butterflies all havin' fun, you know what I mean
My personal journey with mindfulness has been filled with so much goodness and healing: physically, mentally, socially.
"Sleep in peace when day is done, that's what I mean"
need an immune system boost?
For the latest outcome in studying, measuring and reproducing the benefits of mindfulness, one of my favourite resources is the Greater Good Science Centre (GGSC) out of the University of Berkeley, California.
GGSC lists health benefits like:
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program introduced in hospitals, ponders if we should 'immunise' our children against stress, so that they have some form of knowledge on how "to tune their own instruments, so that they can play it under sometimes very, very challenging situations."
I'd be happy walk you through any of this science and more. Just drop me a note.
3 scientific explanation why mindfulness works
Allow me to present three biological aspects of the brain to explain how mindfulness works.
1) Re-balances the autonomic nervous system (ANS)
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) acts unconsciously and automatically to regulate most of our bodily functions like breathing and heartbeat. It cycles between two modes: fight-or-flight (sympathetic) and rest-and-digest (parasympathetic). When one is switched on, the other is off.
I can imagine both modes operating in tandem in the old (but not necessarily lesser stress) days . But in our modern, interrupt-driven and multi-sensory lives, the sympathetic system must be performing in overdrive! Dr. Peter Levine, a contemporary psychologist specialising in trauma, points out that our ANSs are regularly dysregulated.
stuck in high gear
In my 20 years of being in the fast-paced, result-oriented world of technology, I'm convinced my ANS hardly got the chance to soak long in the rest-and-digest mode. I'm constantly thinking about work, even when I'm at home and with my family and on weekends.
"Wanderer, there is no road. The road is made by walking."
stop and smell the roses
With regular mindfulness practice, we can become more aware of our thoughts and emotions, even if they are anxious thoughts or upsetting emotions. We catch ourselves worrying about a project deadline instead of enjoying the dinner conversation. We realize that we have tensed shoulders subconsciously brooding about a two-day-old confrontation. By recognizing the state of mind that we're in, we are consciously signalling to the ANS to get out of the stuck mode and to resume a healthy rhythm.
2) Returns control back to the prefrontal cortex (PFT)
Think of the prefrontal cortex, the brain part right behind your forehead, as the CEO of your brain. The PFT acts as the decision-maker, planner, & judge. It's assuring to know that someone is in charge.
Then there is the amygdala. Acting like an alarm switch, it activates the rest of the brain when it detects a threat. When the switch flips, the PFT is inaccessible as the rest of the brain channels all its energy and resources to protect you. For example, reflexively jumping away from a snake that just appeared. When the amygdala is activated, it takes some time to settle down.
This is great if you are in the outdoors. But in an office or classroom, the amygdala continually fires from perceived threats, anxiety and fear. You make less informed decisions, or pass poorer judgments because of the constant interruption to the PFT function.
time out, old friend
As a person undergoing mindfulness training, you are strengthening your PFT. The habit of being able to identify the negative thoughts and emotions building up within allows you to calm the amygdala down (it's just doing its job), so that you regain back control of your brain's executive functions. Imagine during a tense discussion, you are able to take a step back, see the big picture, and propose plausible alternative solutions.
Dr. Dan Siegel demonstrates this concept very well with his hand model at TEDex.
3) Rewires the whole brain
Our brain has over 86 billion neurons. A neuron is a basic cell unit that processes and transmits information. One neuron has 10,000 connections to other neurons!
Around the 1920s-60s, scientists discovered the concept of neuroplasticity, that our brain is mouldable and changes throughout our whole lives. Neurons and their connections are constantly wiring and rewiring based on mental activities and experiences. Scientists found that blind people used their visual cortex to remember words; since the intended function to see is not called upon, the neurons there changed structure for memory purposes instead.
your better self
What this means is that with mindfulness training, we can relate with our thoughts and emotions in new positive ways, by laying down new neural pathways and altering our brain activities. By not reacting instinctively (due to whatever belief systems we have developed), by being aware of what's showing up inside our head and attaching a different meaning to it, we will start to form more meaningful connections with ourselves, and to those around us.
Brain researcher Jill Bolte ‒ who experienced, observed and survived a massive stroke ‒ explains brilliantly what's going on in the teenager's brain to make us who we are as adults, including neuroplasticity and synaptic pruning.