NeuronsThe Science of Mindfulness At Work

There are currently around 3-400 peer-reviewed journal papers published each year exploring the science, theory and application of mindfulness. The evidence for its effectiveness has expanded rapidly in recent years. Here is a brief summary of what the science of mindfulness is saying:

Resilience and psychological flexibility:

Mindfulness can help manage stress well, increasing our sense of well-being and improving resilience and psychological health. With mindfulness, we can relate more effectively to thought patterns, deepen our emotional intelligence and nurture quality of life. Mindfulness reduces reactivity, helping us let go of unhelpful habits and make wise choices. (1)

Brain changes:

Mindfulness practice leads to neuroplastic changes in the brain which seem to correlate with shifts reported in the clinical research. Mindfulness leads to increased activity and growth in neural networks associated with skilful attending, self-regulation, well-being and an engaged approach to the world. It leads to reduced activity in areas of the brain associated with distress and stress reactivity, as well as patterns of avoidance and dysfunctional behaviour. (2)

Relationships:

Mindfulness helps us relate with others more skillfully. Studies have shown that mindfulness practice is associated with empathy, which can lead to more fruitful relationships. More mindful people also feel more connected with others, and engage in more pro-social and environmentally-friendly actions. (3)

Cognitive skills:

Early research suggests that practicing mindfulness may help sharpen our cognitive performance, with benefits for focus, concentration, and working memory. (4) Promising studies also suggest mindfulness may aid creative, flexible problem-solving (5) and rational decision-making. (6)

Physical well-being:

Mindfulness can help us look after our physical health—strengthening the immune system, speeding up healing, and enabling people to cope with a range of common illnesses, including pain, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It helps regulate our nervous systems, reducing stress hormones and inflammation levels. (7)

(1) For a comprehensive review of how mindfulness can aid personal development, see this Campbell Collaboration review De Vibe et al (2012) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Improving Health, Quality of Life and Social Functioning In Adults. Also see Keng et al (2011) Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies, Clinical Psychology Review, Vol: 31, 6, p1041–1056

(2) For a comprehensive review, see Holzel et al (2011) How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms Of Action From A Conceptual And Neural Perspective, Perspectives On Psychological Science 6:537

(3) For more on this, see Brown et al (2007) Mindfulness: Theoretical Foundations and Evidence For Its Salutary Effects, Psychological Inquiry 2007

(4) For a review, see Chiesa et al (2011) Does Mindfulness training Improve Cognitive Abilities? A Systematic Review of Neuropsychological Findings, Clinical Psychology Review 31 449-464.

(5) For a comprehensive review of mindfulness and phsyical health, see Carlson et al (2012) Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Physical Conditions: A Narrative Review Evaluating Levels of Evidence, Psychiatry, Vol 2012

(6) Kirk et (2011) Interoception Drives Increased Rational Decision-Making in Meditators Playing the Ultimatum Game, Frontiers in Neuroscience 2011 5: 49.

(7) eg Ostafin et al (2012) Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem-solving, Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 21, Issue 2, June 2012, p1031–1036, and Greenberg et al (2012) “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity, PLoS ONE 7(5)


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