Practicing Mindfulness Techniques Has Proven Value and Benefits for Leaders
Entire books are being written on the numerous scientific studies validating the benefits of mindfulness. If you are interested in in-depth exposure to these studies, I highly recommend:
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves by Sharon Begley
The Leading Brain: Power Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance by Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann
Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi
Make Your Brain Smarter: Increase Your Brain’s Creativity, Energy, and Focus by Sandra Bond Chapman
Hard scientific research, along with personal reporting of self-perceived benefits, has overwhelmingly shown that mindfulness is beneficial both cognitively and emotionally. Proving the impact of mindfulness on brain structure or functionality was impossible until only a few years ago. Today, however, with tools such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, scientists have started to reveal how mindfulness alters both brain architecture and functionality.
Richard Davidson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin Madison, has authored over 30 studies on mindfulness and its effect on how the brain works. “Over the past 10 or 12 years,” notes Davidson, “there has been a vibrant interest in sectors of the neuroscientific community in studying the impact of meditation. We can look at brain structure and function and study people repeatedly over time to see how practicing mindfulness and meditation impact the brain and change behavior and experiences.”
In the past decade, numerous scientific studies have shown that practicing mindfulness techniques can change a person’s brain chemistry and the synaptic links impacting memory, recall, and emotional regulation.
In one of the more recent studies, Harvard neuroscientists employed brain-imaging techniques to examine the neurobiological effects arising from mindfulness training. The study compared the brain scans of two groups, one which underwent eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction training and a control group that did not participate in the training program.
The study found that the participants in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program had significant changes in five major regions of their brains compared to the control group. This included a thickening in the areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, cognition, perspective, emotional regulation, empathy, and compassion. Additionally, those participants from the mindfulness training program also showed a reduction in the areas of their brains that produce the hormones related to anxiety, stress, and fear.
This is far from the only scientific study to demonstrate the significant positive changes that mindfulness has on the brain. A 2016 study, published in Biological Psychiatry, revealed that people who meditated for as little as a few hours over the course of three days experienced improvements in mental functioning. Furthermore, brain scans of these participants indicated decreased inflammation compared to a control group that did not meditate. They also exhibited an improved ability to stay calm in difficult, stressful situations.
Even more remarkable, however, is that although many of the participants in the experiment did not continue to meditate on their own after the initial experiment period, the inflammation levels in their brains remained lower than the control group a full four months later. This indicates that even short periods of meditation can have a long-lasting impact on the physical characteristics of the brain.
Additionally, a research study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed that including just a few minutes of meditative stillness and deep breathing in one’s daily routine has the ability to protect the brain from the cognitive risks associated with aging, including slowing down the rate at which the brain naturally decreases in volume and begins to shrink.
As the aforementioned Richard Davidson wrote in an article in Scientific American, “The discovery of meditation’s benefits coincides with recent neuroscientific findings showing that the adult brain can still be deeply transformed through experience.” It is becoming evidently clear that some of the best experiences for one’s brain come through meditation and mindfulness practices.
This article is excerpted from my recent book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership. It is available on Amazon in both paperback ($18.88) and Kindle ($7.88).