Whilst most people are aware that meditation is beneficial, not many really understand why or how it works.
At AwareHub, we support and encourage evidence-based practices, including the more alternative, holistic ones, such as mindfulness and meditation.
Meditation is one of a set of techniques aimed at increasing your state of awareness and focused attention. Why is this important? It allows you to be present and engaged in your life, and less distracted by your emotions and external stressors and changes. Mindfulness meditation is a specific type of meditation that is supported by scientific research and repeatedly demonstrates its positive benefits to both physical and mental health.
Mindfulness meditation encourages you to be fully present and engaged in the present moment, whilst at the same time, noting your many thoughts and feelings, but not becoming distracted or casting judgement. It would be like standing on the side of the road, observing the passing traffic; rather than being in the middle of the road, dodging cars!
Ultimately, you gain awareness and control over your emotions and mental processes, creating a sense of calmness, clarity and concentration.
Research outlines the numerous benefits of mindfulness meditation:
Regular mindfulness meditation is an effective tool to help manage stress. Through practicing daily mindfulness, the brain is trained to become more open and less reactive, helping us cope better with stressors including family, relationships, and careers.
Meditation reduces the activity in the amygdala, which is the brain area responsible for the “fight or flight” (stress) response. Individuals who practice mindfulness meditation have been found to have lower cortisol levels, which is the hormone associated with both physical and emotional stress.
Why is stress reduction so important?
Stress weakens our immune response and we become prone to illness and disease. By lowering our stress levels, we operate in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state and this encourages lower heart rate and blood pressure, lower oxygen consumption, improved digestion and improved quality of sleep.
Increased focus and attention
A study conducted by Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreased the activity of the default mode network (DMN). The DMN is a group of brain regions that are responsible for mind wandering and have high levels of activation when we are not involved in a specific mental exercise (e.g., daydreaming). According to researchers at Columbia University, our minds are lost in thought 47% of the time, and those thoughts are often dwelling about the past, or worrying about the future.
Therefore, using meditation to reduce activity within the DMN area is beneficial to improving our focus and attention and reducing our negative, ruminating thoughts. Regular mindfulness practice strengthens our brain networks, allowing us to refocus at times when we find yourself daydreaming or ruminating. We are able to persist and complete tasks more effectively and be more productive.
Increases empathy, compassion and self-awareness
A less obvious effect of mindfulness, is the way in which it encourages us to be less judgmental and more companionate with people around us, promoting better relationships. This might be due to the practice of sitting alone, being open and vulnerable and focussing on the simplicity of breathing.
A study published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine, demonstrated that medical student’s empathy was significantly increased after participating in an eight-week mindfulness stress reduction program.
The International Journal of Stress Management, reported increased self-compassion in health professionals who underwent mindfulness training. Specifically, psychologists reported increased self-compassion, which facilitated a better connection and response to their clients.
Mental health benefits
Finally, mindfulness fosters a greater awareness of our emotional landscape, and of external circumstances. In doing so, we have greater freedom to choose how we respond to the challenges that we face, and where we place our attention.
Mindfulness mediation can significantly reduce anxiety, depression and trauma related disorders, as well as assist in managing addictions and eating disorders.
Being mindful helps increase our capacity to notice and enjoy the simple pleasures in our lives. It enhances gratitude and overall wellbeing. Although research demonstrates the importance and added benefits of consistency and regular mediation practice, it’s never too late to start! Book a guided mediation session in one of our secure, private and comfortable meditation pods at AwareHub and begin to experience the benefits!
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