Research in neuroscience, psychology, medicine, and education has confirmed that regular mindfulness practice can result in:
Improved mental functioning: greater concentration, learning ability, creativity and memory; quicker responses
Heightened sensory awareness and physical perception
Emotional well-being: reduced anger, anxiety, sadness and depression; growing contentment and positivity
Relaxation: physiological state of rest throughout the mind and body
Improved self-esteem and self-control
Ability to slow down and experience life moment by moment
Greater enthusiasm and appreciation for life
Deepened empathy and social awareness: feelings of harmony with others
Optimized health: increased physical energy, improved breathing patterns, lower heart rate, healthier coronary arteries, reduced risk of stroke, reduced muscle tension, normalized blood sugar level, strengthened immune system, slowed aging process, improved sleep, reduced illness, reduced drug dependence, and reduced pain levels.
Four general effects of mindfulness practices:
1. They bring us fully into the present moment.
As we focus on our physical sensations and actions in the present, our awareness is filled with our immediate experience. As a result, our thinking mind has less opportunity to run through stressful thoughts. This gives us a break from our habitual mental patterns.
Putting down our mobile phones, schedules, and deadlines for a few minutes allows us to turn our attention within and sense the natural processes of breathing and circulation, balance and movement, as well as muscle tension and other signs of stress. In the body, we are free of clock time, so each moment of practice relieves pressure that is created by time.
2. They train us to look at our experience objectively.
The ability to examine one’s thoughts, feelings, and body sensations– in a calm and non-reactive way– is an essential skill in managing stress and in learning to appreciate life to the fullest.
3. They produce feelings of relaxation and well-being.
These practices ease us into the nurturing wholeness of our body-mind. As our physical sensation and mental awareness become one, there is a familiar sense of ‘coming home.’ This is comforting, relaxing, and quietly powerful. And, because we can be mindful at any time, we can access this inner reserve of well-being at any time.
4. They re-build the brain.
With each moment of mindful practice the brain forms new, robust neural connections associated with rest, relaxation, and alert attention. The left and right hemispheres of the brain are balanced, the frontal cortex is activated, and the somato-sensory cortex is re-wired. Overall, the nervous system and physiology communicate the message, “I am a calm, focused, and self-confident person.” This produces good feeling in the present moment, as well as a cushion between us and any future stressor.