What is mindfulness meditation?
It is a form of meditation that concentrates awareness on breathing and on what you’re experiencing in the moment, without escaping in thoughts, worrying about the past or apprehending the future; and adopting a nonjudgmental attitude about what is going on around you. Mindfulness meditation promotes positive attitudes to reach a balanced and healthy mental state. The goal pursued by practitioners of mindfulness meditation is development of self-awareness, love, increased kindness, peace and compassion towards themselves and others.
Typically, an instruction for a mindfulness meditation practice would go as follow: find a comfortable position, sitting with your feet on the ground and your palms in your laps facing upwards. Close your eyes and begin by simply witnessing your breath. Observe your incoming and outgoing breath without attempting to control it any way. You may find that your breathing becomes spontaneously slower or faster, deeper or shallower, or it may even pause for a time. Allow changes to occur without resistance or anticipation. Whenever your attention drifts away from your breath to a thought in your mind, a sensation in your body or a sound in your environment; gently return your awareness to your breathing. If you want, on the in breath you can think the sound « So » and on the outbreath, think the sound « Hum » and repeat for 10 or 20 minutes. Don’t forget to set an alarm.
For novice meditators, the first practices of meditation are challenging as myriad thoughts keep jostling into the mind, and sitting still for 20 minutes may prove difficult; but the mind has no choice but to settle as the nervous system calms down, so it is important to commit to completing the 20 minutes.
A study conducted by the University Of Massachusetts Medical School proved that mindfulness meditation changes regions of the brain linked to compassion, self-awareness and memory. The researchers compared before and after MRI images of the brains of 16 students who had completed 30 minutes of meditation daily for eight weeks, with 17 non-meditators, and found that practitioners had increased concentration of gray matter (gray matter serves to process information in the brain) in multiple brain regions, including the hippocampus, which is the brain structure that is responsible for the formation of long-term memories, spatial navigation AND emotional regulation; as well as other areas linked to reminiscing the past and picturing the future, along with empathy and the aptitude to recognize other people’s viewpoints.
To dig deeper on the effects of mindfulness meditation on the regulation of emotions, studies have established that it reduced negative mood states, improved positive ones and decreased tendencies to be distracted and feel downhearted. Additional findings show that meditation leads to reduced emotional reactivity and eases a return to emotional baseline following reactivity.
Another study showed that mindfulness meditation decreased concentration of gray matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain related to anxiety, fear and stress. Mindfulness meditation asserts decreased reactions to stress by lowering the heart rate, attenuating anxiety, depression, chronic pain, psoriasis, headache, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.