Health Benefits of Mindfulness

Health Benefits of Mindfulness

We have perfected the art of paying less attention to our internal and external environments. For some people, they have to listen to music while walking or taking the train. Some have to drink their morning coffee while scrolling through their phones. Others can’t eat a meal if they are not watching a show, reading a book, or talking with friends. For some reason, we crave a distraction from our immediate environment. These actions make less room for mindfulness, which is an essential practice for peaceful and purposeful living. How can we benefit from the health benefits of mindfulness?

The word mindfulness is a derivative of the Pali (Indian) word- Sati which means the ability to have awareness, attention, and remembering. Mindfulness is a state in which you are aware of your actions as each moment passes4. We have formed so many habits to support our driving, eating, and other daily tasks, that we sometimes complete them by just going through the motions. The state of mindfulness counters these motions; Mindfulness involves actively applying yourself to each task. In “What is Mindfulness?” by Jenny Birkett, a meditation and mindfulness practitioner, we are given an in-depth explanation of mindfulness and how it works.

Why is Mindfulness Important For Health?

Years ago, scientists believed that the adult brain could not change. Once a person learned a habit or behavioural pattern, there was no going back. The first time a neuroscientist, Santiago Ramon, suggested significant changes in the adult brain, neuropathologists raised a controversial argument. The standing agreement was that there is a fixed amount of neurons available in the human brain7 (responsible for our actions and decisions) which cannot be replaced once they die. Was Ramon trying to say that the brain could regenerate?

Thankfully, science never sleeps, and with research, scientists soon learned about neuroplasticity - the process of change in the wiring and function of the brain, usually to align with the individual’s experiences, daily actions, emotions, thoughts, and other data the brain receives. They discovered that the brain can actually build new neural connections based on what we do every day. Including practising mindfulness. Yep. Mindfulness can push an adult’s brain into neuroplasticity8 to help them break old habits, form new ones, and develop a new attitude towards life.

Practice Mindfulness For Health Benefits

Mindfulness has a multitude of health benefits, from reducing anxiety through to increasing wellbeing and becoming more present. A 2013 Massachusetts study found in a controlled study that those in the sample undertaking mindfulness practise had a significant reduction in anxiety1.

Health Benefits of Mindfulness

We have the ability to replace neural pathways, the habits they suggest to us, and our attitude towards life. Here’s how you can benefit from this gift using mindfulness.

Improve control over your emotions

We encounter different stressors every day, and any one of them, or a combination of some of them, could cause us to lose our emotional control. Mindfulness techniques can help individuals learn to control their emotions. These practices help us to recover from exposure to stressors and let go of the feelings they might have roused. In a study at Michigan State University, participants noticed a significant improvement in how they processed their emotions after being exposed to mindfulness practices3.

Better self-awareness

By practising mindfulness, you push yourself to remain present and aware of your moment-by-moment thoughts and actions. This means that you stay connected to your inner experiences such as feelings, ideas, and thoughts as they arise. By constantly practising mindfulness, you’re given more insight into how your mind works. With these insights comes a better understanding of who you are.

Better awareness of your environment

Just as mindfulness can help you change yourself, it can help you change your society. It's easy to ignore warnings of any global crisis such as climate change, plastic pollution, and so on, when one is constantly detached from their environment. However, mindfulness pushes you to pay attention and stay receptive to the surrounding information. Research suggests that an individual who practices mindfulness will be better aware of social issues, open to making changes that will help environmental crises, develop better moral values, and extend more help to those in need5.

Healthy interpersonal relationships

Mindfulness is one of the best techniques to develop healthy relationships and fix lacking ones. The practise teaches us to be more present and attentive, which will help us to build a better bond with our friends, family, or partners. Mindfulness also makes us aware of our emotional reactions. The triggers that would push us to a negative reaction (and subsequent relationship issues) can be understood and handled rationally. Mindfulness can help partners out of the common cycle of arguing and placing an emotional distance between themselves.

Increased empathy towards others

Mindfulness encourages us to observe the world beyond ourselves and what we think we need. It pushes us to consider other people’s perspectives and emotions. As a result, when we understand others on a deeper level, it intensifies our empathy towards them. Instead of judging people based on what we see or the conclusions we draw, we might feel prompted to put ourselves in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. With this understanding, people may begin to show more compassionate acts towards one another.

Better counselling and consultation skills

If you’re a therapist or offer consultations in your field, mindfulness may help to improve the impact of your services on your clients. When you are more attentive and receptive, it becomes easier to understand your clients verbal and non-verbal cues2, and get the full picture of what they are trying to communicate. Mindfulness should also help you stay present during meetings and show compassion quickly when needed.

Dealing with Anxiety Disorders and Stress

Clinical trials have shown that mindfulness can be effective in reducing anxiety and stress6. Some therapists use mindfulness-based therapy (or MBT) when working with patients who have anxiety as a result of a secondary illness such as cancer, bipolar disorder, mental health, chronic pain, and so on. Further, it’s also been shown to have a positive impact on blood pressure. Through mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, the observed effect of mindfulness is the positive change in how patients can evaluate their emotions and their feelings in their bodies. The result is an ability for patients to relate differently to their symptoms or situations and become less disturbed by them.

Practice Mindfulness Daily

Health Benefits of Mindfulness Practice

To become mindful, you will need consistent mental training. One of the best-known methods of this training is called mindful meditation. Mindful meditation practice has been defined as non-judgemental attention to present moment details.

Vipassana is one of the most practised mindful meditation techniques. It was developed from Buddhist traditions and when translated from Pali, means ‘inward vision’. Bhante Henepola, a Buddhist monk, paints vipassana this way9:

“The meditator uses his concentration as a tool by which his awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion that cuts him off from the living light of reality.”

Vipassana is an ancient tradition which is used to gradually break down distractions and open the human mind to full awareness. It encourages you to discover what is happening around you, within you, and to you. This awareness is what makes mindfulness possible.

If you’re a beginner, give this simple vipassana method a try. As you grow in the process, you can try out more intense sessions, or consider participating in a yoga retreat.

Stay mindful…

The present is the only real moment we have. Everything else is either a memory or hope for things to come. As such, the progress we seek in our personal lives, professional lives, and societies we live in, depends on how much we invest in each moment.

Therefore, while you practice mindfulness, remember that it is a gradual process which takes a lifetime to master. Every time you pull your mind back from its wanderings, or consciously avoid a distraction, you are building neural connections that will help you realise the health benefits of mindfulness.

1Hoge EA, Bui E, Marques L, Metcalf CA, Morris LK, Robinaugh DJ, Worthington JJ, Pollack MH, Simon NM. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder: effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. J Clin Psychiatry. 2013 Aug;74(8):786-92. doi: 10.4088/JCP.12m08083.
2Counsellors' Perspectives on How Mindfulness Meditation Influences. Counsellor Presence Within the Therapeutic Relationship. Laura Lynn McCartney, B.A., University of Calgary, 2000
3Lin Yanli, Fisher Megan E., Roberts Sean M. M., Moser Jason S. Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
4M Davis, Daphne & Hayes, Jeffrey. (2011). What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.). 48. 198-208. 10.1037/a0022062.
5Mindfulness in sustainability science, practice, and teaching. Wamsler, Christine, Brossmann, Johannes, Hendersson, Heidi, Kristjansdottir, Rakel, McDonald, Colin, Scarampi, Phil, Sustainability Science, 2018, 8 January 01 V 13
6Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, Oh. 2010. The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review
7Fuchs, Eberhard & Flugge, Gabriele. (2014). Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research. Neural plasticity. 2014. 541870. 10.1155/2014/541870.
8Fuchs, Eberhard & Flugge, Gabriele. (2014). Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research. Neural plasticity. 2014. 541870. 10.1155/2014/541870.
9Tricycle: What Exactly Is Vipassana Meditation? Vipassana or insight meditation is a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Jennifer is a content writer with an educational background in Public Relations and Advertising. From her desk in Lagos, Nigeria, she helps businesses around the world reach and connect with their audiences.
Main Photo @nofilter_noglory on Unsplash
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