Mindfulness is getting a lot of buzz in the last year, and sometimes it is hard to tell what is media hype and what is real. There are many people, myself included, who could sit with you for hours and cite the benefits of having mindfulness practices in their life. I will also tell you, they changed my life.
If you knew me ten years ago, you could vouch for that. If you didn’t know me then, or now, or are prone to being cynical, it can easily sound cliché.
In the mindfulness programs that we offer at Prasada, we focus on tangible strategies of mindfulness practices, but it is equally important to spend a bit of time with the science behind these practices. I look to organizations like The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, a non-profit that studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society, when I want to about why these practices work.
Studies verify that the methods being examined are consistent and the results can be repeated. I was reviewing a study recently, Mindfulness practice leads to regional brain gray matter density, that came after our team was searching for how mindfulness can help with focus.
This article revealed more than just focus, and I wanted to share these with you. Here are the Big Four: learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking. These all sound very impressive, right? But what do these scientific terms mean, and how does that actually translate to being a perk in your life?
Learning and memory processing
This essentially entails your memory and sensory input. For example, how quickly do you register that the stoplight turned yellow? How long do you stand in your kitchen before remembering what you were there for? How often do you have to stop and think about if you locked the door? Meditation can help minimize these little pauses throughout your day by helping you flow through your thought processes better and with less hesitation.
We all have reactions to events, and sometimes we have more control over these reactions than other times. Emotional regulation means your ability to control your emotions and how you express them. The most common example of this is patience, which controls frustration.
Getting better at emotional regulation means you can step back from a situation and consider all sides before reacting, rather than immediately responding. Tempering your instant emotional response can be extremely important and beneficial in almost every aspect of your life, including relationships, friendships, work, parenting and day-to-day activities.
Every minute we are experiencing and processing external information and then relating it back to your own life. Let’s say a friend is having a lot of trouble finding a job because they arrive at job interviews in their pajamas. You can learn from their mistake and utilize that knowledge in your own life by wearing something more appropriate when you go for an interview. Enhancing this ability allows you to notice and learn subtleties and use them to benefit your own experiences.
How good are you at seeing things from another point of view? Better perspective taking means a better understanding of others motives and can translate widely to a more empathetic life. If someone shows up late to a meeting, perspective taking can be the difference between being annoyed about their lateness and understanding their difficulty getting there from their frazzled and distressed appearance. It’s essentially putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, allowing you to see the world from a broader outlook.
All of these are perks that can make life easier. But what do you need to do to reap these rewards? In this particular study 17 participants spent eight weeks practicing a combination of body scans, mindful yoga, sitting meditation and informal everyday mindfulness, averaging around 27 minutes of these exercises per day. The results were measured through MRI scans that showed heightened gray matter concentration in areas of the brain that impact these qualities. Even 30 minutes of mindfulness per day was enough to physically change the test groups’ brains—and potentially yours—for the better.