As we reviewed in the previous blog, mindfulness is the ability for one to be fully present in the moment. It’s a state of full awareness of our mind, body, and soul. Mindfulness is also an acceptance of all our thoughts and feelings without judgement. It’s a way of living that allows us to live moment by moment without worrying about what has already happened or what will happen in the future. In the last decade especially, there has been a surge in popularity with mindfulness meditation and other similar practices. The idea of mindfulness has evolved from a Buddhist concept to a mainstream form of psychological therapy. The reason why it has gained so much popularity is because of the wide array of benefits it has for people when they regularly practise one or more mindfulness meditation methods.
The psychological benefits of mindfulness
There are many reasons you may choose to practise mindfulness meditation – one of the main reasons being improved focus and attention. The entire concept of mindfulness is being aware of what’s happening in the moment and training your mind to pay attention to what’s happening in the present, but there are other psychological and emotional benefits to mindfulness meditation as well such as:
- Lower stress levels: There have been many studies done on how meditation relieves or reduces stress levels. According to research from the American Psychological Association, regularly practising meditation allows one to take control of their emotions, thereby promoting a healthier reaction to stressful situations. They also indicate that meditation can minimize negative emotions and encourage more positive emotions.
- Improved sleep quality: Stress can have hundreds of different side effects on the body both physical and psychological. One of the many side effects being impacted is sleep quality or having insomnia. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, roughly 50% of Canadians have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, and, 36.3% of adults who get insufficient sleep report having chronic stress. However, a study from The British Psychological Society concluded that mindfulness intervention improved sleep quality and duration of sound sleep for those experiencing issues.
- Reduced anxiety and depression: Again, stress can play a very large role in many health issues some of us may experience, including anxiety and depression. Research conducted by the American Psychological Association found that therapists are at a higher risk of psychological problems related to their occupation. So, they studied the effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training on medical students. After 8 weeks of training, students were reportedly showing reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. In similar studies done, people showed reduced anger, PTSD symptoms, and improved attention and self-regulation.
The physical benefits of mindfulness
The way we react to stress, anxiety and other emotional or psychological illnesses can strongly impact our physical well-being. Everything from headaches and muscle pains to more serious health concerns such as cardiovascular health can all be (in some cases) related back to stress. Our world and our culture have become driven by stress and getting tasks done quickly, and sometimes our bodies start to indicate that it’s time to slow down for a second and think mindfully for a moment. These are just a few of the physical impacts that mindfulness meditation can have on the body if you’re curious:
- Progress towards weight loss: A very interesting study conducted back in 2011 analyzed the effects of mindfulness intervention on overweight and obese women and its’ impact on stress eating. It found that there were promising improvements to chronic stress and reductions in body fat among those who participated in the study. When you practise mediation, you become more aware – in particular, you become more aware of your eating habits and why you’re eating something. Are you choosing to eat something because you’re hungry or because you’re bored? Over time, the more aware you become of your eating habits, the more likely you are to make wiser decisions for your diet and stop overeating.
- Increased immune functioning: It’s been shown through multiple studies that mindfulness or practising MBSR has shown reduced physical illnesses in participants. It has also been shown to possibly improve immune cell count and aging, however, further research is still needed to fully reveal the full impact mindfulness has on the immune system.
- Managing chronic pain: When we are experiencing pain, our first reaction is to try to make it go away and ignore it. However, mindfulness thinking can force us to focus on that pain and become curious about it and understand it more. When we judge our pain or jump to negative thoughts about it, it makes the pain worse.
Although mindfulness meditation has become a cultural phenomenon, there is still so much to discover about the different benefits it can have on the human body. So far, what we know is that it can improve our emotional, psychological and physical well being, but for everyone, it can help with something different. Mindfulness for some of us is a way to relieve stress and slow down for a moment in our crazy, everyday lives. For others, it’s a way of finding clarity or relief in their life. The best part is, anyone can do it. If you decide to take on mindfulness meditation, whatever the reason may be, there is only something to gain from it to keep reaching new heights.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray