18 Nov Mindfulness Series: The Health Benefits
The following topic on our mindfulness series encompasses the health benefits that can be obtained when practicing mindfulness regularly. Studies have shown that mindfulness is not only good for your mental state, but it can also have profound influences on your physical wellbeing. In a society driven by, “how can I make the next minute more efficient”, and “how much can I cram in one day”, living in the moment is something most people don’t have the luxury to think about. Stress drives us day in and day out, but this type of bombardment on the body can lead to serious health consequences such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and depression.
Our bodies are composed with the necessary mechanism to manage stress, but only for so long. Like too much of anything, the body under constant stress can become overwhelmed and this can cause serious health declines in the process. When your nervous system encounters stress it releases a hormone called cortisol. Ever been in a car right before you manage to hit the break as you inadvertently collide with another vehicle? That sense of impending doom that you are experiencing, that rush causes your heart beat to accelerate, your palms to get sweaty, and your pupils to dilate is all due to that surge of cortisol that has just flooded your body. Too much of this over time can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Now, there are ways to reverse this damage and begin to learn how to focus and live in the moment so that we can teach our bodies to be better equipped to handle the daily bombardment of stressful situations.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness, has spearheaded much of the research that shows mindfulness, when practiced regularly, can have profound effects on the mind and body. In this lecture he delves into the topic of neuroplasticity and how even after years of experience we can teach our brains new tricks. Through the science of neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, which ultimately means that just how the brain can produce neural pathways when it learns something, it can be retaught or rewired to make new neural connections when there is damage to the old pathways.
Why practice Mindfulness?
From the studies done to date on mindfulness there is overwhelming evidence that this practice has beneficial outcomes on your physical, psychological, and social health. Some of those benefits include:
- It is good for the body: Approximately after eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts your immune system’s ability to fight off illness.
- It is good for the mind: Practicing mindfulness helps increase positive emotions and decrease negative thoughts and stress. At least one study has shown its ability to help alleviate depression and prevent relapse.
- It changes your brain mass: You heard right, the structure of your brain is positively affected by mindful meditation. Research has found that the density of gray matter in the brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy increase with mindfulness mediation.
- It helps you focus: This technique helps tune out distractions and improves memory and attention skills.
- It helps foster compassion and altruism: This means you actually become a person who wants to help others more and helps with your understanding of others’ suffering.
Why is mindfulness good for the brain?
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness and learning how to focus in the moment is a crucial component of achieving true happiness. When you learn to focus on thoughts, emotions, sensations that cause us happiness, this helps our mind achieve satisfaction in life. Being mindful makes it easier to savor simple pleasures as they occur, we become fully engaged in these moments and it gives us a greater capacity for dealing with unfavorable events. By focusing on the here and now those who practice mindfulness find they are less likely to get caught up in worries about uncontrollable circumstances related to the future or simply dwelling on the past. These individuals are also less focused on issues that cause low self-esteem and are better able to form deep connections with others. Mindfulness helps alleviate depression, helps those struggling with substance abuse, those dealing with eating disorders, and even anxiety disorders.
Why is mindfulness good for the body?
If achieving greater mental euphoria isn’t enough, research is now discovering that practicing mindfulness for at least 10 minutes a day can help:
- Alleviate stress
- Treat heart disease
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce chronic pain
- Improve sleep
- Alleviate gastrointestinal discomforts
Experts say that the success of mindfulness has to do with what it teaches. Mindfulness helps by teaching individual acceptance of painful emotions rather than reacting to them through avoidance and aversion. Mindfulness practice helps you face your issues and to gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts.
These are only a few of the health benefits of mindfulness that don’t even scratch the surface of its full potential of helpful benefits. So, how mindful are you? Try practicing this technique just 10 minutes every morning and see how your day starts out on a more positive note. It’s especially important to introduce these types of treatment into Sober Living NY programs. Next on our series we will be discussing the different ways one can practice mindfulness on your daily life.