and because of this, it has been shown that the effects of mindfulness whether it be meditation or other practices have a marked influence on brain functioning on a grander scale than most think. The creation of these new neural paths allows for better communication between the different regions, which in turn will help improve brain functions and other functions within the body.

Also, mindfulness practices often include breathwork. This of course will increase the oxygen in the body, which will help with brain functions as well. This may be primarily the reason along with repetitive actions and continual analysis of emotions at the moment for the increase in neural connections within the brain.

Research Proven Benefits of Mindfulness

Now that we understand how the brain and mindfulness work together and the science behind this, we can then look at the benefits that have been proven during the multiple different research studies that have gone on over the past decade.

Here are the main benefits determined to potentially come from executing a mindfulness practice:

Reduced Anxiety/Stress

Stress can create many different health problems, and these problems tend to develop into anxiety and even depression. Through many different studies, it has been shown that meditation can help treat these problems very effectively.

This is because meditation and mindfulness practices remove or reduce negative thoughts and other aspects of mental stress. In fact, it has been shown that meditation and mindfulness can be comparable in effect to an antidepressant.

Better Immune System

There have been studies done that show that mindfulness practices have a significant impact on your overall immune system. This could be partially due to the increased amount of oxygen taken into the body during mindfulness practices.

No matter what type of mindfulness practice, whether that be meditation or even journaling, oftentimes breathing is a big part of it. Because of this, they've marked increases in antibodies that can help your immune system stand up against external forces.

Anti-Aging

As you age, there are deep changes to the connections within the brain that handle memory as well as those that control certain cognitive capabilities. This is due to the decline in cognitive capabilities and functions within your body. But with mindfulness practices, it's been shown that not only muscle control, but sensory perception can be improved.

That is because the activities that are done within mindfulness help reduce the level of atrophy in gray matter. This decrease in atrophy will reduce cognitive decline not only on a scientific and physical basis, but because of the reduced levels of stress, both on mentally and emotionally.

Clarity & Focus

There have been many scientific studies that show that mindfulness practices can help with memory, both short-term and autobiographical. Along with this, cognitive flexibility and awareness are all aspects of what mindfulness is intended to develop. Because of this, mindfulness allows for one to have better clarity and focus.

Other factors that contribute to the clarity and focus are the intense focus on the removal of negative thoughts to create new responses and ways of thinking about each situation that will rise into it. Mindfulness also has you focus on things intently to work through them, and that in and of itself will help improve your overall focus.

Heart Health

One of the core principles of mindfulness is calming yourself and allowing yourself to stay In the moment. This can have a high impact on your heart health as well. It has been shown that those who execute mindfulness practices have lower blood pressure, and this in turn will decrease the stress put on your heart and create better heart health.

This Focus on breathing and slowing down for a second brings about a change in heart rate and can help improve better cardiovascular capacity. This may also be because of the increased oxygen within the body, which automatically helps the systems run better.

Mental Health

Maybe one of the biggest impacts when it comes to the research-proven benefits of mindfulness is its effect on mental health. Many mental health disorders and illnesses have had their symptoms reduced due to the inclusion of mindfulness practices. In part, this is due to the forming of habits that allow one to clear out negative thoughts more easily.

This in turn will alter the brain functions via creating new neural connections as well as affecting the hormone release of certain important compounds that can relieve stress and help reduce anxiety, which is always great for your mental health.

Improved Mood

Though we just talked about mental health being affected by the scientific aspects associated with including a mindfulness practice, there are more emotional and mental benefits. Not only will your mood improve, but also you will find that there is a heightened level of self-confidence when mindfulness practices are present in your daily life.

Studies have shown that your self-confidence can be boosted through mindfulness because you are taking the time to develop significant enhancements when it comes to your worldview and view of others. By boosting your confidence, you will see an improvement in everything from your personal relationships to your professional life.

When it comes to the mood aspect, because of the breathing techniques utilized in mindfulness, certain regions of the brain are activated that help improve emotion, attention, and body awareness.

It has been shown that when you rapidly breathe, the part of your brain responsible for the fight or flight mode is activated. That means that by slowing it down, that part of the brain is deactivated, and other areas are utilized to have a more calm reaction to situations.

What Can Mindfulness Help With?

Mindfulness has a huge impact on your body, both on a spiritual level as well as a scientific level. But why you choose to do mindfulness is really an individual decision. But there are certain things that you should be aware of that mindfulness has been proven through scientific studies to help heal and improve.

Burnout

With the hustling lifestyle that has been perpetrated over the past couple of decades, many people suffer from burnout. This is a process where you have worked or done something so long that you begin to feel mentally and emotionally drained.

Because of mindfulness's impact on stress, anxiety and other aspects of one's health, mindfulness can be used to help with burnout. Through the increased levels of self-compassion, better sleep, and other benefits you can take advantage of in utilizing mindfulness, burnout can be relieved very easily.

Suicidal Behavior

There are many people out there that suffer from depression and other mental disorders that at some point consider ending their lives. For those that have these thoughts, mindfulness can help relieve some of the causes behind them.

Most individuals that consider this option have high levels of depression and stress mixed in with the inability to problem-solve to get themselves out of it. Feeling that they have no place else to go, they think about this option, but with mindfulness, they may be able to quiet those voices.

With the heightened focus on creating better attention and handling negative thoughts as they enter your mind, there may be a decrease in these spots. (Mindfulness is not a cure to this issue, it is a tool to be used alongside other treatments and if you have these thoughts you should immediately seek consultation with a physician.)

Relations

Adding mindfulness practices to your life may improve relationships both on a professional level as well as a personal level. Being able to utilize the non-judgemental aspect of mindfulness is one of the key pillars that can help you understand individuals better. By doing this, you will be able to have a better interaction with individuals and build stronger relationships.

Focus

Many people suffer from ADHD or other focus and attention disorders. The fact that mindfulness focuses on being in the present moment and really taking a look at every single aspect of what is happening at that moment creates a heightened level of focus and attention. This could be beneficial for those suffering from these disorders.

Productivity

Having so much to do sometimes can be overwhelming and that can lead to a decline in productivity. But for those utilizing mindfulness practices, it has been shown that they see an increase in productivity both in their personal life as well as their professional life.

This is because not only do they reduce stress and anxiety which helps relieve mental anguish, but they also are more attentive to detail. This could impact everything surrounding the mindfulness skills and interpersonal ones as well. This brings with it an improved productivity.

Bias

Many people, despite trying to be as open as possible, have small biases that have been built in them through their experiences in life and their upbringing. But these biases can hinder building relationships as well as everyday activities. So if you're looking to work on biases, you may be smart to choose to include mindfulness practices.

The reduction of these biases happens due in part to the key pillar of mindfulness known as the non-judgmental pillar. This is the skill that one develops in mindfulness that allows one to step out of this situation and look at everything from an objective viewpoint. In other words, you can normally see your point of view but also put yourself in the other person's shoes.

Let’s Get It Started: Easy Ways to Build a Mindfulness Practice

So as you see, the benefits of mindfulness not only span the spiritual realm but also the scientific realm. It is clear that by adding mindfulness practices into your everyday life, you will be able to build a wonderful life that has less stress and anxiety, which is always better.

But how do you get started? Here is a quick look at some ways that you can help build a mindfulness practice:

Baby Steps

When you're looking to create new habits and add something to your already hectic schedule, starting out small is the best option. What that looks like is an individual thing, but it could look like adding in five or 10 minutes of meditation in the morning before you start your morning rituals.

Or you can start off by really focusing on breath work throughout the day, taking a few seconds during stressful situations to utilize any of the many different types of breathing techniques available for mindfulness.

Line Up The Goal

Goals are important no matter what you're trying to incorporate into your life. Whether it's a lifestyle change or a career movement, having goals clearly set forward for yourself is going to help you build a better practice. Of course, when setting your goals make sure that they are not too lofty or too many, as we said above, start out small and build your mindfulness practice around your end goal.

Find Resources

If mindfulness practices are new to you, you may need to really dive deep into doing a little bit of research. This means finding yourself resources and individuals you can utilize to help you find the right mindfulness tactics for your life.

There are a multitude of different options that can be utilized on an interpersonal level as well. By finding these resources, you'll be able to guide yourself to a more successful mindfulness practice.

Final Thoughts

The science behind mindfulness is still something that is being researched on a grand scale. But over the past decade through many scientific studies and research projects, there have been definitive things proven that one can take advantage of when executing this lifestyle change. The science is simple, through the use of the pillars of mindfulness you are restructuring your brain and rewiring your thoughts to allow you to find happiness in this hectic and crazy world.

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