Mindfulness: what are the benefits of engaging in mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a broad concept, and there are many different types – formal, informal, meditation, yoga etc. The benefits can depend on what you’re doing and why. However, this is a quick summary of some of the general benefits that come from mindfulness meditation.
It helps our body to relax
When we bring our attention into the present, often by focusing on our breath, our minds stop (or at least reduce) worrying or stressing about what happened in the past or what will happen in the
future. With our brain no longer sending stress signals to our body, our parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for putting our body in relaxation mode) kicks in which lowers our heart rate, slows our breathing and releases the tension in our muscles, helping our body to rest.
We learn our thoughts aren’t always the truth.
In mindfulness, we learn to step back from our thoughts as if watching them from afar – like watching clouds in the sky. When we are quiet and focus on the present moment, we have a chance to notice our brain at work. That is, despite deciding to fully concentrate on the breath, our brain will continue to create thoughts. Perhaps things like “am I doing this right?”, “this doesn’t seem to be
working”, “I forgot to ring Mum” or “what am I going to make for dinner tonight?”. Sometimes we are also able to watch it create negative and unhelpful thoughts. By watching our thoughts as an
observer, we learn that the thoughts our brain creates aren’t always correct or true and that we can choose which one to which we want to pay attention.
It can reduce our emotional response
Mindfulness can help us to be more in control of how we react to situations (for example, yelling at your kids for messing up your perfectly clean kitchen). If we receive an emotional trigger (like a
criticism from a parent) mindfulness helps us to take a short mental pause, be aware of our feelings, take a few breaths, work out our response and thus respond more thoughtfully. In fact, brain scans of people who underwent a daily mindfulness program for 8 weeks showed that their amygdala shrunk following the program – that is, the part of our brain responsible for emotional responses and the fight or flight stress response. The researchers suggest that this was because this part of their brain was not as active as it was prior to the mindfulness program.
If you’re interested to see if mindfulness could benefit you by trying mindfulness at home, Thinkwise Clinical Psychology offers free online mindfulness meditation exercises.
Just find a quiet, comfortable place to sit and head to soundcloud.com/thinkwisepsychology
* While most people benefit from mindfulness, in a rare number of cases it may make people more anxious. If mindfulness makes you feel worse, stop.
Talk to us if you would like to find out more about how to integrate mindfulness training into your life.