The Science behind Mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, is responsible for bringing mindfulness into Western medicine. He taught the first Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in 1979 for a group of patients with chronic health problems and stress. With his understanding of science, practice of yoga and insight meditation he developed MBSR. Today this evidence-based course has transformed the lives of millions around the world.
Over the last 35 years, there has been a great amount of research into the brain’s ability to transform itself through activity, we call this neuroplasticity. Mindfulness training can be helpful to train our minds (and therefore brains) in a useful direction. Holzel, Lazar et al. (2011) of Harvard Medical school published their findings in Perspectives on Psychological Science. They found measurable changes occur in the structure of the brain of those who practise mindfulness. Neuroscientific imaging can show physical changes after only 8 weeks of mindfulness practise.
How can Mindfulness help with physical rehabilitation?
Our bodies are influenced by our thoughts and beliefs.
Mindfulness offers a way of becoming aware of the physical changes within our bodies – muscle tension, changes in breathing or changes in the way we move or protect ourselves.
Our bodies are constantly responding to these thoughts, often caught in the cycle of stress reactivity, leading to poor health and wellbeing.
With Mindfulness training we may see and experience these changes sooner allowing us to respond with more effective strategies.
Managing our stress responses with less reactivity will bring about positive changes in the calming side of our nervous systems.
There may be less tension and guarding within the muscles allowing more freedom of movement.
Mindful movement exercises allow us to see patterns, some useful, some not so useful. With training and practice we can develop strength and flexibility, and more balance in how we use our bodies and minds.
Persistent Pain and Chronic Health Conditions
By learning to pay attention, we can train our minds to develop the inner resources to face the challenge of ongoing pain and illness.
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in both helping people manage the symptoms of their illness and live fuller lives despite the illness.
Noticing the resistance to our situation can be a start to acceptance and healing.
Often we find ourselves living our lives on auto-pilot, not really aware of our thoughts or what our bodies are experiencing.
Busy minds take us out of the present; preoccupied with the past – regrets or memories, or worrying or planning for future events, wishing for things to be otherwise.
Learning skills of Mindfulness can allow us to notice these patterns and allow the opportunity to respond in new ways and live our lives to the full.