Discover the benefits of this meditation technique and learn how to practice it.
Many of us juggle multiple projects at our jobs, take care of our children or elderly relatives, and try to keep up with all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, bills, appointments, school recitals, and family gatherings. Some even wear that multitasking ability as a productivity badge of honor. Sure, we are probably getting a lot of things done, but our minds wander far and wide as we hop from one task to another, and we feel tired and stressed out.
Most of our mind-wandering involves rumination about things that happened earlier or planning and thinking about what we will do next. These thoughts about the past and the future clutter our minds, distract us from the present moment and prevent us from noticing the little everyday pleasures. As a result, many people go through their daily lives as if on autopilot, blindly moving toward their destination without paying attention to the ride. Yet, life is nothing but this ride. Mindfulness can help us remove our blindfolds and be more present in our daily lives.
Mindfulness is a mental state that has its roots in Buddhism and involves being in the present moment with a nonjudgmental awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment (Hofmann & Gomez, 2017). Therefore, when we are mindful, we perceive what is happening in the present moment instead of rehashing the past or worrying about the future.
Although we can practice mindfulness anytime and anywhere, it can be tough to achieve initially. The good news is that anyone can become better at being mindful, and one of the best ways to cultivate it is by practicing mindfulness meditation. Simply put, mindfulness meditation is a mindfulness-based meditation technique that systematically guides your attention. This systemic guidance allows you to be aware of your breath, bodily sensations, and thoughts you have at that moment without judging them. Mindfulness meditation can improve your well-being in many ways when practiced regularly. Let’s discuss some science-backed benefits of this practice.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Improved attention span. Mindfulness involves focusing on what is happening at each moment. Therefore, cultivating mindfulness helps our brains better focus on tasks. Researchers tested this idea by comparing the brain activity of subjects new to meditation before and after an eight-week mindfulness meditation training. They found that the post-training brain activity of these subjects was associated with an improved ability to tune out distractions and focus their attention (Kerr et al., 2011).
Increased brain function. The effect of mindfulness meditation on brain function seems to reach beyond focusing well. In another study, researchers looked at the mindfulness-associated changes in gray matter (the brain layers that contain the bodies of neurons) in several brain areas of participants. They observed that an eight-week training of mindfulness meditation resulted in increases in gray matter density in brain areas associated with learning, memory, and emotion regulation (Hölzel et al., 2011).
Better sleep quality. Are you tossing and turning in bed as your mind wanders from one thought to another? Research suggests that mindfulness may help you get some shut-eye time. A meta-analysis evaluated 18 studies that used mindfulness meditation interventions to test the effect of mindfulness on sleep quality. The analysis indicated that mindfulness meditation might alleviate some parts of sleep disturbance (Rusch et al., 2019).
Relieves stress and anxiety. Are you looking for a way to deal with your daily stress and anxiety? Mindfulness may be of help. Practicing mindfulness can reduce your stress and anxiety by allowing you to become less reactive to unpleasant situations (Kabat-Zinn, Massion & Kristeller, 1992). In fact, a meta-analysis has found that mindfulness-based interventions exhibited efficacy in lessening anxiety and depression symptom severity in a wide range of patients and consistently outperformed non-evidence-based treatments and active control conditions (Hofmann & Gomez, 2017).
Treating chronic pain. Mindfulness-based interventions have also been increasingly incorporated into therapies for treating pain. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials suggests that although mindfulness meditation has a limited capacity to reduce pain, it seems to be quite effective in improving the quality of life of chronic pain patients (Hilton et al., 2017).
Mindfulness meditation can be challenging at first. However, when done regularly, it can help us stay present in the moment and become aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and everything else happening in our surroundings. Although mindfulness isn’t a cure for everything, cultivating mindfulness through meditation can offer numerous benefits for our bodies and minds and increase our well-being. The key is to turn this practice into a habit. We hope this article provided you with tips to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your daily routine.
Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., Colaiaco, B., Maher, A. R., Shanman, R. M., Sorbero, M. E., & Maglione, M. A. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199–213.
Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 40(4), 739–749.
Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research: neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43.
Kerr, C. E., Jones, S. R., Wan, Q., Pritchett, D. L., Wasserman, R. H., Wexler, A., ... & Moore, C. I. (2011). Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary somatosensory cortex. Brain research bulletin, 85(3-4), 96-103.
Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison, L. M., Olivera, A., Livingston, W. S., Wu, T., & Gill, J. M. (2019). The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1445(1), 5–16.