What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of awareness. When you’re in a state of mindfulness, your thoughts are centred on that present moment in time. And like a muscle, you can work on strengthening your mindfulness for a healthier brain.
Five ways mindfulness benefits your brain
Mindfulness boosts your resilience
In 2011, Harvard researchers found practicing mindfulness leads to increased brain density in the hippocampus region. People who experience depression and PTSD tend to have a smaller hippocampus, which supports the theory that the more grey matter in the hippocampus, the greater your resilience when it comes to weathering stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness preserves your brain as you age
Research from UCLA in 2015 found that people who follow a meditation practice for four years or longer have better preserved brains compared to people who don’t meditate. While the loss of brain matter-volume does come with age, the researchers found a marked difference in volume throughout the whole brain between meditators and non-meditators.
Read more about how to exercise your mind as you age.
Mindfulness helps with impulse control
Can mindfulness rewire your brain? A study published in the journal Cognitive, Affective & Behavioural Neuroscience in 2007 revealed mindfulness can affect the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC is associated with self-regulation (that is, the ability to refrain from inappropriate, impulsive responses), and among mindfulness practitioners, the research revealed that the ACC is more active. This group also demonstrates a greater ability to manage aggression and control impulsivity than non-meditators.
Mindfulness improves your ability to cope with stress
Mindfulness has been shown to help with decreasing stress and anxiety. One study published in the journal Emotion pulled together two groups: one group was randomly assigned to a stress-reduction group that worked on practicing mindfulness and the other group was a control group. Those in the mindfulness group reported less anxiety, depression and somatic distress compared to the control group.
Read more about 10 simple ways you can start a mindfulness practice to lessen anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness can improve your working memory
Keeping our memories sharp becomes more important as we age and mindfulness can help – It’s been shown to boost working memory. A study published in Emotion in 2010 monitored three groups during a stressful period: a military group that took part in a mindfulness training for eight weeks, a non-meditating military group, and a group of non-meditation civilians. While the civilians’ working memory remained stable and the non-meditating military group experienced a decrease in working memory over time, the meditating military group experienced a boost in their working memory capacity.
Read more about how mindfulness is especially beneficial for older adults.
How to start a daily mindfulness practice
Eager to start a practice now that you know a few of the benefits of mindfulness, but wonder how to start? There are several simple ways you can add mindfulness to your daily life.
Habit-stack a mindfulness practice with your morning routine
Habit-stacking, that is, tying a new behaviour (mindfulness) to an existing behaviour, will help you start to incorporate mindfulness into daily life. And since we all have a morning routine, adding a mindfulness practice to it is one of the best ways to start your mindfulness journey. setting an intention for the day with your a.m. routine. For example, every morning, you do some stretches when you wake up. Now, when you sit up in bed, before you get up to stretch, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to centre yourself. Ask yourself what intention you’d like to set for the day––perhaps you’d like to take better care of yourself by eating well? As you go throughout the day, take moments to pause and reflect on the intention you set to check in on how well you’re doing. If necessary, you readjust to bring yourself closer to your intention.
Read more about alternative ways to practice mindfulness that you may not have considered.
Your meals are a great chance to practice mindfulness in your daily life. All too often, many of us eat without much thought to what we put into our mouths. Being more mindful at meal times allows us to enjoy a great pleasure in life. To start, eat your meals sitting at a table, put away your phone and laptop, and don’t turn on the TV. Consider how hungry you are and listen to what your body tells you(perhaps you’re feeling parched and could use some water before your lunch). Look at your food and, with each bite, take note of the textures and flavours you experience. Be aware of the feeling of fullness that grows in your belly as you eat your meal.
Read more about practicing mindfulness through baking.
Join online mindfulness classes
You can find a wealth of resources online that’ll teach you how to practice mindfulness. And you may find you can more easily start practicing mindfulness daily with online classes compared to attending a course in person or by reading a book. You’ll find a wide variety of mindfulness classes online, everything from sound meditation to mindful tai chi. Dabbling in different disciplines online will help you find the mindfulness practice that resonates the most with you.
Read more about ways to explore mindfulness online.
Be mindful when you exercise
Your favourite sport or workout of choice is another way to practice daily mindfulness. It’s not just activities widely considered “zen,” such as yoga, that can turn into a mindfulness practice. You can be mindful with any workout; it comes down to how you approach your session. Rather than viewing your workout as just a way to get your heart rate up, sweat, and get physically fit, look at it as a mental departure from your daily stresses––one in which you indulge in the beauty of sport and your ability to take part in it.
Set an intention for your workout before you start exercising. For example, if you’re a runner, you might aim to pay attention to your foot strike or, as a swimmer, you may want to make your flip turn faster. As you exercise, pay close attention to your breath and the intensity of your workout. Note how your heart feels pumping in your chest and the perspiration on your skin. Take in what’s around you: the music, other people exercising, the breeze coming off the lake. When you finish your workout, reflect on and appreciate what your body is capable of.
Maintaining and improving your brain function is essential to healthy aging and a better quality of life. Starting a mindfulness practice can stimulate beneficial changes in your brain, and there’s no better time to start incorporating mindfulness activities in your daily life than today.
Read more about ways to exercise your brain as you age.
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