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The Science Behind Mindfulness

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At SIYLI, it’s no secret that we think mindfulness is mighty, but it’s not just our opinion. It’s easy to dismiss mindful practices as simply an emotional lift in your day, but everyday scientists are discovering new physical and mental benefits to meditation and mindful life.

Even US Marines are adopting mindful training because studies have shown it helps keep people calm, smarter and focused, even during the pressures of war. Studies have shown that using mindful techniques makes you happier because the practices actually change your brain chemistry over time.

So why are mindful practices so effective in brain training and keeping you happy and effective at work and at home?

Because mindful practitioners are so used to inquiry, we have also become very comfortable with science and scientific inquiry into mindfulness itself. The best example of this comfort with science was when the Dalai Lama said, “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

With this in mind, let us take a quick glance at some of the peer-reviewed scientific literature surrounding meditation. Scientists Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat- Zinn, pioneers in the field of contemplative neuroscience, studied employees of a biotechnology company. The study showed that after just eight weeks of mindfulness training, the anxiety level of the subjects was measurably lower. When the electrical activity of the subjects’ brains was measured, in the mindful group showed significantly increased activity in the parts of their brain associated with positive emotions.

9 out of 10 doctors agree: Plugging into your mind’s power shouldn’t be taken literally.

In sum, after just eight weeks of mindfulness, subjects were measurably happier (as measured in their brains) and show a marked increase in developing immunity. Remember that this study was not conducted on bald guys wearing robes living in a monastery, but on ordinary people with real lives and real high-stress jobs in corporate America.

A later study focused on attention exploring mindfulness in relation to an interesting phenomenon known as “attentional-blink” deficit. Let’s say you are shown a series of characters on a computer screen one at a time, in quick succession. The entire series is made up of letters, except for two numbers (for example, P, U, H, 3, W, N, 9, T, Y). Your task is to identify the two numbers in the series. If the two numbers are presented within half a second of each other, the second one is often not detected. This phenomenon is known as attentional-blink.

This attentional-blink has previously been assumed to be a feature of our brain’s wiring, and therefore, cannot be changed. The study shows that after just three months of intensive and rigorous training in mindfulness, participants can significantly reduce their attentional-blink. The theory is that with mindfulness training, one’s brain can learn to process stimuli more efficiently. This study is a glimpse into the possibility of upgrading the operating efficiency of our brains with mindfulness meditation. So if your job depends on your ability to pay attention to information for a prolonged period of time, (wait, that’s good for everyone) maybe this mindfulness thing is useful.

Don’t take our word for it, look at the studies.

SIYLI Suggestion: Are you paying attention? Read a page in a book and recall it a day later. Practice mindfulness for a week and then test your focus with the book again. Did the mindfulness make a difference?

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