What is Mindfulness?
There are many different types of meditation, including visualization, contemplation, and mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation where you bring your full mind, or attention, to an object. Bringing attention to the breath, is one of the most well known mindful practices.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the most influential mindfulness teachers, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Jan Chozen Bays is a meditation teacher and a physician who adds. According to Dr. Bays, “Mindfulness is awareness without judgement of criticism.”
Is Mindfulness evidence-based or just hype?
Mindfulness is rooted in a long tradition of eastern spiritual practices such as Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga. Besides being based in spiritual traditions, recently there have been several studies confirming its effectiveness.
Research from UCLA shows that long-term meditators have younger brains, with higher concentrations of tissue in the brain regions most diminished by aging. In other words, the study found that meditation practice may help to minimize brain age and protect against age-related decline.
Studies have also shown that left frontal activity of the brain is increased by those who have a consistent mindfulness practice. According to Dan Siegel, a renowned psychiatrist and neurobiology researcher, this change in the brain reflects the cultivation of an “approach state”. In this state, people move towards challenging situations or mental functions such as feelings, thoughts, and memory. This can be seen as a scientifically proven way of building resilience. These same studies found that in addition to improving resilience, those with established mindfulness practices also experienced increases in immune function and a greater sense of stability and clarity.
Another important study showed that the axonal filament between the prefrontal cortex and limbic system thickens. That essentially creates insulation in limbic centers of the brain which supports functions such as emotion, behavior, memory, and motivation. That means someone with a mindfulness practice experiences anxiety and fear differently and it is less taxing to the nervous system in general.
However, it is important to note that much like exercise and dietary changes mindfulness practice requires consistent practice to gain results. One research study at Harvard University showed that practicing meditation for twenty minutes, twice per day, was enough to bring a meaningful reduction in blood pressure for most people.
Where do I start?
Although some would argue that one of the goals of mindfulness is to help us unplug from all of our distracting devices and technologies, there are some great apps and online resources for those new to mindfulness.
In the last few years several popular mindfulness apps have come out that are helpful for beginners and experienced mindfulness practitioners alike. The most popular free apps include Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Stop, Breathe & Think, UCLA Mindful, and Aura. Some of the more popular paid apps will have a one week free trial followed by a monthly subscription. These apps include Headspace, Calm, 10% Happier, Inscape, and Buddhify.
These are some free, web-based resources with free guided mindfulness meditations.
You can listen to the audio clip below for a 4-minute mindfulness meditation that focuses on the breath.