What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is commonly defined as a type of meditation, where individuals practice being completely engaged in the present moment. It may also be defined as a state of awareness.
Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism, and is an ancient spiritual practice. However, mindfulness has been integrated into Western Medicine and psychology in various ways. The introduction of mindfulness is linked to the introduction of Zen Buddhism in the 1950’s. As Zen Buddhism grew in popularity, providers began to integrate certain techniques into their medical and psychological practices.
“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn
Clinicians have been studying the efficacy of mindfulness as a therapy since the 1970’s. Much of what they have found has influenced how we approach and treat various conditions. From the very beginning, researchers have been studying the effect of mindfulness meditation in individuals with chronic pain. What was found was that mindfulness was associated with positive outcomes for individuals with pain and chronic conditions.
This inspired Jon Kabat-Zinn to create Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Therapy, which is now used to treat not only individuals in need of stress management, but it is also used to treat other illnesses such as depression, anxiety, pain, and other conditions.
Do not underestimate stress
Stress has a huge impact on us, in fact, it can influence every system in our body, especially when we experience chronic stress. Research shows that stress impacts our nervous system and also can cause structural changes in the brain. Chronic stress can even decrease the brain’s weight and atrophy brain mass. When a person experiences stress, one may experience memory loss, it can also impact how one learns, it can contribute to depression, and even impair our immune systems.
In the United States, stress is a contributing factor to the top six leading causes of death: cancer, heart disease, accidents, respiratory disorder, cirrhosis, and suicide. The CDC has estimated that 75% of all visits in the United States are most likely attributed to stress and a recent study reports that nearly one-third of Americans live with “extreme stress.”
Mindfulness is medicine.
In order to take a deeper dive, a study looked at the effects of meditation on participants using brain imaging techniques such as fMRI and ASL. Participants reported a 40% reduction in intensity of pain and a 57% reduction in unpleasant feelings. More interestingly than the patient’s self report is what the researchers found in the images, “activation of the subgenual ACC (sgACC), OFC, and right anterior insula was associated with mindfulness meditation–based analgesia.”
What they determined was that, “meditation may reduce pain by fine-tuning the amplification of nociceptive sensory events through top-down control processes.” What they concluded was that mindfulness meditation works to reduce pain in individuals through various mechanisms in the nervous system.
Other studies have found that mindfulness meditation has a positive effect on well-being, psychological health, and emotional regulation. Specifically, over an 8-week period, mindfulness was found to boost immunity, lower heart rate, increase empathy and compassion, and even protect the body from diseased cells.
How can I practice mindfulness?
- Try a mindfulness meditation for pain relief by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the founder of MBSR
- Try a body scan meditation
- Enjoy a warm cup of tea
- Write a gratitude list
- Enjoy an unplugged nature walk
- Try a mindful breathing meditation
- Unplug and solve a puzzle!
Go a head, take a moment.
“Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?”Jon Kabat-Zinn