Meditation and mindfulness are known to calm the mind and help us deal with stress. However, they have other benefits as well. Researchers have explored the neuroplastic changes that occur with mindfulness training, and are finding that practitioners’ brains seem to reflect their expertise.
Activity, structure and volume are different in parts of the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain associated strongly with reasoning and decision-making. Experienced meditators show high levels of gamma wave activity, which is thought to be related to increased awareness. Changes start to be seen in the brains of new meditators after a few days or weeks of training. As they practise mindfulness, regions of the brain related to learning, memory, mind-body awareness, cognitive control, emotional reactivity, sense of self and other markers of wellbeing are all affected.
It seems it doesn’t take much for patterns of activity in the brain to shift, with new pathways being formed in our brains that enable us to develop new ways of seeing, relating and behaving. This is an extract from Mindfulness: How To Live Well By Paying Attention, by Ed Halliwell, published by Hay House Basics on 5 Jan 2015. The extract was published on the ABC’s Health and Wellbeing website.
Some simple ways to practise mindfulness using your senses:
• Exploring touch – you can try feeling a leaf, a smooth stone or running sand through your fingers
• Exploring smells – try smelling your food, flowers, tuning in to smells in the air
• Exploring sound – listening to music, rain, the ocean, any background noise
• Exploring taste – focus on eating a piece of fruit or chocolate, or your first mouthful of a meal. Close your eyes to help you focus on the taste.
• Exploring sight – try watching a sunset or looking at the detail of something very small and intricate like an insect, a leaf, a blade of grass or a flower.