Mindfulness can improve the quality of attention, manage situations that cause stress instead of reacting in an automatic way. Mindfulness is a mindful state of consciousness, a turning inward to present-felt experiences. Ray Williams, Psychology Today
In 2016, the Business Insider Magazine website looked at the real-world results of several self-help practices, from thinking positively to low-fat diets, and came up with a list of those that work and those that have no measurable effect. The author's findings on mindful meditation is in line with what we have learned about how regular mindfulness practice actually changes the brain in ways that help us cope with stress.
There are many other reasons why mindfulness training and courses are on the minds of so many of today's parents, teachers, and business people. When we read the results of studies that have been done in university and lab settings on the brains of subjects before and after mindfulness training—studies conducted by academics and based on brain science—it becomes clear that the practice is not a "self-help flavor of the month," or "just a fad," or a "relaxation technique."
Mindfulness training and practice encourages us to see ourselves, and any problems and issues we may face, in a different way. This results in behavior and cognitive changes that have been proven to change our brain's capacity to connect to our experiences and emotions in a more holistic and balanced way.
Where is the evidence?
As we have recently seen with "The Secret" and other self-help fads that ultimately are found to be ineffective and thus fade away, popularity is not a good guide of what works. However, peer-reviewed and published research affords overwhelming evidence to substantiate the real-world effectiveness of mindfulness training:
The following is a list of research results compiled by Psychology Today in 2014:
- "Since 2001, through the work of neuroscientist Richard Davidson and others, we've learned that left prefrontal cortex activity, associated with higher states of personal growth, meaning and purpose, measure at extraordinary high levels with people who practice mindful meditation regularly.
- Research shows mindfulness leads to significant changes in the brain: More cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovativeness, higher levels of well-being, better emotional regulation and more empathy, as reflected in increased levels of alpha and beta brain wave activity.
- The National Institute of Health is currently financing more than 50 studies testing the potential health benefits of mindfulness techniques.
- Researchers at the University of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and MIT reported from their studies of mindfulness that mindfulness practitioners were far more able to "turn down the volume" on distracting information and focus their attention better than non-mindfulness practitioners.
- A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy delivered in a group format is as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression.
- According to a study published in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology, the positive effects of mindfulness begin at the cellular level, altering levels of telomerase immune cells.
- A study at the University of Rochester found that people who scored high on a mindfulness scale were more aware of their unconscious processes and had more cognitive control and greater ability to shape what they do and what they say, than people who scored lower on the mindfulness scale.”
—Ray Williams, 2014
For more study-based evidence, take a look at "How the Brain Changes When You Meditate," "Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain," and "What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?"
The mindfulness bottom line
When we practice mindfulness, we learn to approach and be with difficult emotions and thoughts instead of avoiding them. Mindfulness training and practice enables us to be even more conscious, with the goal and intention of changing our habitual ways of being in the world. Mindfulness teaches a moral and ethical world view that in the long term will satisfy our hunger for a richer life.