By now, you’ve been bombarded with Back to School advertisements, painfully reminding you that summer is coming to an end. Whether you are in school or not, the end of summer typically signals an end to vacations and time to “buckle down.” In this spirit, I’m going to offer you a series of weekly tips on how to improve your attention, so that you can be more productive in whatever you do. This week is all about why you should practicemindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. – Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2003
Mindfulness often includes focusing on bodily sensations, such as your breathing or how the sun feels on your skin. It can be done as a meditation practice, typically while sitting with your eyes closed. However, most people don’t realize that mindfulness can be done anywhere, at any time. Mindfulness can be practiced while washing dishes, eating a meal, or even driving (eyes open please!). You can also choose what you want to focus on, such as your five senses, thoughts, feelings, or physical movements.
Mindfulness and the Brain
Mindfulness has been shown to have many positive effects, including triggering the brain’s relaxation response while reducing anxiety and stress. However, mindfulness has also been shown to boost attention. Harvard University neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, Ph.D., and her colleagues (Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011) found that individuals who participated in an eight-week mindfulness stress reduction program actually showed changes in brain structure. Using MRI technology, they found that these people had an increase in the density in several brain regions, including one important for sustained attention, the posterior cingulate cortex. There are also several published research studies that show mindfulness practice improves attention in children and adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Think about it. Mindfulness is all about paying attention. We know that neurons that fire together, wire together. When you practice mindfulness repeatedly you can strengthen those connections in your brain important for attention. So why not integrate mindfulness into your day? Not only will you likely experience a boost in your attention, but you may also find that your mood has improved as well!