May 13, 2015
Mindfulness is the art of living in the moment. Often people from all walks of life wonder if all the talk about mindfulness is just hype. AMA’s global study on “Mindfulness in the Workplace: Practices and Implications” by Miles Overholt and Mark Vickers, finds that mindfulness is strongly endorsed by those who practice some form of it. But why does it work?
In simple terms, mindfulness works because living in the moment enables a person to:
The more technical, scientific explanation is that mindfulness enables the front of the brain, called the pre-frontal cortex, the seat of rational thought, to react rather than the emotional fear-inducing fight-flight area, called the amygdala.
Here is a more thorough explanation of some of the research that supports mindfulness:
The science of mindfulness is extensive, rigorous, and impressive. Dr. Kabat-Zinn conducted research on the impact of his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses and found that participants in his courses showed clear gains in their ability to focus and in reduced stress. His work spurred myriad studies from 1980-2000. Many of these studies supported Kabat-Zinn’s findings, showing significant relationships between mindfulness training and reduced stress, increased focus, and psychological well-being. For example, in 2000, mindfulness was linked to a reduction in relapses after patients were treated for depression.
Perhaps even more impressive has been the work of the last ten years in which functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans are used to scan the brain to see if participants in MBSR treatments experienced differences in brain functioning. In a 2014 study published in the Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, participants in an MBSR program not only scored significantly higher in a psychological well-being assessment, but experienced growing amounts of gray matter (that is, brain tissue) in certain areas of the brain. In another study, which involved 32,827 global respondents, a University of Liverpool research team concluded that people who ruminated less had fewer mental health issues. One frequently prescribed way to manage rumination is by practicing mindfulness.
Research results have consistently shown that mindfulness and meditation are powerful change agents for reducing negativity and anxiety while improving relationships, parenting, and work performance. In short, mindfulness can strengthen the front part of our brain–the pre-frontal cortex–to decreases the strength of the fear-inducing fight-flight area, called the amygdala. In addition, mindfulness also strengthens the connection between the pre-frontal cortex and the attention and concentration areas of the brain.
This is not to say that mindfulness practices are a panacea for whatever ails people. Although most studies and media reports cite the benefits of mindfulness, there have also been anecdotal reports on negative psychological reactions to meditation, one of the most widely used mindfulness practices. Of course, nearly every human activity intended to benefit us (e.g., running marathons, taking medications, psychotherapy) has, at times, been reported to have negative outcomes. Like anything else, mindfulness practices should be used wisely.
Here are three techniques that may help you experience mindfulness:
Want to learn more about mindfulness and how it impacts business? Check out these statistics from a recent report on mindfulness conducted by Miles Overholt and Mark Vickers: