(and how you can start with it)
I practice mindfulness and meditation for years now, and I am convinced about its benefits, because I have experimented it and tested it on myself.
However, I never took the time to fact check on the benefits it creates. So I wanted to review the state of research on the topic, to give a more scientific perspective to my thinking.
What is mindfulness?
It is a form of meditation that helps relax body and mind, making you feel and sense in the present moment: right here, right now, without any judgment.
There are several ways of doing it, from breathing technics, to visualization or the use of your senses.
It can take 2 min practice to feel better, and doesn’t require any specific setup: you can ground yourself through it, even in the middle of a meeting.
What are the REAL benefits of mindfulness?
I had a look at research on the topic for the last 10 years. A lot of studies are now published on the subject. Scientists are using MRI to look at the brain’s structure, to see if the impact of mindfulness is real or not.
In brief, mindfulness works as well as other ways of quieting your mind, like doing exercise our journaling.
Mindfulness is definitely working on stress and mind rumination.
The main benefits that have been identified are the increase of your awareness, focus and concentration, as well as decision-making[i]. In the same vein, mindfulness is also great to reduce mind-wandering[ii].
In technical terms, mindfulness thickens our prefrontal cortex, which is our control center. So it gives us more ability to be intentional, in the way we think and act.
Mindfulness also reduces cognitive rigidity.
Cognitive rigidity is when people cannot adapt mentally to changes (like in a new context, in front of new information). It prevents them to consider new opinions or perspectives. Study has found that rigidity may play a role in rumination, which is a risk factor of depression[iii].
It can also help to reduce implicit biases. One study shows its positive effect on limiting age or race bias[iv], which I found very interesting, when you work on diversity.
In these two areas, mindfulness practice has shown positive impact. This is why I encourage everyone to at least try it for self.
How to start?
One of the first things is maybe to go beyond limiting beliefs about mindfulness. For example, thoughts like:
- “It is not for me“: maybe, but how do you know if you do not try?
- “I don ‘t have time“: mindfulness exercises can be very quick, like 2 or 3 min. I bet you had this time to improve your mental health. 🙂
If you want to try, here is a list of little exercises you can do. Mindfulness can be as easy as:
- Closing your eyes and focusing on the sound of your breath for a couple of minutes.
- Eating your lunch without any disturbance, taking the time to focus on your food: the color, the taste, the sound it makes, its temperature, its touch…
- Walking in nature, being aware and curious, with all your senses: look at the colors, feel the sensation of the air on your face, the temperature, the ambient sound…
Do experiments with your senses: which one works best for you? And focus on it.
- if it is hearing: you can listen to music, and focus on a single instrument,
- if it is visual: focus on a specific element to look at,
- if it is touch: touch the surface of something and try to feel all the details under your fingertips.
Whenever your thoughts distracts you, come back to the moment and your senses.
All these tips can be done over your busy day and just take a few moments. It is even more efficient to repeat it several times during your day.
There are plenty of apps on the stores, providing guided mindfulness exercises (Calm, Headspace just to name a few), or you prefer in-person retreats or trainings.
Little by little, you will build the practice that works best for you.
Be curious and enjoy!