How does mindfulness help so many people?
The science of mindfulness has piqued my curiosity over the years. So much so that when I came across this 4-minute video explaining it in a simple format, I had to share it with others! However, that’s not all.
As a result of my research, I found another benefit to Mindful Meditation that is not often talked about and I am thrilled to share that with you as well.
So without further ado, let’s get into the science!
Why The Science Matters
At the beginning of my last, life-altering breakdown, I became desperate and sought help quickly.
What I didn’t understand was that I was battling something worse than anxiety and depression: it was a full-blown crisis of epic proportions (served with a huge helping of DENIAL, a story for another time).
So when I walked into the Behavioral Health unit for help with my epic crisis, the therapist offered mindfulness and meditation as a solution. This was not the solution I wanted. I needed something to work right the ef now, and I knew that meditation and mindfulness took time. As you can imagine, I wanted to punch him in the throat for the suggestion. My symptoms were so severe that my depression, panic attacks, and general anxiety bordered lunacy.
I couldn’t understand how breathing with my eyes closed was going to help me. Or how being present would help me to take care of my children, maintain my household, or keep me from dying each day from the psychosomatic symptoms driving me cra-cra.
What I needed was an explanation of the science. A scientific understanding of HOW mindfulness and mediation were going to help me. Without that, I chalked it up to just another quack pushing some new-age bullshit to put money in his pocket. (See my article “Mindfulness For Depression and Anxiety or Some New Age BS” for further reading)
Sadly, since the science wasn’t explained, it would take the complete destruction of my life and another three years before I took mindfulness and meditation seriously, and another few years before, with its help, I finally changed my life.
So that is why it is important to me that I help you understand the “how” and “why” it works. Perhaps by addressing this in the very beginning, it will save you the years of hell getting to the point of finally giving it a go because you have tried all else.
4-Minute Video Explaining The Science Of Mindfulness
This easy-to-understand 4-minutes video is well worth your time. It is simple, animated for fun, and to the point. If the science behind the success of mindfulness intrigues you, I implore you to watch this right away.
If watching isn’t an option, I have written it out for you below. Either way, the information is waiting for you to take hold and get your learn on.
Here is a rundown of what the video says, nearly verbatim.
Neuroscience of Mindful meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is a brain training exercise that changes the structure and function of the brain in the brain structures responsible for 1. attention 2. emotion 3. self-awareness.
MRI studies show that when someone is daydreaming or doing nothing, the brain shows activity in a region called “Default Mode Network” or “DMN”.
The interesting thing about the “DMN” is it involves 1. self-referential thinking (thinking of oneself) and 2. rumination. This section of the brain is correlated with depression and anxiety.
An interesting area included… the Amygdala, the area responsible for the fight or flight mechanism which is more active with stress.
Just as the brain has the “DMN” when daydreaming, it has the “Task-positive Network” or “TPN” which is active during attention-demanding tasks and only ONE network can be active at any one time!
In summary, the “DMN” can be said to be a ruminative network directing awareness to the past/future while ignoring the present.
While the “DMN” can be used responsibly for planning and organizing we must be wary of the negative aspects of it.
The “TPN” can be said to be responsible for present moment awareness in the here and now… it is the action network.
When the “TPN” is activated and we are in the present, there is no rumination, there is no worry, there is no past, there is no future, because the DMN is deactivated and only one system can be active at any one time.
Therefore, when we activate the “TPN”, we deactivate the “DMN”. So next time you feel bad or are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, remind yourself of the power of your “TPN”.
All you have to do is 1. bring attention to your breath, a sound, or a sensation (TPN) 2. When your mind wanders (DMN), bring it back by activating the TPN by focusing on your breath, sound, or sensation.
Meditators are found to have smaller Amygdala’s responsible for stress and strain.
So this change in the structure of their brains means that they are able to react differently to the stress and strain of everyday life.
Research shows the more you practice mindful meditation the easier it gets to activate your “TPN” and deactivate “DMN”.
With learning this now, you can begin to enjoy being in the present and begin changing your brain, and your life for the better… Welcome to your inner peace!
A Lesser Known Benefit Of Mindful Meditation: Breathing
OKAY, this one may surprise you, it sure did me.
If you are not familiar with Wim Hoff or James Nestor, I suggest you get acquainted with them. Both of these men have brought serious attention to the benefits of breathing exercises. While this art has been around for thousands of years, today we have the scientific research to explain the hype.
Does this seem far-fetched? I assure you that it is not.
In fact, the research is quite compelling and we have learned that breathing, particularly quality breathing, can improve our health.
As James Nestor was digging up research for his book “Breath. New Science Of A Lost Art”, he didn’t have to search far to learn that our nose is the body’s preferred breathing instrument.
In addition to his research, he volunteered to be a “mouth-breather” for ten-days to study the effects on his overall health.
So for ten days, they physically plugged his nose so he could not use it what-so-ever. Then they noted the results. He says,
“I went from snoring a couple minutes a night to , within three days, I was snoring four hours a night. I developed sleep apnea. My stress levels were off the charts. My nervous system was a mess. … I felt awful.”
Their study revealed that mouth-breathers do indeed suffer a myriad of health issues as a direct consequence of breathing in this inefficient way. The nose is the way to go!
In contrast, those who inhale “slow and low” through the nose experience a lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and a reduction in perceived stress!
Wim Hoff on the other hand doesn’t care if you do the breathing exercises through the nose or mouth, he just wants people to start. Period. His method, from a simple person like me, is all about saturating your cells with oxygen. Similar to the way deep-sea divers take in oxygen before diving.
Mr. Hoff made unbelievable claims that he could consciously control his autonomic nervous system, and immune system using three components. 1. cold exposure 2. meditation 3. breathing exercises.
Intrigued by Wim, researchers set out to identify what’s going on in his body. They were further amazed when Wim was able to raise his core temperature while in an ice bath.
During these studies, they tested Wim’s blood “before and after an 80-minute full-body ice bath… as Mr. Hoff performed breathing and meditation exercise”.
After exposing his blood to an endotoxin that activates an immune response, there was a significant difference between the “before” and “after” blood samples tested.
However, their curiosity wasn’t satiated so they injected him with the same endotoxin. A normal response would elicit fever, headaches, shivering, and trigger a high amount of cytokines.
But not Wim.
As Mr. Hoff practiced his breathing techniques, his adrenaline levels went through the roof. As a result, he didn’t experience any of the normal symptoms mentioned above and seemed to suppress his immune system. Voluntarily.
Can you say Mind Blown?
A Summary Of The Science Behind Mindfulness
Obviously more research is needed to understand more. However, the data is pretty convincing! Mindfulness is able to alter our brain, affectively rewiring it for the better. Meditation is simply brain training.
The more we practice, the better we get at using our powerful minds! Practice makes perfect.
Additionally, mindfulness and meditation shrink the amygdala, which happens to be responsible for our fight or flight mechanism, allowing for better control when confronted with something difficult.
Combine this to the benefits of quality breathing and we see a strong case for the mind-body connection.
What do you think about mindfulness and meditation? Were you surprised to learn that the way you breathe has a serious impact on your well-being physically and mentally?
Mindfulness and meditation may or may not be right for you. However, you will never know if you never give it a try. What do you have to lose by giving it a whirl?
All I lost was an unhealthy life.
If depression and anxiety are a part of your life, see “Depression and Anxiety- Do These Three Things To Abolish Both”and “It’s Time To Change Your Story” for further reading.