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Build a Better Brain Through Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”.

Mindfulness is associated with many health and well-being outcomes, which include decreased levels of stress and anxiety and reduced cortisol levels.

Not only is mindfulness wonderful for overall well-being, it also changes the brain both functionally and physically. Yes, mindfulness interventions, which includes mindfulness meditation, can increase the volume of brain structures associated with fear, calm, memory, emotions, and cognition. Mindfulness not only improves mental wellbeing; it also has the ability to physically change the brain with practice. The ability to change the brain, called neuroplasticity, was once believed to only be possible in youth, but now science has proven that the brain can change at any age with training or practice. Mindfulness is one exceptional practice for changing the brain for the better.

Several structures of the brain are affected by mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness interventions have been shown to reduce the activity and volume of the amygdala of the brain, also known as the “fight or flight” part of the brain. This results in reduced anxiety, reactivity, and stress. The hippocampus, the structure associated with learning and memory, shows increased activity with mindfulness training, and increased structural volume. Another important brain structure, the cingulate cortex, associated with emotional regulation and response control are enhanced physically and functionally with mindfulness, which enables one to manage their emotions and behaviors more thoughtfully. The prefrontal cortex, a critical area of the brain associated with planning, complex cognitive behavior, decision making, personality, and social behavior shows enhanced function and mass with mindfulness. The prefrontal cortex is also associated with goal attainment and mental focus.

Who wouldn’t want a more functionally and physically better brain? There are numerous resources, courses and books for studying mindfulness. Any internet search with produce volumes of information. As far as books go, my personal favorite primer is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are.

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