Mindfulness is not simply some new fashion. Its roots can be traced back to Buddhist traditions of over 2,500 years ago. Outside of these traditions, in the western world mindfulness teaching and specific wellbeing applications were not fully established until the early 1970s.
There has been considerable research into the benefits of embracing mindfulness. As a consequence, it is now firmly accepted as an evidence-based approach, with an impressive array of scientific proof of its worth.
Living in the present moment can be transformative, but what does it do to the brain?
The human brain contains hundreds of trillions of synapses that help the brain cells communicate with each other. The brain contains anywhere from 80 to 100 billion neurons, which help form these connections. Despite all of this, scientists still don’t have a full understanding of what actually happens in the brain when we practice mindfulness or meditate.
These studies have investigated the scientific proof for the benefits of mindfulness:
- Mindfulness changes the brain, according to one study. Lutz, Dunne & Davidson (2008) examined how mindfulness impacts the amygdala, which is a region of the brain that is primarily associated with emotional processes. In the study, it was determined that this area of the brain tended to be less active and have less grey matter density following mindfulness sessions.
- The hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory, helps regulate the amygdala. Following mindfulness training, this part of the brain was also found to be more active according to Goldin & Gross (2010).
- Mindfulness can help us nurture healthier relationships as well, according to a study done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Carson, J. et al. (2004). The study demonstrated a correlation between the practice of mindfulness and improved relationships. The couples in the study reported more closeness and more relationship satisfaction amongst other things.
- Other studies examined the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with both impulse control and maturity. This part of the brain tended to become more active following mindfulness training. (Chiesa & Serretti, 2010).
- In a study published in NeuroReport in 2005, results showed thicker cortical regions related to attention and sensory processing in long-term meditation practitioners, when compared with those who did not meditate. These findings also suggest that simple meditation practice may offset cortical thinning brought about by aging. (Lazar et al. 2005)
- A study of the 8-week MBSR course for nurses showed that their mindfulness practice facilitated empathetic attitudes while decreasing their tendency to take on other people’s negative emotions. (Beddoe & Murphy, 2004)