There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness these days, with some pretty big benefit claims. But is this just new age rah rah or are there real, demonstrated, benefits of mindfulness? And more specifically, is it of benefit to doctors?
Five key benefits of mindfulness training
According to “Doing and Being: Mindfulness, Health, and Quiet Ego Characteristics among Buddhist Practitioners,” the 2011 research article that published the survey results in the Journal of Happiness Studies (12(4): 575-589), there were five key ways that mindfulness training increased physical and mental health:
It strengthened immune system and physiological responses to stress and negative emotions.
It improved social relationships with family and strangers.
It reduced stress, depression, and anxiety and increased well-being and happiness.
It increased openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness and reduced negative associations with neuroticism.
It led to greater psychological mindfulness, which included an awareness that is clear, nonconceptual, and flexible; a practical stance toward reality; and present attention to the individual’s consciousness and awareness.
"One of the surprising findings of this study and what some others are coming up with is how much of a difference it makes to focus your mind and calm down. It actually makes a large difference in your well-being.”
Meditative mindfulness practices have been shown to positively alter the structure and neural patterns in the brain and strengthen the brain regions associated with heightened sensory processing and empathetic response. Therefore, individuals who regularly practices mindfulness training are quite literally reforming the structure of their brains to achieve desired outcomes. “We are finding more and more that the human brain is quite adaptable, as we have learnt that the brain reroutes information through new neuropathways, so in addition to the mind being adaptable, the brain too has this quality,” author of a study conducted at Northern Arizona University, Bruce Sullivan explains. Individuals who said they meditated even once a day reported greater psychological mindfulness.