Benefits of Mindfulness

I wasn’t introduced to the concept of mindfulness until I started this graduate program. Last semester I took a non-credit course with Dr. Hunt that met once a week and we learned all about mindfulness and techniques to practice it. I found these classes to be eye-opening and decided I wanted to continue to use them to grow and have a more positive way to view the world. In doing that, my life has changed. Not in an over-the-top, dramatic way, but in a subtle and progressive way. I find that things that used to be very stressful for me are much more tolerable. I tend to have a more positive outlook on life because I know the beauty and simplicity of living life in each moment. I’ve been able to stop taking sleeping medication. As a person who has had migraines for as long as I can remember, I only get headaches maybe a few times a month (rather than a week). I’ve grown as a person because I’ve been able to truly get to know myself and have self-compassion (although some of this may be due to the process of going through grad school).

This is just my personal account of the benefits I’ve gained from practicing mindfulness. Fortunately, mindfulness has recently been in the news pretty frequently for all its proven benefits. One study done by Shamatha Project at the University of California showed how mindfulness training has been linked to lower levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with physical and emotional stress. The Shamatha Project has also done other research that has found positive effects on “visual perception, sustained attention, socio-emotional well-being, resting brain activity, and activity of telomerase (enzyme important for long-term health of body cells)”.

Another study done by researchers at the UC Santa Barbara looked at two groups of students: one group that took a mindfulness training course and one group that took a nutrition course. Before both courses, the students took an improved GRE and a working memory capacity test. They were also measured on their level mind-wandering. After the courses, the students were tested again using the same measures. What these researchers found is that the students in the mindfulness group had a significant improvement on all three measures. The nutrition group had no changes! This is pretty solid evidence that mindfulness affects one’s ability to concentrate and stay in the moment.

A third study done by Professor Filip Raes was more interested in looking at how mindfulness affected the presence of depressive-like symptoms in adolescent students. The students were split into two groups: one that took a mindfulness course and one that did nothing. Before and after the experiment, all the students completed a questionnaire that looked for indications of depression. The students also completed the questionnaire six months after the experiment to look at long-lasting results. What they found is that training in mindfulness significantly reduced the percentage of students that reported evidence of depression (from 21% to 15%). Even six months after the experiment, the percentage of students reporting evidence of depression was 16%. These results show that training in mindfulness has a lasting, positive effect.

As if you needed more proof, another study done by researchers at the University of Utah showed how people who perceived themselves as highly mindful had greater emotional stability, better self-rated control of emotions and behavior, and lower pre-sleep arousal (which consists of cognitive and physical symptoms of anxiety). Overall, this is considered better self-regulation which leads to better physical and emotional well-being.

There is a large pool of research done about mindfulness but these four studies sum up the fact that mindfulness is clearly beneficial in many ways. Because I’m still new to mindfulness and am not trained in any techniques, I won’t bother attempting to teach any concepts. To learn about the basics, refer to my last blog post. Here’s a good website I found explaining how to start practicing mindfulness:

http://www.shambhalasun.com/?option=content&task=view&id=2125

I would love to hear any personal stories with mindfulness so please feel free to share any thoughts!

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Posted on April 9, 2013, in Biological Psychology, Emerging Trends in Psychology, Students and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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