The brain’s gray matter is responsible for information processing. People and animals with more gray matter in certain parts of the brain are more intelligent – about 6% of gray matter is directly linked to intelligence. There is mounting evidence that a practice called mindfulness rebuilds gray matter and improves psychological wellbeing and cognitive ability. Both chronic pain and depression are reduced in those who practice mindfulness. In a Harvard study, benefits were seen in as little as 8 weeks! You can also read this study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Mindfulness means being fully present. Being aware of where we are and what we are doing and not overly reacting to or overwhelmed by what is happening around us. Seems easy, except that our minds are constantly taking flight – thinking about something that happened previously (even just seconds ago) or about something in the future. How often have we driven someplace, arrived, and not remembered anything about the trip because our minds were someplace else?
We have about 50,000 thoughts a day, of which 98% are the same as the thoughts we had yesterday and 80% are negative! These negative thoughts result in stress and irritability, leading to regret and worry. Such thoughts reduce cognitive ability, worsen depression, increase perception of pain, and reduce creativity, among others. Watch these YouTubes to learn more. Minfulness in 3 minutes and The Science Behind Mindfulness Meditation.
If you practice yoga or do some form of meditation, you are practicing mindfulness. For a quick introduction to mindfulness visit Mindful.org’s 5-Minute Breathing Meditation. There are also numerous apps to assist with mediation, such as OMG I Can Meditate and Calm, both available for mobile devices.
If you’d like to review the research on mindfulness, check out these links.
*Mindfulness shows potential as a treatment for depression in people with chronic pain (2017)
*Mindfulness improves suppression of irrelevant mental-sets and alleviates depression (2017)
*Mindfulness improves body awareness in people with chronic pain and comorbid depression (2016)
*Mindfulness reduces stress and fear conditioning (2016)
*Yoga and meditation practitioners have stronger functional connectivity within basal ganglia cortico-thalamic feedback loops than non-practitioners (2015)
*Changes in Brainstem Gray Matter Concentration Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention is Correlated with Improvement in Psychological Well-Being (2014)
*Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation: Insights from Neurobiological, Psychological, and Clinical Studies (2017)