Oakville Zen Meditation

#114: Seven reasons to practice mindfulness: an update*.27JUN16

Usually, “feeling doing nothing” is a poor advice to follow if you want to feel better.

Yet, a growing body of scientific literature shows that the practice of mindfulness thoughtlessly has significant positive impacts on our body and mind.

There are two ways of being mindful. It depends on its purpose.

Mindfulness can be either:

  • Volitional: To concentrate, to focus, and to analyze on a task in order to achieve something.

This is a cognitive process.

  • Or, to be mindful is simply to pay attention, moment to moment, without analysis, judgment and volition. This is a non-cognitive, non-volitional thoughtless mental process.

We will talk here about the second one.

To be mindful is to pay attention with the mind but without thoughts. It is to observe “thoughtlessly”.

We can pay attention, thoughtlessly moment to moment, to our body, our five senses, our perceptions, to what we do, what we think and to our environment.

We will see that learning to pay attention, to observe, to be aware thoughtlessly has significant positive impacts on our body and mind, enhancing our wellbeing.

Mindfulness meditation, in practice for more than 15,000 years is a formal mindfulness activity during which one pays attention to 1) posture 2) breathing as mind anchor and 3) incoming thoughts which are deleted one after the other.

Its main purposes are 1) control our ego-mind thoughts and feelings, and 2) spiritual quest.

However, you don’t have to be a monk to reap the benefits of mindfulness practice.

Here are seven proven heath benefits of mindfulness daily practice.

1. Mindfulness with or without meditation lowers stress manifestations:

This is, by far, the main impact of mindfulness practice.

According to a meta-analysis of 47 medical studies on 3,500 adults published in JAMA in 2015 showed that mindfulness meditation induces moderate to significant reductions of stress related clinical manifestations. Main stress manifestations can be summarized as:

Psychological: anxiety, sadness, depression, resentment, chronic fatigue, eating disorders, addiction, insomnia, poor self image, fear.

Intellectual: poor concentration, loss of analytic and judgmental skills, poor memory.

Physical: Chronic pain of neck and back, headache, abdominal pain, irregular digestive transit, skin itching, poor libido.

Societal: absenteeism, loss of interpersonal skills, loss of empathy, withdrawal, compulsive behavior (work, spending, food, shopping, gambling).

2) Mindfulness practice improves our sleep:

A 2015 six weeks randomized clinical trial showed significant sleep improvement in quality and duration in the meditative group.

3) Mindfulness relieves physical pain and enhances physical well being:

In 2015, at the Wake Forest neuro-biology department 85 patients with chronic pain were studied.

The group taking daily mindfulness meditation had a 30% reduction in pain intensity from 0 to 10 and in muscle tension. The results were confirmed by MRI. The neuro activity of the brain main pain centres (amygdala, thalamus and hypothalamus) was reduced.

Following injury, rehabilitation and recovery time were reduced by around 30%. 

4) You will get sick less often:

In a randomized controlled trial published in the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers found that people practicing mindfulness meditation were about 34% less likely to develop infections.

5) You will upgrade the quantity and quality of your diet:

A recent study in the journal Obesity shows that people who meditate have 35% lower prevalence of obesity, of type II diabetes, of coronary heart disease and lower blood pressure than those who don’t meditate. The reasons are probably multi-factorial but still remain somewhat speculative. Better stress control and well-being are inducing better eating habits in quality and quantity: fewer calories, less sugar and more veggies/fruits.

6) It can/ will help with some chronic medical conditions:

Andrew Well at the University of Arizona Integrative Medicine had showed that the practice of daily mindfulness meditation using deeper and slower breathing is beneficial in reducing: blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol stress hormone, chronic pain, some allergies, mild depression, lack of concentration and compulsive behavior.

7) It may mellow your kids:

In a study of third-graders, eight weeks of mindfulness resulted in 45% fewer ADHD symptoms intensity, 20% increased in math scores, better concentration and societal skills.

Final words:

The beneficial effects of mindfulness practice have been proven scientifically over the last 25 years.

Yet, its exact mechanisms of action are still not well understood despite the progress in neuro imaging, neuro- biology and endocrinology.

Nevertheless, it seems that mindfulness main clinical impact is related to its multi-factorial anti-stress effect (see reason #1). This anti stress effect has being confirmed by many neuro imaging diagnosis in which the activity of our emotional centers is reduced by the practice of mindfulness at large that is with our without meditation. Such reduction of activity is related to the local biochemical changes and the capacity of mindfulness meditation of rewiring the brain as part of neuroplasticity.

* References

TIME: special edition 2015.   Page 86-87.

The healing power of meditation: a multi contributor’s input. SHAMBALA pub. 2013