The Science of Mindfulness

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Mindfulness and Mindfulness meditation are  terms that are being thrown around in pop culture quite a bit and I think should be explained. I researched these ideas last year in my Health Psychology class for a paper about health psychology study design. I am also interested in Buddhist practice and I have been for a long time.  These two things have more in common than you might think. Mindfulness is also referred to as “living in the moment” and it is generally pursued as a form of relaxation and “active” meditation. It is also a central concept of Buddhist practice.

[Quick refresher- Buddhism is an Eastern religion that is practiced 300 million people around the world. Most believers see it as a way of life or philosophy rather than a religion, because they don’t worship a particular entity  or God. Their beliefs are: ” (1) to lead a moral life, (2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and (3) to develop wisdom and understanding” They believe that the best way to achieve these things is by meditation within a community and the guidance of a teacher, although that is not mandatory for practice.]

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment. Blocking out worries and your constantly running inner dialogue is the focus because the  goal is to calm your mind so that you can be at peace in the moment. Focusing on breath and relaxing your body are the most important physical aspects of meditation. I am not an authority to talk about how to go about this practice, but here is a link to someone who is.  If you want an idea of mindfulness meditation that is not based in Buddhism, check out this link here.

In a few different scientific studies I have come across, it’s been found that mindfulness meditation is extremely helpful in alleviating mental and physical pain, as well as improving your immune system and overall affect (attitude and outlook).

Many people suffer from chronic pain, typically in their backs, digestive systems, and overall body aches. These patients are great candidates for mindfulness meditation. Meditation’s ability to help decrease pain is caused by the increase in distanced proprioception. What that means is that someone who is in chronic pain, but participates in mindfulness on a regular basis, will be able to mentally remove themselves from the pain occurring in their body as well as their automatic negative responses to that pain, which usually include anxiety and sadness.  By freeing them from these automatic emotions they can generate their own positive emotions and have a more normal daily life.

Mindfulness meditation appears to increase activity in the front left part of our brains, which is associated with a positive outlook which leads to a lot less stress.  A study done on cancer patients with various stages and types of cancer showed “Overall reduction in Total Mood Disturbance was 65%, with a 31% reduction in Symptoms of Stress.”

Meditation not only works on cancer patients who undergo high stress as part of their condition, but also on people whose only mental condition is an anxiety disorder. A study found that subjects who participated in therapy based in mindfulness meditation had a significant decrease in number and severity of panic attacks, as well as improvement on the depression and anxiety scales. Those who made progress in decreasing their anxiety were more likely to continue to maintain that progress (which means that their conditions didn’t worsen over an extended period of time).

Stress reduction occurs in patients who have a normal mental state as well. In a study done for 8 weeks on those practicing mindfulness meditation, it was found that subjects had three new and distinct thought patterns. Overall they had a decrease in stress symptoms. They had  an increased sense of mental control, that is control of the contents of their mind. Another new trait was a greater use of acceptance or yielding as a form of control in their lives. All of these new found mental traits seem to contribute to the person’s total positive outlook.

Mindfulness meditation can even help psoriasis patients’ skin clear. [Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes rashes all over the body.]  In patients who were about to undergo UV light therapy to clear their psoriasis skin lesions, those who participated in mindfulness meditation’s skin cleared faster than those who did not.

The conclusion of the stress reduction article sums up mindfulness meditation best when it says  “The techniques of mindfulness meditation, with their emphasis on developing detached observation and awareness of the contents of consciousness, may represent a powerful cognitive behavioral coping strategy for transforming the ways in which we respond to life events.”

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4 thoughts on “The Science of Mindfulness

  1. Pingback: Free Guided Mindfulness mp3s | Jake Kuyser
  2. Pingback: ‘Mindful’ Meditation Tied to Healthy Brain Changes: Study | Able I Am
  3. Pingback: In pain and wonder: Travel landscapes of a free mind - Food, travel, music: A Table For One, Please!

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