Mindfulness practice is a transformative practice. If you engage in eating ice cream five minutes every day, do you know what would happen? Your waistline would be transformed… and probably not in the way you’d want. 🙄
You wouldn’t see it changing each day, but over the course of a few weeks, you’d notice some changes.
That’s how it is with mindfulness practice.
After five minutes on the first day you might not notice any transformation occurring, but over a few weeks you’ll notice some significant changes.
8 Ways Mindfulness Can Transform Your Brain
1. Meditation helps preserve the aging brain. As we age we lose gray matter in our brains. That’s been known for a while. What a UCLA study concluded was that even though there is brain loss as humans age, in the meditators more brain impact in terms of brain loss was less and demonstrated a widespread area of positive impact. As Walton writes:
“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
2. Meditation reduces brain activity in the ‘me-center.’ A Yale University study found that “mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” Walton writes. Since this DMN is associated the meandering thought activity and found to dominate in less happy people, this is significant. It means that meditation can impart prolonged period of happiness in those who practice.
3. Mindfulness meditation can rival the effects of anti-depressants. Walton writes, “A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain.” Because meditation is an active training activity for the brain, “it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms” says researcher Madhav Goyal.
4. Meditation may lead to volume changes in key areas of the brain. As Walton reports, “In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress.”
5. Just a few days of training improves concentration and attention. “One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE.” reports Walton. “Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job, too.”
6. Meditation reduces anxiety — and social anxiety. “Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to help people with social anxiety disorder: a Stanford University team found that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs (MBSR) brought about changes in brain regions involved in attention, as well as relief from symptoms of social anxiety.”
7. Meditation can help with addiction. “A growing number of studies has shown that, given its effects on the self-control regions of the brain, meditation can be very effective in helping people recover from various types of addiction,” Walton writes.
One study, for example, pitted mindfulness training against the American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking (FFS) program, and found that people who learned mindfulness were many times more likely to have quit smoking by the end of the training.”
8. Short meditation breaks can help kids in school. Walton reports, “For developing brains, meditation has as much as or perhaps even more promise than it has for adults. There’s been increasing interest from educators and researchers in bringing meditation and yoga to school kids, who are dealing with the usual stressors inside school, and oftentimes additional stress and trauma outside school. Some schools have starting implementing meditation into their daily schedules, and with good effect: One district in San Francisco started a twice daily meditation program in some of its high-risk schools – and saw suspensions decrease, and GPAs and attendance increase. Studies have confirmed the cognitive and emotional benefits of meditation for schoolchildren, but more work will probably need to be done before it gains more widespread acceptance.”
How practicing mindfulness can improve things at work
With all this good stuff going on in response to meditation, you’d think everyone would be doing it. But we humans can find almost any reason to avoid something we know is good for us.
With regular practice, even just five minutes each day, you can reap some of the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Of course, you won’t experience all the above changes in only five short minutes, but it’s all you really need to get used to the mechanics.
What you’ll notice is that after a week of two of daily practice, the way you view things that used to stress you immediately don’t have quite as much affect on you. That thing your boss says all the time that really grates on your nerves doesn’t really get to you like it used to.
That alone is worth the price of admission, right?
Mindfulness and meditation aren’t the panacea for everything that bugs you about work, but it can help you decrease your stress level and promote healthy changes in your brain.