Understanding Modalities Through the Lens of Neuroscience (Mindfulness)
Have you ever tried making plans with someone only to find that the only time you’re both available is a random weekday 3 months from now? It seems we are all perpetually busy, whether due to work, school, spending time with friends and partners, taking care of pets or kids, or any combination of the loads of responsibilities on our shoulders. With such jam-packed lives, it can feel impossible to be present, but taking time to stop and be mindful can actually provide far more benefits than one might think.
Mindfulness means being present in the current moment, as opposed to dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. This may sound simple, but actually has a big impact across multiple areas of the brain. There is even evidence to suggest that mindfulness changes the structure and the way the brain functions, which positively impacts the regulation of attention, emotion, and awareness. One study conducted by neuroscientist Sara Lazar found that after taking 8 weeks of mindfulness classes, participants who had no previous experience with mindfulness were shown to have increased brain volume in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in emotional regulation and memory, as well as the temporoparietal junction, which is the area of the brain involved in empathy and compassion. Not only did these areas of the brain become stronger, but the study also found that the amygdala, the area of the brain that responds to threats, decreased in size. Other studies have noted mindfulness’s effects on other areas of the brain such as the insula, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and somatomotor cortex. With long-term practice of mindfulness, one can improve their reactions to stress, emotional regulation skills, memory, exteroceptive and interoceptive body awareness, and can even slow down the aging of the brain.
We often think of mindfulness practice being done through a yoga class or meditation, and while those are wonderful ways to practice mindfulness, they aren’t always accessible. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t always have to be a big chore that you carve tons of time out for. Practicing mindfulness could mean taking a deep breath while you wait in the checkout line at the grocery store, noticing what sounds you hear as you walk into the office, or even appreciating the first sip of your coffee or tea in the morning. So, the next time you find yourself running around juggling a million things, take a second to stop and take in the present moment; your brain will thank you.