Understanding the Benefits of Mindfulness

This is for folks who have a hard time taking mindfulness or meditation seriously. So much of what I hear from my clients is that they don't give it much thought because it is associated so much with spirituality and religion. Hearing folks say things like, "can we be mindful of this," or "be mindful of whats going on in your life." For many, the idea of mindfulness might seem frivolous, a waist of time amidst the hustle and bustle of the business required to live a life in most of urban America, but recent scientific studies have found that it can have a real impact on the day-to-day lives of those who practice it. Although mindfulness meditation has been around for thousands of years, researchers have only recently begun to get a grasp on the science behind the practice.

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1) It calms the mind.

If you have ever wanted a better night's sleep but couldn't escape your worries, mindful meditation can help. A study published by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has linked the practice to control of the cortical alpha rhythms. These rhythms are linked with mental focus, which leads to better control over emotion and thought. This increased control has also been connected with a reduction in anxious thoughts.

2) It improves focus and memory.

If you're looking for a productivity boost, or struggle keeping on task, meditating every day can help you focus. Researchers at the University of Oregon have found that regular mindfulness meditation slowly changes the structure of the brain, increasing the density of grey matter and the number of signal connections within!

3) It strengthens willpower.

Anyone who has made a New Year's resolution knows how hard it is to keep it for more than a couple of months. In a study in the Elsevier Consciousness and Cognition journal, mindful practice has been shown to reduce the impact of self-control depletion.Because self-control is strongly determined by your emotional state and energy levels, mindfulness has been proven to help increase control over the emotions, thereby making it easier for the person to maintain self-control even when they're tired. This control helps making the hard choices easier, meaning you're less likely to be tempted away from your goal.

4) It reduces stress.

A recent study in the journal Health Psychology has shown that mindful meditation can reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. If you're suffering from constant pain, mindfulness can also help manage the stress that results from it. The Annals of Rheumatic Disease journal published a study in which patients who suffered from arthritis and practiced mindful meditation reported much lower rates of stress and fatigue, when compared to those who didn't meditate.

5) It makes you more compassionate.

While most studies focus on the benefits of meditation to the individual practitioner, a study by Harvard and Northeastern universities, published in the Psychological Science journal, has shown a link between mindfulness and virtuous behavior. The study found that those who meditated regularly were more likely to help a stranger in need than those who didn't.

With scientific study increasingly showing reasons to meditate, there's never been a better time to get involved. Just 10 minutes of meditation a day is enough to see improvement in many areas of your life, so why not get started today? Don't think practicing mindfulness it as something that you need to have a pillow on the ground, go to a specific location like a monastery or church, but think of it as something you could do on the bus in or your car to work, while relieving yourself in the bathroom, writing in your journal, or while you are listening to someone stories. Think of it as simply being aware of what is going on inside you.  Whether that be with a feeling in your stomach, a thought, phrase, an image, or piece of music that comes to mind. Just try to be aware of something.