A happy consequence of natural health becoming more mainstream is an increase in quality research looking at the how and why. Proof this stuff works means that science is slowly becoming the contemporary language for what was once considered alternative practice.
Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the brains ability to change its structure and function depending on how it’s used. Our experiences and practices can actually influence the development of neural pathways and the density of grey matter. Grey matter is where the processing of information happens and where the hippocampus sits.
Before the popularity of satnavs and rise of Uber, research was commissioned comparing the grey matter of London cabbies and bus drivers. The cab drivers were found to have a larger hippocampus which actually makes sense.
The hippocampus is where spatial awareness takes place, our understanding of the space around us, meaning the difference in size was attributed to the cab drivers in-depth knowledge of London road networks. Bus drivers tended to take the same routes every day so were relying less on that part of their brain.
So what does all this have to do with the practice of mindfulness mediation? Mindfulness expert Alex Newte Hardie views the current understanding of neuroplasticity as very exciting. It demonstrates the mechanisms of mindfulness meditation which result in us being more focused, present and in a better place for learning to happen.
Perhaps more interesting in terms of health, is how the practice of mindfulness can strengthen the connection between our thoughts and feelings. This may sound counterproductive but if we’re able to observe, without judgement, when we’re feeling anxious, angry or sad we become more resilient to negative emotions.
The area of the brain associated with emotions is the amygdala and by strengthening its connection with the pre-frontal-cortex (PVC) the PVC is able to signal the amygdala to quieten down. Alex explains that this leads to ‘’a more peaceful, easeful life with less fear, more creativity and the ability to approach difficulties with confidence’’.
Consistent practice can go much further “mindfulness can shift our personalities towards being more compassionate, experiencing gratitude and undo the limiting beliefs we have built up and bought into over the course of our lifetimes”.
Right now mindfulness is practiced all over the world – perhaps because it’s dropped its hippy connotations and is considered more secular rather than religious. Alex celebrates the fact that schools, businesses and even prisons are integrating the practice to improve “emotional resilience, productivity and to even shift towards becoming a more positive member of society.’’
There’s plenty of free content out there giving you the know-how on mindfulness practice including Apps and YouTube video’s but if you’re anything like me you get easily distracted and thrive better in an organised group. Learning from an experienced practitioner can be motivating and fun and keeps you on track plus research shows group meditation amplifies the benefits.
If you want to learn from a mindfulness practitioner in your area then the following website might help http://bemindful.co.uk and for those of you in London Alex runs regular courses at the Light Centre Belgravia and in businesses around the London.