What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain? (Scientific American)

Scientific American, June 2014 //

As you read this, wiggle your toes. Feel the way they push against your shoes, and the weight of your feet on the floor. Really think about what your feet feel like right now. Their heaviness.

If you’ve never heard of mindfulness meditation, congratulations – you’ve just done a few moments of it. More people than ever are doing some form of this stress-busting meditation, and researchers are discovering it has some quite extraordinary effects on the brains of those who do it regularly.

Originally an ancient Buddhist meditation technique, in recent years mindfulness has evolved into a range of secular therapies and courses, most of it focused on being aware of the present moment, and simply noticing feelings and thoughts as they come and go.

It’s been accepted as a useful therapy for anxiety and depression for around a decade, and mindfulness websites like GetSomeHeadSpace.com are attracting millions of subscribers. It’s being explored by schools, pro sports teams and military units to enhance performance, and is showing promise as a way of helping sufferers of chronic pain, addiction, and tinnitus, too. There is even some evidence that mindfulness can help with the symptoms of certain physical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, and HIV.

Yet until recently, little was known about how a few hours of quiet reflection each week could lead to such an intriguing range of mental and physical effects. Now, as the popularity of mindfulness grows, brain imaging techniques are revealing that this ancient practice can profoundly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with each other – and therefore how we think – permanently. Full article

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