The claims of what mindfulness can do are numerous. But at Still Here, we will only discuss what can be backed by peer-reviewed science.
Maybe people have arrived here because they want to stop sleep walking through life, be more present. Studies show, on average, people are mentally absent for 47 per cent of their waking lives (Killingsworth, et. al. 2010). That same study also made direct links to presence and our sense of happiness.
A primary objective in mindfulness practice is paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgment with a calm mind. The definition is partly borrowed from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who brought the practice to the West in 1978. We have added “with a calm mind” to that description, because it seems we could be all those things, and without a calm mind, we would be hypervigilant.
Maybe people are here because they want to boost working memory, or increase mental focus. In 2010, (Jha et. al.), three groups were examined for working memory. They looked at a meditating military group, a non-meditating military group and a group of civilians.
The non-meditating military group were stressed and showed decreased working memory over time. Non-meditating civilians showed no significant change in working memory. The meditating military group showed increases in working memory and self-reported a new feeling of positive affect. They felt better about themselves.
People may be here because they simply want to strengthen their high-level thinking, that which demands more than simply automated tasks. In a 2008 study conducted by Moore, et. al. two groups were examined, 25 meditators and an equal number of non-meditators.
By every measure, the mindfulness meditators outperformed their non-stillness counterparts. Now, the argument could be made that a group of meditators, in this case taken from a local monastery, chose to meditate, because they are naturally more capable of that high-level thinking.
That very same argument was thrust at Sara Lazar, et. al. when her group determined meditation leads to increased cortical thickness. Lazar and her team went back to the drawing board and took two groups of frustrated IT professionals; put one through an eight-week mindfulness course, and left one as the baseline group.
Her findings, a summary of which is published in the Harvard Business Review in 2015 showed similar results, this time indicating measurable increases in grey matter on the hippocampus, changes in the prefrontal cortex, and a reduction in the size of the amygdala. The changes in the hippocampus meant participants were less emotional, and more resilient, “another key skill in the current high-demand business world,” the HBR article states.
Maybe the desire for better relationships brings some people here. Certainly connection – particularly intimate connection – is a huge driver to a sense of happiness and well-being. An exhaustive meta study (Davis et. al., 2011) shows people who practice mindfulness have less stress, anxiety, anger and conflict in their relationships than those who don’t practice.
“Evidence shows that mindfulness is inversely correlated with distress contagion and directly correlated with the ability to act with awareness in social situations,” (Davis et. al., 2011, p. 21). These findings were not limited to intimate relationships, but extended to professional and relating with others as a whole.
6. General health
Several reports from the U.S. indicate 60 to 90 per cent of people attending physicians offices are there partly because of stress. It is shown that mindful meditation also improves immune function and overall health (Fulwiler, 2011).
Mindfulness practice has also proven to increase personal insight, morality, intuition, reduction of fear, and an increase of compassion.Lazar’s study shows how the brain physically changes, through something now known as neuroplasticity, to accomplish some of these things.
7. Pain management
Some people look to mindfulness to reduce the amount of pain they experience. Pain is experienced in several areas of the brain, which are not easily switched off. However, the practice of mindfulness has a beneficial effect on some of those areas (many cited above) according to a study (Zeidan, et. al. 2011).
Mindfulness of pain involves observing the sensation, as it is in the moment, without applying judgment, identification or a story. The approach takes practice and skill, but it can be immensely beneficial for pain management.
This is all good news, right? Yes, but it comes with a caution. The Lazar study showed that the changes occur while the practice is being undertaken, that our brains will actually physically change back to the way they were if the practice is stopped.
So, what’s the message here?
If you are committed to making change in your life, dive in and give the practice every ounce of effort for an eight week workshop. We can tell you our experience, share studies, and you may even witness changes in your friends or family that have undertaken mindfulness. However, what we talk about here won’t truly be known to you until you experience it yourself.
So, don’t just do something, sit there.