What is the evidence for mindfulness?
MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, celled the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. The “functional connectivity” between these regions – i.e. how often they are activated together – also changes: the connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
Mindfulness meditation has been suggested to lead to increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, preventing and downregulating the sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight” stress responses. It has also been shown to reduce levels of biomarkers of stress and inflammation, like C-reactive proteins, interleukin 6 and cortisol – all of which are associated with disease - and to ‘uncouple’ areas of the brain that assess the unpleasantness of pain (the anterior cingulate cortex) and parts of the prefrontal cortex.
The clinical evidence for mindfulness in a whole range of settings is growing exponentially. It is recommended by NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence) for recurrent depression in the UK, and additionally has evidence in a great many other conditions such as anxiety, stress, addiction, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, tinnitus, psoriasis and cancer, to name but a few.
Mindfulness is being evaluated in the workplace, in schools, in prisons, and in the military for the many positive impacts it can have on our daily life.
"If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath ~Amit Ray