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10 Amazing Benefits of Mindfulness Backed by Science

10 Amazing Benefits of Mindfulness Backed by Science

Mindfulness, the practice of staying aware and in sync with yourself and your surroundings often characterized by sitting in total silence with legs crossed, eyes shut and palms facing upwards, would seem like something only monks would appreciate. But mindfulness is a practice that all of us could use, especially in our stressful, fast-paced, 9-to-5 city lives.

Science actually suggests that the benefits of mindfulness-based meditation can be phenomenal. Here are ten amazing benefits of mindfulness backed by science you should know about.

1. Mindfulness eases aches and pains

If you struggle with back, neck or other body aches and pains, part of that pain may be in your head. That’s according to a 2011 study published in the April issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. The study found that just 80 minutes of mindful meditation could cut pain perception nearly in half.

This study corroborates with another study conducted at the University of Montreal that studied 13 Zen meditators, all of whom had at least 1,000 hours of practice, compared with a group of non-meditators to see whether regular meditation practice would affect perception of pain.

The results were overwhelming—the Zen meditators had a higher pain threshold than the non-meditators.

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2. Mindfulness enhances our sex life

How, you ask? By helping bring our thoughts back into the present moment. Research published in 2011 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that mindfulness meditation training – where a person learns how to bring thoughts into the present moment – can enhance a woman’s sexual experience (and by extension some men’s sexual experience.)

Apparently, self-judgemental chatter often fills a woman’s mind during sex, preventing her from enjoying the full sexual experience. However, college women who meditated were quicker to become aroused when viewing erotic photos compared with non-meditating women.

3. Mindfulness makes us smarter and improves decision-making

A 2012 UCLA study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification, or folding of the brain’s cortex than people who don’t meditate. The extra folds may allow the meditators to process information faster than others and avoid ruminating on past events, which can distort our thinking and decision making process.

Practicing as little as one 15-minute focused breathing meditation can get you out of your head, remove the bias from your brain and help you think more clearly.

4. Mindfulness improves moods

In another eye-opening study, a group of U.S marines preparing for deployment spent two hours each week practicing mindfulness meditation training for a period of eight weeks. These marines showed marked improvements in moods and working memory, which allows for short-term retrieval and storage of information, compared to marines who did not meditate.

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The researchers observed that practicing mindfulness meditation in highly stressful and emotional situations like going off to war allowed meditators to stay alert and in the moment without being overly emotional. It gave them a kind of “mental armor.”

5. Mindfulness increases our ability to feel empathy and benevolence for others

Have you ever wondered how the Dalai Lama remains kindhearted and compassionate despite the raging violence tearing apart his home country? The secret to the exiled Tibetan leader’s unwavering magnanimity may lie in mindfulness-based meditation.

A study conducted at Northeastern University College of Science showed that even a brief meditation intervention made participants 50% more compassionate. In yet another study published in 2008 in the journal PLOS ONE, both experienced and non-experienced meditators who practiced compassion meditation, which is widely practiced by Tibetan leaders, showed more brain activity in regions linked with empathy while meditating than when not meditating.

6. Mindfulness boosts attention span and focus

The seemingly nonsensical Zen practice of “thinking about not thinking” has been shown to boost people’s attention span by liberating the mind from distraction. In a 2008 brain-scan study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the Zen-meditation training where a person stays alert and aware of their posture and breathing, while dismissing wondering thoughts revealed different activities in parts of the brain linked with spontaneous burst of thoughts and wondering minds.

It was observed that brains were quicker to return to the “Zen mode” even after being distracted for a considerable amount of time compared to brains that had not done any meditation training. People’s ability to focus and hold attention even on boring stimulus improves significantly with mindfulness.

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7. Mindfulness increases resilience and equanimity

Richie Davidson, a neuroscientist, and Paul Ekman – one of the world’s leading researchers on emotions – performed a series of studies on The Dalai Lama’s right hand man Lama Oser – a European monk with over 30 years of meditative experience.

The researchers found that Lama Oser’s left-to-right prefrontal cortex activity ratio (measured with an MRI scanner and compared to a sample of 175 people) was quite literally off the chart. His prefrontal cortex activity ratio asymmetry indicated insane levels of equanimity, well-being, and resilience to setbacks, all of which were largely attributed to his discipline of mindfulness.

8. Mindfulness slows down neurodegenerative diseases

A pilot study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests that the positive brain changes associated with mindful meditation like stress reduction may be the answer for slowing the progression of age-related cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Alzheimer’s patients who took part in the study showed less cognitive decline after an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program than a second group who did not take the program.

What’s more, patients who took part in the mindfulness-based program reported higher levels of well-being, which incidentally also helps accelerate recovery.

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9. Mindfulness enhances creativity

The two main factors that determine levels of creativity are: divergent thinking (coming up with lots of ideas) and convergent thinking (solidifying those ideas into one brilliant concept.)

Researchers at Leiden University led by Cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato studied the effects of two different types of meditation practices on divergent and convergent thinking. They found that mindful meditation significantly improved both divergent and convergent thinking.

Interestingly, the type of meditation performed had an impact on which type of creative thinking was improved. For example, free association meditation improved divergent thinking more than focused attention meditation.

10. Mindfulness reduces feeling of loneliness

A recent study at Carnegie Mellon University led by J. David Creswell looked at 40 older adults and found that just 30 minutes of meditation a day for eight weeks decreased their feelings of loneliness. That’s significant because decreased feelings of loneliness coupled with increased compassion and resilience can lead to an incredibly happy, content and fulfilling life of meaning.

As Creswell reminds us, “It’s important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.”

Featured photo credit: Paolo Neoz via flickr.com

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Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

There are many reasons why people might scream – they’re angry, scared, or in pain (or maybe they’re in a metal band!). Some might say that screaming is bad, but here’s why science says it’s good for you.

“For the first time in the history of psychology there is a way to access feelings, hidden away, in a safe way and thus to reduce human suffering. It is, in essence, the first science of psychotherapy.” — Dr. Arthur Janov

Primal Therapy

Dr. Arthur Janov invented Primal Therapy in the late 1960’s. It is a practice that allows the patient to face their repressed emotions from past trauma head on and let those emotions go. This treatment is intended to cure any mental illness the patient may have that surfaced from this past trauma. In most cases, Primal Therapy has lead Dr. Janov’s patients to scream towards the end of their session, though it was not part of the original procedure. During a group therapy session that was at a standstill, Dr. Janov says that one of his patients, a student he called Danny, told a story that inspired him to implement a technique that he never would have thought of on his own.

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How it Started

“During a lull in our group therapy session, he told us a story about a man named Ortiz who was currently doing an act on the London stage in which he paraded around in diapers drinking bottles of milk. Throughout his number, Ortiz is shouting, ‘Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!’ at the top of his lungs. At the end of his act he vomits. Plastic bags are passed out, and the audience is requested to follow suit.”

It doesn’t end there, though. Dr. Janov said that his patient was quite fascinated with that story, and that alone moved him to suggest something even he believed to be a little elementary.

“I asked him to call out, ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ Danny refused, saying that he couldn’t see the sense in such a childish act, and frankly, neither could I. But I persisted, and finally, he gave in. As he began, he became noticeably upset. Suddenly he was writhing on the floor in agony. His breathing was rapid, spasmodic. ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ came out of his mouth almost involuntarily in loud screeches. He appeared to be in a coma or hypnotic state. The writhing gave way to small convulsions, and finally, he released a piercing, deathlike scream that rattled the walls of my office. The entire episode lasted only a few minutes, and neither Danny nor I had any idea what had happened. All he could say afterward was: ‘I made it! I don’t know what, but I can feel.’”

Delving deeper

Dr. Janov says he was baffled for months, but then he decided to experiment with another patient with the same method, which lead to a similar result as before. The patient started out calling “Mommy! Daddy!” then experienced convulsions, heavy breathing, and then eventually screamed. After the session, Dr. Janov says his patient was transformed and became “virtually another human being. He became alert… he seemed to understand himself.”

Although the initial intention of this particular practice wasn’t to get the patient to scream, more than once did his Primal Therapy sessions end with the patient screaming and feeling lighter, revived, and relieved of stresses that were holding them down in life.

Some Methods To Practice Screaming

If you want to try it out for yourself, keep reading!

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  • Step 1: Be Alone — Be alone. If you live in a place that you can’t be alone, it might be a good idea to talk to your family or roommates and explain to them what you’re about to do and make sure they’re okay with it. If you’re good to go, move on to step 2.
  • Step 2: Lie Down — Lie down on a yoga mat on your back and place a pillow underneath your head. If you don’t own a yoga mat, you can use a rug or even a soft blanket.
  • Step 3: Think — Think of things that have hurt you or made you angry. It can be anything from your childhood or even something that happened recently to make yourself cry, if you’re not already crying or upset. You could even scream “Mommy! Daddy!” just like Dr. Janov’s patients did to get yourself started.
  • Step 4: Scream — Don’t hold anything back; cry and scream as loud as you can. You can also pound your fists on the ground, or just lie there and scream at the top of your lungs.

After this, you should return your breathing to a normal and steady pace. You should feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of you. If not, you can also try these other methods.

Scream Sing

Scream singing” is referring to what a lot of lead singers in metal or screamo bands will do. I’ve tried it and although I wasn’t very good at it, it was fun and definitely relieved me of any stress I was feeling from before. It usually ends up sounding like a really loud grunt, but nonetheless, it’s considered screaming.

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  • Step 1 — Bear down and make a grunting sound.
  • Step 2 — Hiss like a snake and make sure to do this from your diaphragm (your stomach) for as long as you can.
  • Step 3 — Breathe and push your stomach out for more air when you are belting notes, kind of like you would if you were singing.
  • Step 4 — Try different ways to let out air to control how long the note will last, just make sure not to let out too much air.
  • Step 5 — Distort your voice by pushing air out from your throat, just be careful not to strain yourself.
  • Step 6 — Play around with the pitch of your screams and how wide your mouth is open – the wider your mouth is open, the higher the screams will sound. The narrower or rounder your mouth is (and most likely shaped like an “o”), the lower the screams will sound.
  • Step 7 — Start screaming to metal music. If you’re not a huge metal fan, it’s okay. You don’t have to use this method if you don’t want to.

If you want a more thorough walkthrough of how to scream sing, here’s a good video tutorial. If this method is too strenuous on your vocal chords, stop. Also, make sure to stay hydrated when scream singing and drink lots of water.

Scream into a pillow

Grab a pillow and scream into it. This method is probably the fastest and easiest way to practice screaming. Just make sure to come up for air.

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Always remember to make sure that you’re not going to disturb anyone while practicing any of these methods of screaming. And with that, happy screaming!

Featured photo credit: Sharon Mollerus via flickr.com

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