Neuroscience and Mindfulness

Mindfulness – The Science of It

The human brain is a complex network comprising of hundreds of trillions of synapses that help the brain cells to communicate internally. There are over 80 to 100 billion neurons that form these connections and even with advanced scientific research, it is difficult to understand the complete functioning of the human brain. Mindfulness and Meditation are said to have a positive impact on the neural network and has been a popular topic for research and experiment.

There have been many studies associated with mindfulness with the most popular being Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Both these researches are done by eminent scientists whose goal was to figure out how the adoption of mindfulness offers several benefits to the users.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

The MBSR technique was pioneered by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn who created a group study of chronically ill patients that weren’t responding well to traditional treatments. With an eight-week stress-reduction program, that is now termed as MBSR improved the mental and physical health of the patients considerably and they started responding to their treatment in a better way.

MBSR is a group-based approach where people are primarily assisted in dealing with stress and anxiety-related mental illnesses. The study involved the group to combine meditation, yoga, and other techniques to alleviate the stress. MBSR is one of the leading techniques that is used by the most mindfulness training program for everyone including corporate, entrepreneurs, children, and patients.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

MBCT is another popular group program developed by Segal, Teasdale, and Williams. The key idea that forms the foundation of the MBCT program is to help people get rid of unproductive and negative thoughts. It also helps in aligning their behavioural thoughts and emotional responses to the situation and environment. The study employs psychological techniques to resolve mental and mood disorders that otherwise affect their functionality.

The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) used for MBCT uses mindful breathing along with meditation to help patients suffering from chronic depression and anxiety. The training is especially for chronic patients that relapse occasionally and requires conditioning to deal with the mental condition.

What Research Says About Mindfulness

There also have been studies over the past 10 years that utilise neuroimaging to research the brain morphology and its changes with mindfulness. A meta-analysis performed with the help of 21 neuroimaging studies was performed using the brains of 300 experienced mindfulness practitioners. According to the study, mindfulness and meditation influenced changes in these 8 specific regions of the brain –

  • Rostrolateral prefrontal cortex
  • Sensory cortices
  • Insular cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Mid-cingulate cortex
  • Superior longitudinal fasciculus
  • Corpus callosum

The study also suggested that people, especially in a workplace have –

  • Positive outlook towards work
  • Improved attention to detail and quality of focus
  • Better interpersonal behaviour with more empathy and compassion towards co-workers
  • Better personal relationships
  • Boosted stability control and efficacy

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