We all know that we can optimize our physical performance by exercising regularly. But did you know that you can also optimize your brain’s performance? You’re not exactly going to be using barbells, but you can give your brain a workout of sorts – and it’s a lot easier than you might imagine.
With a change of perspective, you can literally change the way your brain works. The science behind mindfulness is nothing short of amazing.
But here’s the catch: This perspective shift takes a lot more practice than you’d think.
Mindfulness takes commitment and regular practice, so it helps to fuel your journey with some motivational facts.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is often associated with meditation because most people achieve mindfulness through meditation. To put it simply, mindfulness is the state of living in the present moment. This may sound like what you already do, but if you’re like most of us, it’s not. To achieve mindfulness, you must be present in the moment without thoughts of the past, future or any imagined scenarios. You are simply existing in and experiencing the present.
To become mindful, you must first tame the mind, which is much easier said than done. Fortunately, you can start seeing the benefits of mindfulness after a few short sessions.
Here are some of the major benefits of mindfulness.
People who practice mindfulness are less stressed overall and have an easier time dealing with stressful situations. One study found that people who took an 8-week daily mindfulness course saw a 15 percent reduction in stress-related hormones, including cortisol. Researchers found that this therapy worked better than other non-medicated stress management methods.
Increases the density of gray matter
Researchers who found the correlation between mindfulness and cortisol reduction also found changes to the gray matter of the same group of meditators. Those who meditated daily for eight weeks experienced an increase in the size of their hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
According to this study, if you want to reduce stress and become smarter and more self-aware, mindfulness is the way to go. During the study, the mindfulness group reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness. And the brain changes researchers saw were unique to this group. In other words, people who didn’t practice mindfulness didn’t see reduced cortisol or increased gray matter.
Changes pain perception
Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that people who meditate responded differently to pain sensations than people who didn’t meditate.
During the study, researchers used a two-pronged approach to brain imaging and the pain rating scale to determine how participants were responding to pain. Most interestingly, the brain scans showed very different patterns of activity in the group that practiced mindfulness meditation. This creates a very compelling argument for mindfulness changing the way the brain works.
If you could spend 30-minutes a day practicing mindfulness, you may see benefits like improved pain tolerance. This is one of the reasons why practicing mindfulness in addiction recovery has become more popular. People who have had trouble with prescription painkillers and other illicit drugs need alternative solutions to help them manage their pain.
How to practice mindfulness
Although mindfulness can seem impossible at times, especially when we’re most busy, it’s actually a natural quality that we all have. Once you learn to harness the power of mindfulness, you access it at any time and enjoy some of the brain-optimizing benefits listed above.
Here are some tips for practicing mindfulness.
• Avoid getting caught up in material things. You don’t need a bell or a Buddha statue to practice mindfulness. You literally just need yourself, a quiet spot and a few minutes.
• Acknowledge your thoughts. Although you may eventually be able to quiet the constant buzz that’s in your head at all times, that’s not exactly the goal. The goal is simply to pay attention to the present moment. Don’t get hung up on whether you’re thinking or not.
• Don’t fear a wandering mind. Your mind will wander. This isn’t a fault. It’s part of human nature. When you catch yourself thinking about the past or future, make a conscious effort to bring your mind back to the present. The more you do this, the easier it will get.
• Find a quiet spot. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, but it’s easier when there are no distractions.
• Set an alarm. If you’re worried about how long you’ve been sitting there, you’re probably thinking about the things you have to do in the future. Instead, set an alarm and try not to think about time until the alarm goes off.
• Focus on your breath. Don’t try to control your breath, but actively focus on it entering and leaving your open mouth. This will help center you in the moment.
If you’re ready to give your mind a workout, set aside a few minutes each morning to practice mindfulness.