Mindfulness is a mental practice that is proven to improve your life.
With as little as 20 minutes a day, you can start living in the moment, free your mind from anxiety, and live a happier life.
Many scientific studies back the advantages of mindfulness listed below, but in fact, we’re still just beginning to understand the true value of these practices.
- The practice of mindfulness comes from the Buddhist tradition.
- In the West, it’s treated mostly as a form of cognitive therapy.
- The focus is on noticing your breath and bodily sensations.
- The purpose of the practice is to provide relaxation and equilibrium by developing mindful awareness around your thoughts and mental states.
The practice of mindfulness has been extensively studied, and now it’s proven beyond any doubt, that it’s effective. I highly recommend you try it and develop it as a habit. It will change your life for the better in the most unexpected ways.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
1. It allows you to let go of your ego and break the illusion of the self
The untrained mind is controlled by thoughts.
Thoughts naturally appear in your mind. Your brain evolved over millions of years to generate them and let them capture your attention. Your mental space changes constantly. There are new worries, emotions, wishes, desires, and aversions. Normally we identify ourselves with these thoughts. We believe they’re a part of our identity.
But that’s simply not true. Thoughts are an emergent property of the mind. By practicing mindfulness you can simply observe them, without reacting and attaching an emotional weight to them.
You can free yourself from the feeling of being an author of the thoughts inside your mind. There’s no one there to really listen to your self-talk. In Buddhism, this is called non-duality.
If you’re looking for a way to integrate mindfulness into your everyday life, I highly recommend you read Mindfulness in Plain English which I thoroughly enjoyed:
2. It lets you look at the world through the eyes of a child
In Zen meditation, they talk about the “beginner’s mind”. It’s a quality of looking at the world as if for the first time – like everything is a miracle.
This kind of awareness precedes language and the attachment of names to things. Instead of putting everything into little mental compartments (like: “this is a train, this is a bird”), you start to see the world from a broader perspective – without conceptualizing it.
In a Zen Habits article on the topic, Leo Babauta says:
What is a beginner’s mind? It’s dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner.
3. It frees you from deeply ingrained mental conditioning
Bad mental habits can be overcome, but only if you recognize them for what they are. Mindfulness is very helpful here because it lets you distance yourself from your unhelpful thought patterns.
If you’re a smoker, a desire to smoke may appear every time you eat a good meal or have a drink. In psychology, it’s called a behavioral trigger. Normally you would oblige it and grab the cig almost automatically.
But by practicing mindfulness, you can actually observe the visceral feeling of desire which arises when you’re in a presence of a psychological trigger. In this case, you’re more likely to see the feeling for what it is – a mental habit – and question its validity.
If you do it long enough, the old habits that had such a strong grip on your psyche will start to dissolve.
In her insightful article about meditation, mental habits, and creativity, Martine Batchelor says:
As we meditate, we become more aware of the habitual nature of our thoughts. I think of this level as consisting of the mental grooves that our thoughts habitually follow. Meditation helps us break free of these habitual patterns and unleash the original and creative power of thought.
4. It lets you live in the moment
During waking life, our brains function by using the so-called default mode network.
What it means is that by default, there’s a region of your brain that constantly generates thought, anxiety, worry, and stress.
Researchers found that if you’re able to decrease the amount of brain activity in this network (even if for a short period of time), you tend to be much happier because you’re not clinging to every thought.
You can do it by “losing yourself” in a moment, engaging in meaningful activities, and achieving the state of flow – basically doing anything that will keep your thoughts off yourself.
There are good reasons to believe that mindfulness meditation leads to reduced default network activity. And it’s not only during your session. You can actually transfer these benefits to your everyday life.
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
5. It helps you to develop more compassion for yourself and others
Being compassionate is among the top teachings of the Dalai Lama.
In the Buddhist tradition, there are even special practices like Loving Kindness (Metta Bhavana) which allow you to be more compassionate towards yourself and others.
Mindfulness is actually proven to produce more feelings of kindness and compassion.
According to a lecture by Dalai Lama:
“Compassion and affection help the brain to function more smoothly. Secondarily, compassion gives us inner strength; it gives us self-confidence and that reduces fear, which, in turn, keeps our mind calm. Therefore, compassion has two functions: it causes our brain to function better and it brings inner strength. These, then, are the causes of happiness. I feel it is like that.”
6. It generates a lot of joy and laughter in your life
It’s quite common to see master meditators filled with joy and feelings of well-being. Matthieu Ricard “The Happiest Man on The Planet” spent countless hours on the meditation cushion.
He was hooked up to 256 sensors and a brain-wave scanner, and to the amazement of everyone involved, it turned out that his brain produces off-the-chart levels of gamma waves which are usually associated with intelligence, compassion, self-control, and feelings of happiness.
According to the article in the Smithsonian Magazine:
“Matthieu’s activity in the left prefrontal cortex also went up rapidly, relative to the right half, which indicates a large increase in happiness and unlikeliness for negativity.”
7. It improves your focus and quality of your thinking
Studies conducted by Giuseppe Pagnoni revealed that mindfulness decreases the amount of mind-wandering and improves mental focus. He took twelve experienced Zen meditators and juxtaposed them with twelve non-meditators. Then he scanned their brains with fMRI.
It turned out that meditators had more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC) which is associated with the Default Mode Network.
Sara Lazar, a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology, who also conducted studies on the benefits of mindfulness said:
“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.”
8. It helps you to observe and not react to your emotions
Being a good meditator gives you more emotional stability. You don’t get taken over by anger or fear because you have the ability to observe the emotions and notice the sensations associated with them.
Normally, you would be overcome with the emotion because there’s no time for you to see it as a mental phenomenon arising in consciousness.
Another great advantage of the meditative mind is that you can shorten the duration of negative emotions. Some people can be angry or anxious for hours, but if you’re well-trained, you can dissolve these kinds of emotions in minutes.
According to a study conducted at the University of Utah:
“People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress.”
9. It’s a great remedy for anxiety
One of the main cliches about meditation is that it allows you to “live in the moment”. It’s hard to get your head around what “living in the moment” exactly means but basically, it’s that you don’t dwell on the past, and you don’t worry about the future. You just enjoy the moment.
The mind is such a tricky mechanism. Even when you engage in one of the most pleasurable activities like sex or cuddling with your partner, you can start thinking about “what do I have to do next?” and “oh no, that project at work”.
How about applying some mindfulness and enjoying the moment while it lasts?
10. It’s a great remedy for depression
It’s proven that mindfulness is one of the best things to engage with if you’re suffering from depression (another great thing to do is engage in regular physical exercise).
One of the pioneers in the area of mindfulness and depression is Jon Kabat-Zinn who started working in 1992 with researchers Zindel Segal, John Teasdale, and Mark Williams.
After a long collaboration, they published Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression.
By conducting randomized clinical trials, they proved that MBCT reduces rates of relapse by 50% among patients who suffer from recurrent depression.
11. It allows you to come to grips with your past
Our unconscious minds hold many painful memories and experiences. They rarely come to the surface of our conscious mind, and when they do, we do our best to push them back and ignore them.
But they’re still there, affecting our reality, even if we don’t want to admit it.
Some experiences like child abuse, rape, witnessing domestic violence are so painful, in fact, that an adult concocts a fictitious story around them just to cope with them.
This can be remedied with long sessions of psychotherapy, but another thing to consider here is mindfulness meditation.
When your mind is very still, these horrible memories will resurface in vivid detail but instead of “running away” from them, you face them and observe them until they lose their power over you.
12. It improves your concentration and cognitive performance
According to a new study, practicing meditation boosts your focus and helps to improve scores on GRE tests.
The most probable reason for these improvements is that mindfulness allows you to develop a powerful focus on a single task which is crucial when taking tests of any kind.
According to a study conducted by Alberto Chiesa, Raffaella Calati and Alessandro Serretti:
“Overall, reviewed studies suggested that early phases of mindfulness training, which are more concerned with the development of focused attention, could be associated with significant improvements in selective and executive attention whereas the following phases, which are characterized by an open monitoring of internal and external stimuli, could be mainly associated with improved unfocused sustained attention abilities. Additionally, MMPs could enhance working memory capacity and some executive functions.”
How did you like this article? Have you noticed any other positive changes in your life after taking up a mindfulness practice?
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