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👀 How Present To Your Daily Life Are You?
Mindfulness meditation and its impact on the brain
Hello friend! 👋
Writing this while honeymooning in magical Bali has been super rewarding.
As I intentionally focus on savoring the beautiful moments, I realize more and more how important it is to be fully present in everyday life. For the good, to savor and fully absorb it, and the bad, to understand it and deal rather than runaway from it.
But we rarely are present nowadays (especially with the constant distractions we are surrounded with).
Mindfulness practice has been proven from a scientific and evidence-based evaluations for it’s power to strengthen the ability to be present.
I honestly find it striking that such a simple practice as mindfulness meditation has profound psychological and physiological impacts - from psychotherapeutic programs helping anxiety, eating disorders, chronic pain, and depression to decreases blood pressure, cortisol levels, muscle tension, improved immunity, increased telomerase activity, as well as enhanced cognitive functioning.
These are not just claims, they are outcomes rigorously validated via scientific studies - no wonder it has been dubbed a “Magic Pill”.
Most people assume mindfulness meditation is only for getting calm and reducing stress (it is extremely good at doing that), but that’s only a byproduct of other profoundly powerful aspects. Below I will cover three of them.
Let’s dive straight in!
Focus & Attention Regulation
Maintaining attention while being distracted is done by executive attention. This is the same function that filters out the road noise while you’re driving so you can focus your attention on what matters.
Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) part of the brain is responsible for executive functioning
Brain scans of meditators showed an increase in thickness and gray matter of the ACC, more over there was actual and immediately noticeable changes following 1-hr meditation only. (!)
Meditations continuously require executive attention functioning and practice therefore increasing one’s ability and skill in practicing that beyond their meditation cushion and into their lives.
Before you get put off or scared away, the 1-hr session had immediate changes in the brain, but we don’t all have that much time. Science shows that just 12-minutes of quiet time a day can have the same effect if done consistently.
We all can find 12-minutes in our 24-hours (24 hrs=1,440 min) a day.
Having awareness is the ultimate form of wisdom.
Awareness of what’s working, what’s not working, what’s important, and what’s not can help in decision making and where to focus energy. But strengthening awareness is a tricky feat - one great (but slow and reactive) way to build awareness is through experiences and reflecting on them. We learn after the fact.
A proactive way, one in which we can be aware of things before going into an experience, can be cultivated by intentionally practicing body awareness.
Body awareness is cultivated by intentionally paying attention to one’s sensations
Brain scans show an increase gray matter in the tempora-parietal junction of the brain responsible for first-person perspective resulting in sensory enhancement
This enhanced sensory functioning allows for higher levels of emotional sensing, as well as increased empathetic response.
When meditating, the practice of paying attention to the body helps strengthen this ability of sensing and understanding what is going on around you.
Emotional Intelligence & Regulation
Everything we do is linked to our emotional state and our understanding of, and influence on, it.
Studies have shown that meditation practice helps reduce emotional clinging and allow meditators to prolong positive affect while reducing negative affect.
Brain scans show increased gray matter in the ACC, responsible for executive functioning and emotional brain regulation. Reduced Amygdala functioning (responsible for stress) and increased gray matter concentration in the hippocampus (responsible for processing stress)
These three areas of the brain are responsible for emotional processing and regulation, especially in managing challenging and traumatic events.
The amygdala responsible for emotional reaction activates the stress-response system (fight,flight, or freeze)
The hippocampus responsible for memory is able record start and finish of the event
The PFC responsible for executive function is able to subside the activity of the amygdala after receiving signals form the hippocampus that the event has ended.
The imbalance of the functioning of these parts of the brain are the main components of PTSD cycle of fear and trauma.
But this is not limited to people who suffer from traumatic disorders, it applies to everyone who is faced with chronic levels of stress (work, social pressure, excessive and consistent training, etc..)
These are just few of the many powerful aspects of a true mindfulness practice (actual focusing practice, rather than a spa-themed brain massage).
It is the main reason why I embarked on a journey to study to teach it from a scientific and evidence-based perspective. And this October I intend on offering this class to those who are interested in learning about it.
Check out the footer for more details and have a Super Sunday!
With much joy,
PS. In October, I will be running an 8-week empirically validated mindfulness program called MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that was started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn more than four decades ago.
This program is the most researched mindfulness program in the world, deeply rooted in science, and has consistently been shown to deliver positive outcomes associated with increased self-awareness, as well as emotional and attentional regulation.
I studied this program at Brown University and then continued to the University of California San Diego, where I am currently teaching under mentorship.
If you’re interested in joining the program starting in October, click the link below to sign up for the orientation session and then decide if it is the right fit for you!