The term “mindfulness,” or “mindfulness meditation,” has been bouncing all over the Internet for the past year or longer, but what does it even mean? At first glance, you might even think that it’s made up, just another fad for con artists and false gurus to exploit to convince the naive masses to hand over their hard-earned money.
Mindfulness is more than just a passing fad, though. The concept has actually been around for centuries, finding its roots in Buddhist tradition. In its current form, the term refers to raising your awareness and bringing your attention to the things you are experiencing, both internally and externally, in the present moment. This practice has been shown to reduce stress, lower anxiety, and improve health in general. Let’s take a look at a few specific benefits that mindfulness can bring to your health.
Mindfulness can lower stress levels
Practicing mindfulness, particularly at the beginning of the workday, can help to clear your mind and start your day with a calm and focused sense of purpose. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can actually lower the level of cortisol in your bloodstream. Cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” regulates several of the changes that your body experience when exposed to stress. While cortisol can be helpful to your body in appropriate amounts, elevated cortisol levels for too long can lead to such negative results as lower immunity, lower metabolism rates, inhibited thyroid hormone activation, and degeneration of muscles, bones, and connective tissues.
By taking a few moments at the beginning of the day to meditate and focus your thoughts properly, you can help your body to keep its cortisol at a healthy level, allowing you to direct your mental resources to more productive efforts. You will be better prepared to meet challenges as they arise, leading to higher productivity and fewer potential health risks.
Mindfulness can help to improve gastrointestinal health
While at first it might sound like a wild claim, studies have actually shown mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to improve the condition of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. In 2013, a study of 90 patients diagnosed with IBS was performed to determine whether MBSR could benefit them. Not only did the improvement of those utilizing MBSR rate significantly higher than those not involved in MBSR, but that clinically significant difference was consistent even six months later.
Mindfulness can boost your working memory
Mindfulness exercises have also been shown to improve working memory. A study of two groups military personnel, alongside a civilian control group, matched a military group who participated in an eight-week program of mindfulness training alongside another military group who had not gone through the training, as well as a civilian group who did not receive the training either. According to the study, the military group who had not received the training showed improvements in their memory capacity over time, while the control group remained relatively constant. In contrast, the military group who had received the mindfulness training showed improved memory capacity over time.
These are just a few of the health benefits that mindfulness can offer. While it is not an absolute cure-all, practicing mindfulness throughout the day helps to strengthen the body and mind and prepare them to fight potential problems. PatientPop, a medical practice growth platform, lays out several suggestions on how to include mindfulness in even some of the busiest jobs. These recommendations include simple breathing exercises, following a healthy diet (and taking a moment to appreciate the many facets of the food you eat), and practicing empathy. It really doesn’t need to include any sort of massive change in lifestyle. Even by finding small ways to include mindfulness in your day, you can access greater benefits than you might think.