Friday, September 4, 2009

The Many Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Just finished listening to a great interview on Shrink Rap Radio with Psychologist Elisha Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein’s work focuses on the power of mindfulness meditations to help us combat stress, addictions, and other psychological maladies. Did you know that regular meditation can actually change the brain?! Dr. Goldstein shared research from Sara Lazar, Ph.D.

Using MRI brain scans, she (Sara Lazar, Ph.D.) found thicker regions of frontal cortex, regions responsible for reasoning and decision making, in those who had a consistent mindfulness practice compared to those who did not. Additionally, she found a thicker insula, considered to be the central switchboard of the brain that helps us coordinate our thoughts and emotions. She suggested that because our cortex and insula normally start deteriorating after age twenty, mindfulness meditation might help us make up for some losses as we age.

I bolded the text in my excitement. These are great findings. Meditation is a free resource we can all use to make very practical and positive changes in our lives. Dr. Goldstein continues….

This all makes sense because rather than just falling into an old habitual way of reacting to something, when we are present, we are more likely to be aware of all the options and possibilities and actually make better decisions. When we are present, we are more likely to regulate our emotions and act from a great place of calm and balance. As we practice this, we are more likely to remember to do it and as we remember to do it, brain lays the tracks for that to happen again and again. (for the entire article read here)

But how do we find time to meditate? Dr. Goldstein offered two choices: “formal,” (sitting down for a specific time) and “informal” practices. The latter focuses on noticing the present moment. A person showering would direct their attention away from future thinking (worries or plans about the day ahead) and to the present moment—the feel of the water or soap on their skin. Dr. Goldstein described a busy mother who used this informal method. She practiced being present with her children, slowing down to look them in the eyes and really listen to their responses. She savored their breakfast time together, noticing each element. This slowing down and meeting each moment is a form of meditation that even busy people can integrate into their lives.

Whether at work or at home, taking time to practice formal or informal “mindfulness” will have powerful effects. Research suggests that even 5 minutes of daily meditations can help us be healthier, happier and more productive, creative, and resilient.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

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