Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness which is a secular, brief type of meditation inspired by Buddhist meditation practices. Although it has been promoted as generally useful for a wide range of psychological conditions there is a growing body of evidence which shows that it is particularly helpful in the alleviation of stress in both adults and adolescents. In therapy, mindfulness is also a tool for clearing the mental space in preparation for active engagement with inner-work.
In his book Mind to Matter, Dawson Church provides an account of a study conducted by a team at Monash University lead by Neil Bailey, Ph.D which recorded before and after changes in brain structure and function following an eight week course of mindfulness done by Graham Phillips Ph.D. The study found improvements in reaction time, working memory and focus and there was increased volume in areas of the brain associated with motor skills, learning, memory and emotion regulation. Another study called "Mindful in May" also found the beneficial effects of even 10 minute mindfulness practice when done everyday.
Once practiced on a regular basis, mindfulness not only improves higher order processes but it creates space for the examination and contemplation of our experiences so that we can find meaning in them and incorporate that meaning into our individual narratives, enriching our lives and our connections with others. Once we have integrated our experiences into our way of being in the world, unconscious or unhelpful coping strategies have less chance to take root in our psyche. (Patricia Broderick)
Dr. Dan Siegel (the author of Mindsight, Brainstorm, The Mindful Brain and others), notes that the prefrontal cortex is also responsible for emotion regulation and when we are in control of our emotions they positively support executive functioning. Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, (2004) found that students with good emotional control enjoyed better academic results as compared with those who struggled with emotional reactivity. The ability to calm the mind and sustain focus is where mindfulness can be a real help to students.
Our ability to modulate a wide range of emotions begins in the preverbal years where a secure and loving bond between infant and a caregiver created conditions where both positive and negative emotions were tolerated with increasing complexity as we matured.
In the case of early childhood trauma, A number of studies indicate abused children develop an acute sensitivity to stress (Gorka, A. X., Hanson, J. L., Radtke, S. R., & Hariri, A. R. (2014). Mindfulness interventions aimed at calming agitated states, reducing hyper-vigilance and distractibility are really valuable for this group of children.
Mindfulness takes time to develop and it gets easier and more enjoyable the more its practiced. The Monash University study recorded physical changes in the brain after only 8 weeks of daily, ten minute practice. By starting slowly and gradually extending the length of your sessions you will have your own super-changed, instantly deployable, mood-improving strategy in no time.
Mindfulness and stress reduction
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