Mindfulness has its roots as a Buddhist spiritual practice for the last 2,500 years. Fast forward 2,500 years and the word is springing up everywhere. So, is this just another fad?
Well, it seems not. Brain scanning has allowed scientists to see what is going on in the brain when individuals are engaged in different mental tasks. When an individual is engaged in Mindfulness practice, this shows activation of different areas of the brain that are associated with with self-regulatory processes, planning, problem solving, memory and learning, and with deactivation of areas that are responsible for reacting to threat. So we become more able to engage in focussed, concentrated mind activity, and become less reactive to stressors in our environment. It’s a well-known saying in neuroscience that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together, and survive together’, so repeated activation of groups of neurons result in connections being made between them (wiring together), which results in the brain changing its functional structure (the brain scan pictures show areas of most activation as red, and areas of no activation as black). So, repeated activities, like Mindfulness practice can actually change your brain, and the research is showing that these changes can occur in as little as 8 weeks of mindfulness practice.
This, of course, is true for different activities that we engage in, whether this is a motor skill (like tennis) or a mental activity (like relaxation techniques, or puzzles). The more we practice the better we get. I guess though this may seem quite obvious, and we perhaps take it for granted. But what we are actually doing is changing and reinforcing the connections within the brain. One of the most exciting discoveries of the 90’s (deemed the ‘decade of the brain’ because of the number of new discoveries that were made as a result of advances in technology) was that the brain is capable of changing through our lifespan (a capacity known as ‘plasticity’), changing the previous view that the brain after ‘maturation’ was not only fixed, but declined as we got older.
So, now we know ‘you can teach old dogs new tricks’!!
About the Author: Maggi
Maggi lives in a rural location in Lanarkshire with her German Shepherd, Solas. She enjoys nature, reading, dog training and sometimes having a duvet day cuddled up on the couch with Solas, enjoying chocolate (not for Solas though!)