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How mindfulness can change the way our brain works

By Amanda Payne     Jan 28, 2015 in Health
Mindfulness is in the news a lot these days but what is it and how can it help you to improve your health and well-being?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Although based on ancient Buddhist practices, mindfulness “does not conflict with any beliefs or traditions, whether religious, cultural or scientific. It is a practical way of developing sensory acuity, that is to notice our thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells — anything we take for granted — out of our awareness.” (Chapman, Margaret A. Mindfulness in Coaching Research (2014))
In practice, this means taking time out every so often during our busy day to just stop, breathe and become aware of all the things going on in our minds and bodies and in our surroundings, not trying to change anything but just being present in the moment.
Newly published scientific evidence shows that practising mindfulness regularly literally changes the way that the brain works. Scientists found that eight areas of the brain were affected including the areas associated with self-regulation and learning from past experience. Another area, the hippocampus, is essential to regulating stress hormones and mindfulness has been found to affect this in a very positive way, helping lower stress levels.
Time magazine published new research on January 26 that shows that children who regularly did mindfulness exercises improved on their maths scores by around 15%. They were also less aggressive and more social than their peers.
In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends mindfulness as a treatment for depression. Further research is being done on the role that mindfulness can play in treating health conditions such as chronic pain.
Not everyone is enamoured with mindfulness, however. Giles Coren wrote in an article in Time Out magazine on January 27 that “it is cynical twenty-first-century capitalist techno smegma”
Despite Coren’s comments though, it does seem as if mindfulness has moved from the alternative therapy band to the mainstream, with businesses, educators and health professionals across the world all using mindfulness. Mindfulness, it seems, is not just a passing fad but is here to stay.
More about mindfulness, jon kabatzinn, Wellbeing