Mindfulness & Neuroscience: How it impacts brain health?
Research in the field of mindfulness has continued to evolve over the years, the benefits of practicing mindfulness have become clear. It was only recently discovered that we could understand mindfulness from a neuroscience perspective. Brain imaging studies from various research institutes have shown that meditation and mindfulness practices can boost overall brain functioning. Practicing mindfulness enables the human brain to re-wire and break neural pathways that have become habitual at an alarming rate.
The origins of mindfulness as we know it
The word mindfulness is an English translation of a Buddhist concept known as Samma Sati. When meditation teachings were adapted for a public audience in the 70s, they placed a strong emphasis on the importance of deliberately paying attention to actual experiences as they occur. Later on, world-famous mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a program that would benefit clinical, secular and academic settings.
Mindfulness and how it affects the brain
Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as the process of finding awareness on a moment to moment basis through paying purposeful attention to the present in a non-judgmental manner. Zinn’s unique way of teaching mindfulness involved instructing people to sit quietly with their legs crossed while their attention was focused solely on their breathing
In neuroscience, the monkey mind is simply a chain reaction of neural circuits responding to the thoughts that are already in our minds. When the neural circuits get activated as a result of sensory stimuli (which in this case is the act of closing your eyes and taking controlled breaths), it arouses a fury of mental activity that forces our brains to wander.
Because of this, most of us spend our entire lives lacking presence, unable to steer or regulate our thinking. This is why practices that cultivate mindfulness are important because they allow us to experience the raw sensations that pass through our nervous system.
When we make mindfulness a practice and routine, these sensations continuously arise and pass away throughout the practice. As the mental activity continues to calm down the more we practice mindfulness, we are able to be in tune with the present, which is when it can be said that we have achieved a higher consciousness.
When we practice mindfulness, the parts of the brain that are affected positively are:
- The posterior cingulate, which is the part that allows the mind to wander.
- The left hippocampus which is critical for learning and memory.
- The temporoparietal junction which deals with human perspective, empathy, as well as compassion.
- Pons which enables communication to occur between the cortex and the brain stem when we are asleep
Generally, mindfulness changes the brain in areas that are vital for emotional regulation, compassion, empathy, and concentration.