Scientific Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness: being aware and synchronized with your environment
Mindfulness is being aware of yourself and staying in sync with your environment. This is often characterized by crossed legs, hands with the palms up on the legs, eyes closed, in complete silence.
There are different definitions of mindfulness. Another definition is: focused energy in peace and quiet regardless of the physical position regardless of the environment. Mindfulness is a practice that we can all use in our hurried and stressful lives.
Science has discovered that the benefits of mindfulness-based meditation can be phenomenal.
The very old practice of meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, has gained more and more popularity. More and more adults and children are doing it regularly. The health benefits can be enormous.
Mindfulness is the old practice to connect body and mind and to become more aware of the moment. There are various meditation styles, the most popular are:
- Focused attention (Vipassana)
- Transcendental meditation
- Zhi Neng or Chi Neng Qigong (meditation in motion)
- Guided meditation
Most techniques originated from a religious or a spiritual context. But the present practice falls outside the traditional practices.
Mindfulness is a specific approach that can be used on its own or in combination with other meditation techniques.
Mindfulness is usually defined as “attention in a special way, in the moment, not judgmental”. Mindfulness meditation has been extensively studied in health studies. In the scientific literature, you can find it as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction / MBSR) or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MCBT). Both are meditation training methods.
Benefits result from stress reduction
Mindfulness seems to help in a broad spectrum of health and mental conditions. It is not entirely clear yet, but the general relationship seems to be stress reduction.
Stress has a major influence on the functioning of the brain and body. Mindfulness reduces stress and therefore, among other things, brain and hormonal reactions in the body.
This is important because many diseases are caused or exacerbated by stress. According to the scientists, this is the key for the many benefits. My view is that stress takes a huge amount of energy from people, both physically and mentally.
When you have less stress, you have more energy left to heal as well as to focus your mind on what you want to achieve.
- Mindfulness relieves pain
If you suffer from neck, back, shoulder and other physical complaints/pains, it is likely that part of the pain is between the ears (according to a study published in April 2011 in the Journal for Neuroscience).
The research showed that doing 80 minutes of mindful meditation can reduce pain by half. This research supports another study conducted by the University of Montreal, of which 13 Zen meditators were investigated.
All meditators had at least 1000 hours of exercise on it. They were compared with a group of non-meditating people to discover whether the practice of regular meditation could change the perception of pain. Zen meditators have a higher pain threshold than people who do not meditate.
2. Mindfulness improves our sex life
This is done by bringing your thoughts back into the moment. The research, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Science, found that mindfulness meditation training, in which the thoughts are brought back in the moment, can help the woman to improve her sexual experience (and also in the man).
Often a self-deifying internal dialogue occurs in the mind of the woman, which prevents her from enjoying the sexual experience to the full.
HBO women who meditate are more excited by viewing erotic photographs than those who did not meditate.
3. Mindfulness makes us smarter and improves decision-making
A UCLA study published in 2012 in the Journal “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience” found that people who meditated over a longer period of time have a greater amount of gyrification, or simply put it, have more folds in the brain cortex than people who do not meditate.
The extra fold, an ie larger surface area of the brain, enable the meditators to process information much faster than others and avoiding being stuck in the past.
As a result, the thinking process is not disturbed and you come to decision making more quickly.
With only 15 minutes of practicing a focused meditation, you can get yourself out of your thoughts, make judgments, remove prejudices from your brain and help you to think clearly.
4. Mindfulness improves the mood
A group of marines, who were preparing to be sent, spent 2 hours a week on mindfulness meditation for a period of 8 weeks.
The group showed significant improvement in mood and working memory compared to marines who had not meditated.
The investigating scientists saw that practicing mindfulness meditation in extremely stressful and emotional situations, such as a war, led to more alertness without much emotionality.
It provided, as it were, a mental weapon kit.
5. Mindfulness increases the capacity to feel empathy and activity for others
Despite the violence that tears up his country, the Dalai Lama always remains friendly and full of compassion.
The secret to this is that the unshakeable grandeur of the banished Tibetan Leaders is probably anchored in his mindfulness meditation.
A study conducted by the Northeastern University College of Science showed that even after a short meditation intervention the participants showed 50% more compassion.
In another study published in 2008 in the PLOS ONE journal, the brain of experienced and undiscovered meditators after a compassionate meditation of Tibetan leaders showed more activity in the brain regions of empathy.
Mindfulness increases resilience and balance
Richie Davidson, a neuroscientist, and Paul Ekman, one of the world’s greatest researchers in the field of emotions, have conducted a series of studies on the right hand of the Dalai Lama; Lama Oser – a European monk has more than 30 years of meditative experience.
The researchers found that Lama Oser’s left and right prefrontal cortex activity ratio (measured with an MRI scanner and compared with a sample of 175 people) shot quite literally out of the graph. His prefrontal cortex activity ratio asymmetry gave rise to insane levels of balance, well-being and resilience to setbacks. This was largely all attributed to his discipline of mindfulness. https://www.lionsroar.com/the-lama-in-the-lab/
6. Mindfulness against anxiety and depression
Mindfulness has a direct influence on mental health. The evidence is the strongest for anxiety disorders and depression. Two of the most common mental health disorders.
Anxiety disorders can cause chronic excessive and often uncontrollable worries. Unfortunately, in 60% of cases, this is not solved with conventional techniques of medication and psychotherapy. Research indicates that mindfulness can help.
In a clinical trial, 89 patients with anxiety disorders were divided into two groups. One group did an 8-week MBSR program, while the other group received 8 weeks of stress management training. Members of both groups already showed improvement in one or more sessions. The MBSR group showed the greatest improvement. Other studies clearly saw improvements, especially in mindfulness in addition to the use of medication.
Clinical depression is a complex disorder characterized by depression and avoidance of social contacts and activities. Conventional treatment includes medication and psychotherapy. Unfortunately, there is a lot of relapses or patients do not stick to the medication regimen. Mindfulness can prevent relapse for those who do not want maintenance medication (antidepressants).
In a study there are three groups of patients who participate: 1 placebo group, which slowly reduced its medication and received placebo pills instead, 1 group that gradually reduced antidepressants and received an 8-week Mindfulness Cognitive Therapy program (MBCT) and 1 group that had been deprived of its depression and administered a maintenance dose of antidepressants (under clinical supervision).
Compared with the placebo group, the other two groups showed a reduced risk of relapse. Take into account that the mindfulness group no longer received medication. Data from several studies show that treating patients with mild depression with antidepressants and mindfulness are similar. In no way is it that people with depression have to stop taking their medication. Everything must be done under the supervision of the treating experts.
7. Mindfulness and Slimming
Obesity has more than doubled in the last 3 decades. More and more research is being done into prevention and the treatment of obesity.
Mindfulness is promising. It helps reduce stress and especially overeating due to stress. By mindfulness, you can better distinguish between hunger and satiety (mindful eating).
However, there are still no clear conclusions to be drawn regarding mindfulness. More research needs to be done.
A clear positive result has been observed in people who are obese but have not yet achieved a result in people who are overweight.
Mindfulness and Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors
The metabolic syndrome is a collection of symptoms that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
You have the metabolic syndrome when:
- Your waist size is more than 102 cm in men and more than 88 cm in women
- High triglyceride level
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Increased blood sugar
- High blood pressure
Observation has shown that the metabolic syndrome is unusual among those who engage in mind-body exercises, including mindfulness.
Small clinical studies have investigated cause-effect in the relationship between metabolic syndrome risk and mindfulness. An improvement was observed in the metabolic syndrome in studies in which body weight was reduced.
In a study involving 194 obese adults, a group received diet and exercise (training) advice and the other group received the same advice and a full day mindfulness retreat. The mindfulness group showed significant and much greater improvements in cholesterol and triglyceride levels after 18 months.
8. Mindfulness improves the attention to tension and focus
The apparent nonsense Zen exercise of “thinking about not thinking” has shown that you can increase your attention span by freeing the mind from distractions.
In 2008, a study was published in the PLOS ONE news journal, of a Zen meditation training in which the person is alert and aware of his posture and breathing while ignoring all errant thoughts.
The research discovered various activities in the brain connected with spontaneous thought outbursts and wandering spirits. It was found that the brain returned to “Zen mode” more quickly despite a rather lengthy distraction.
Faster than with people who did not do meditation training. The ability of people to keep the focus and attention on a boring stimulus improves considerably with mindfulness.
9. Mindfulness slows down the degenerative process
A pilot study led by researchers from the Beth Israel Diaconessen Medical Center suggests that the positive changes in the brain related to mindfulness meditation (stress reduction) may be the answer to delaying age-related disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Alzheimer patients, who participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program, showed less cognitive decline than the second group that did not participate in the program.
Even better was that the group that participated in the program reported a higher level of well-being, which also helps recovery/healing.
10. Mindfulness meditation and the gut microbiome
For the meaning microbiome see here (https://www.microbe.net/2015/04/08/what-does-the-term-microbiome-mean-and-where-did-it-come-from-a-bit-of-a-surprise/); microbiome is the genetics of all bacteria in the human body. The human body is full of bacteria. The collection of all bacteria is the human microbiome, generally found in the intestines. Changes and imbalances in the microbiome are one of the causes of inflammation, weakened immunity and possibly weight gain. Small early studies on humans have established a link between psychological stress, stress hormones and changes in the composition of the micro bacteria.
In theory, this means that mindfulness-based stress reduction can be a way to prevent negative changes in the microbiome. This is a conclusion that can be drawn from studies with mice that were placed in stressful circumstances. Increased stress seems to dramatically change the type of bacteria in the intestines of mice, as could be observed repeatedly. Interestingly, the change in the bacteria did indeed increase the inflammatory factors in the blood. This is a very important implication for many health conditions. In order to draw clear scientific conclusions, more research needs to be done. It is almost certain that psychological stress leads to changes in the human microbiome, weakening immunity and is also responsible for several diseases.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
PDS is a common health problem that occurs in 15% – 25% of people (10% of the world’s population). The exact causes are unknown, probably it is several factors that lead to PDS. Imbalance in the gut microbiome, stress and other psychological issues are assumed to be triggered.
Looking at the influence of mindfulness on all the triggers makes it particularly likely that mindfulness PDS will help patients with recovery. A study of a group of 43 patients showed that the group that received mindfulness training realized a stronger reduction in symptoms than the group that received standard medical treatment.
These improvements in recovery were still present after 6 months. Other small studies have shown that 30 minutes of mindfulness helped with PDS symptoms. However, the studies were not really scientifically arranged. Nevertheless, a significant indication that mindfulness helps.
11. Mindfulness improves creativity
The two main issues that have to do with determining creativity level are:
Divergence in thinking (coming up with many ideas) and convergence in thinking (bringing the ideas together in a brilliant concept).
Scientists at Leiden University, led by the Cognitive Psychologist Lorenza, studied the effects of two types of meditations on divergence and convergence. They found that through mindfulness meditation both divergence and convergence were significantly improved. Interestingly, the type of meditation had an effect on what type of thinking creativity was improved. For example, free association meditation improved divergence more than focused attention meditation.
12. Mindfulness reduces the feeling of loneliness
A study at the Carnegie Mellon University led by J. David Creswell scrutinized 40 adults. They discovered that after 30 minutes of meditation per day for 8 weeks, the feeling of loneliness diminished.
This is important because reduced feelings of loneliness coupled with increased compassion and resilience can lead to an incredibly happy, happy and fulfilling meaningful life.
What Creswell wants to remind us: “It is as important to train your brain as training your biceps in the gym”.
13. Mindfulness Meditation and Pregnancy
Stress during pregnancy has been linked to negative health outcomes such as pre-eclampsia (http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Pre-eclampsia), high blood pressure, low birth weight. Small studies have shown that mindfulness during pregnancy can reduce stress. In a study of 74 pregnant Indian women (squaws), the participants who did mindfulness sessions twice a week for 5 weeks experienced much less stress than the control group. This suggests that mindfulness can have very positive effects on the daily stress that is experienced.
14. Mindfulness meditation and cancer
In 2012 there were 14.1 million new cases of cancer worldwide. The number of new cases is expected to increase by 68% until 2030. Mindfulness has shown to realize significant improvements in symptoms and side effects in the treatment of cancer. This includes, among other things, stress, anxiety, depression, vitality, fatigue and sleep levels. Studies show that mindfulness can counter the progression of cancer, particularly in breast cancer. How this works is still under investigation, but stress reduction seems to play a key role.
Research with three groups of cancer patients, a group of 53, and two groups of 26 patients showed that the control group had much shorter telomeres than the groups treated with mindfulness and with supportive expression therapy. Telomeres protect the structure of the DNA (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere). Short telomeres are associated with disease progression and increased mortality (in breast cancer and leukemia).
Although a large number of promising results have been achieved, it is still true that this is a young field of research.
The normal life
It is a very busy and busy world. You fold the laundry while keeping an eye on the children and watch the TV with the other eye. You plan your day while listening to the radio and on your way to work. You eat while you meet.
You are in a hurry to do all your tasks and finish.
You lose the connection with the moment – do you remember how the food tasted, was it good?
You miss all the feelings that are connected to the individual moments. Did you notice if you were equipped this morning or that the apple trees were in bloom?
Mindfulness focuses on your attention with “intent” at the moment.
Start yourself with mindfulness
For the beginners, I refer to my previous blog for an exercise to start with mindfulness.
Some types of meditation require concentration, rehearsal of a sentence or focusing on a feeling or breathing, where you let go of the many thoughts that come up, without paying attention to it. Concentration meditation, just like other activities such as Tai Chi, yoga, Zhi Neng Qigong, can bring about a relaxation reaction. This, in turn, is very important for the way your body and mind respond to stress.
Mindfulness meditation builds on concentration exercises.
How it works:
- Go with the flow: In mindfulness meditation, when you concentrate, see the flow of thoughts, emotions, body sensations without judging good or bad.
- Focus: You will also experience external observations, such as sounds, images, touches that are part of the experiences in the moment. The challenge is not to hook on an idea, emotion, sensation or get caught up in thoughts of the past and the future. Instead, you look at the coming and going of thoughts in your mind and discover which mental patterns are a sense of well-being or suffering.
- Stay in it: Sometimes the process does not seem to relax at all, but over time it provides stronger feelings of happiness, joy and self-awareness as you begin to feel more comfortable, with a broader field of experiences and sensations.
- Practice acceptance: Above all, mindfulness is about accepting everything that comes up in your consciousness at every moment. It is also a kind of forgiveness for and of yourself.
- Very gentle steering: When your mind wanders into planning, daydreaming, or criticism, then observe where it went and send it gently back into the sensations of the moment.
- Do and keep doing: If you missed your planned meditation session, just restart. By practicing accepting your experiences during meditation, it becomes easier to accept what comes your way during the day and to accept it for the rest of the day.
In addition to formal (regular form of) meditation, you can also practice mindfulness in a more informal way.
You can do that by focusing your attention on your sensations from moment to moment during your daily activities. This is done by the opposite of multitasking, ie single-tasking.
You do one activity at a time and you give it your full attention and attention. For example, while you are flossing your teeth, petting the dog or eating an apple, it is difficult, also slowing down the process and the quality of the process.
You are not totally or not at all in the moment, while it is all your senses in charge.
Learn to stay in the moment
A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you stay in the moment and fully participate in your own life. You can, therefore, take every task to practice informal mindfulness.
Whether you’re eating, showering, walking, touching your partner, or playing with your child or grandchild, stay in the moment and devote yourself completely to that task and feel and experience all the sensations of the moment.
The following points can help you:
- Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body
- Breathe in through the nose, allowing the breath into your lower abdomen. Let your abdomen completely expand.
- Now exhale through the mouth
- Notice and perceive the sensations of every inhalation and exhalation
- Proceed slowly with your task with full open feeling and perception
- Let your senses work fully. Note each image, every touch, every sound, every scent so that you can fully enjoy the sensation and enjoy it.
- When you notice that your mind is wandering off from your task you are doing, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
Start with mindfulness meditation
I assume that, if you were not convinced, you now see the usefulness of mindfulness through all scientifically proven results or the combination of these with other forms of meditation that you were already doing.
Invest in yourself
The effects of mindfulness meditation are increased as you do it more; the more you do it the stronger and better the result. For a lot of people, it takes about 20 minutes before the mind comes to rest.
When you’re ready for more, Jon Kabat-Zin, Professor Emeritus, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, advises 45 minutes of meditation for at least 6 weeks.
In the beginning, you can, of course, do shorter periods and slowly expand to longer periods of meditation.
More techniques for stress reduction
Behalve mindfulness zijn er meer technieken die snel leiden tot stressreductie en ondersteuning van heling en het voorkomen van ziekten zoals Neuro Emotionele Integratie, Emotionele Balans, Omega Health Coaching, systemen waarin diverse werkende factoren zijn opgenomen, waaronder ook de effecten van mindfulness. Geleide meditatie, zoals bovenin dit artikel genoemd, heeft empirisch veel positieve resultaten opgeleverd.