For some time now, mindfulness has been touted as a beneficial practice. With benefits ranging from the physical to the emotional, mindfulness is believed to improve an individual’s quality of life in addition to their general attitudes. Why mindfulness works, however, has been something of a mystery to most of us, but recent studies demonstrate the profound effects that mindfulness can have on the brain, resulting in overall improvement for those who practice it.
Brain imaging studies show that mindfulness engages a few key areas of the brain. One of these is the frontopolar cortex which is connected to self-awareness. Individuals who practice mindfulness are generally more aware of their thoughts and emotions, thereby increasing their emotional intelligence and giving them a better grasp on reality.
Elements from meditation are integrated into many mindfulness practices; one of the most prominent features relates to breathing. Monitoring your breathing along with your thoughts can engage the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for calming down the body in the wake of stress, so engaging it as a part of mindfulness can help individuals be more relaxed. This relaxation has many benefits including reduced cortisol levels and lower blood pressure. High levels of stress are commonly associated with dangerous health conditions including stroke, insomnia, and diabetes, so lower stress levels achieved through mindfulness promotes better overall health.
Studies suggest that mindfulness may reduce the pain of negative emotions and aid in emotional regulation. Building off the heightened self-awareness that many practitioners of mindfulness experience, mindfulness can help individuals better understand and manage their emotions while also mitigating the effects that negative emotions can have.
Another interest effect mindfulness may have relates to the fear response. In individuals who practice mindfulness, the amygdala (which is a part of the brain responsible for threat responses) is less active. In other words, mindfulness may play a part in keeping individuals calm even in stressful situations, and their natural fear response is limited as a result. While the amygdala is less active in these individuals, the prefrontal cortex is often more active; what this suggests is that mindful individuals are more thoughtful and less reactive.