"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally."
What Is Mindfulness?
Baer, R.A., Smith, G.T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J. & Toney, L. (2006)
The term “mindfulness” can be traced back 2,500 years to the language of Buddhism, Pali. Buddhists use the word “sati” to relate a state of awareness, attention, and remembering. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. introduced a secular version of the Buddhist practice of Vipassna termed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the late 1970s as a treatment for those suffering with chronic pain. MBSR proved effective for those with chronic pain so this practice was extended to reduce symptoms related to anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, eating disorders, ADHD and management of depression.
One of the central practices in MBSR is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that focuses attention on the moment, noting thoughts and feelings as they occur but refraining from judging or acting on those thoughts and feelings. The intent is to deepen awareness of the present, develop skills of focused attention, and cultivate positive emotions such as compassion. Meditation evokes a state that leads to the development of a trait if practiced repeatedly.
Extensive studies have been conducted on the practice of mindfulness meditation. Many positive outcomes of practicing mindfulness have been revealed through this research including increased immune function and neural growth after 6-8 weeks of MBSR training. Lazar and colleagues at Harvard University examined a group of meditators and found that they had an increase of cortical thickness in the region containing the right anterior insula, right middle and superior frontal sulci, left superior temporal gyrus (auditory cortex) and small region in the fundus of the central sulcus. These findings are significant because the areas found to have increased cortical thickness play a large role in sustaining attention, emotional regulation and processing of emotions (right anterior insula). The insula also relays information between medial and prefrontal areas thus, facilitating integration- a key factor in mental health (Lazar et al., 2005).
Recent research reveals that mindfulness practices such as the body scan, mindfulness meditation and yoga also influences gene expression including the reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways, cell metabolism, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance. Decreasing inflammation is a key factor in wellness as inflammation is at the root of major health problems including heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and chronic pain. These results also indicate that mindfulness practices keep us young and thriving as cell metabolism and telomere maintenance are necessary in preventing apoptosis (cell death). Changes in gene expression were seen after eight-weeks of practice once a day and effects were enhanced with lengthier practice as seen in long-term practitioners (Bhasin M.K., Dusek, J.A., Chang, B-H., Joseph, M.G., Denninger, J.W., et al., 2013).