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“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.”
– Santiago Ramon y Cajal.
Effects of mindfulness on the brain
Mindfulness increases brain wave activity associated with improved memory and attention
Lomas, Ivtzan and Fu (2015) reviewed 56 EEG studies that examined the effects of mindfulness meditation on brain wave activity. The most consistent findings among these studies was that compared to a resting state, where participants were simply instructed to close their eyes, both new and experienced meditators who engaged in mindfulness exercises showed a significant increase in alpha and theta power. An increase in alpha power is often associated with improved attention processes. Similarly, an increase in theta power is associated with improved control of attention and improved memory. Together, these changes in brain wave activity indicate that mindfulness leads to a “state of relaxed alertness”.
Mindfulness alters brain structures in ageing adults
Pickut and colleagues (2015) compared the brains of Parkinson’s Disease sufferers who either completed an 8-week mindfulness-based intervention or continued to receive their usual treatment. Individuals who completed the mindfulness-based intervention showed increased gray matter in areas associated with emotion regulation and memory, whereas individuals who received their usual treatment did not show any change in these areas. This suggests that the mindfulness results in changes to brain structures even in individuals with neurodegenerative conditions. Kurth and colleagues (2015) investigated whether the number of years an individual had been engaging in meditation practice was associated with changes in the distribution of brain cells (gray matter). In their study, long-term meditators were compared to ‘naïve’ meditators – individuals who had not previously practised meditation. The researchers found that there was a positive correlation between number of years practising meditation and increased gray matter in areas associated with sustained attention. These findings suggest that the more an individual practices meditation, the better their attention control becomes.
Mindfulness leads to an increase in relationship satisfaction
Barnes and colleagues (2007) carried out research to investigate the role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to stress in relationships. The findings showed that mindfulness practice in a relationship context could predict greater relationship satisfaction and an increased capacity to respond constructively to relationship stress. The researchers also explored the role of state and trait mindfulness in this relationship context (state is a measure of mindfulness during a current discussion between a couple and trait measured general practice of mindfulness in a relationship). Trait mindfulness predicted lower emotional stress and state mindfulness showed better communication during a couples’ discussion. This research demonstrates that mindfulness can play an important role in the well-being of romantic relationships.
Carson (2004) used a mindfulness-based intervention for relationship enhancement. This was carried out with couples who were considered happy and not distressed in their relationship to investigate how a mindfulness approach could enrich a happy relationship. Outcomes showed the intervention was effective in improving levels of relationship satisfaction, closeness and acceptance of one another. Similarly, there were also benefits in individuals’ optimism and relaxation and these findings continued to be demonstrated at a 3-month follow-up showing the long-term impact of such interventions. The findings of this research showed couples who practiced mindfulness more often had better outcomes. Mindfulness training may contribute to positive outcomes in couples’ therapy could be an active ingredient in better relationship satisfaction and coping with stress.
Mindfulness helps with the emotional pain from breakups and past relationships
Saavedra and colleagues (2010) examined mindfulness as a moderator for relationship quality. Mindfulness was shown to moderate the effects of relationship anxiety and reduce the risk of relationship breakup associated with relationship anxiety.
Couples demonstrate greater acceptance, compassion & empathy with mindfulness practice
In 2007, Block-Lerner and co-workers looked at mindfulness based approaches for empathic responding in couples. Mindfulness and acceptance based behavioural approaches for couples and family members were proposed along-side empathy training and preliminary findings suggest that mindfulness-based interventions significantly impact levels of empathy and anxiety.