Currently, advances in medicine, using technologies and scientific progresses in the treatment of diseases, have achieved an increase in the world population life expectancy. Nonetheless, mental health is still a pending task, screaming for our attention, especially considering that an altered mind is the main cause of death and incapacity; murders, suicide, car accidents, and psychiatric illness are daily news. In this scenario, practicing a lifestyle that promotes a healthy mind and that increases one's quality of life is more than justified.
In this matter, the mindfulness is the pathway of mental training, tranquility, compassion, connection with oneself and one’s surroundings. However, as everything we want to achieve, learning awareness also implies a degree of effort. At the beginning of this training, it is not unusual to be distracted by such frustrating thoughts as “I can't focus”, “I need to have a perfect outcomes”, “I can't stay still”, “I don't have enough time”, “I'm not doing it right”, etc... We should understand that there is no wrong way to focus; the correct way is the one that suits you. There is no correct way of living other than that which adapts the best to us, similar to “My Way” from Frank Sinatra, about a man who looks back on his life with full awareness and without judgment, and is especially proud of having lived his life enjoying every step of the way.
Therefore, despite that the awake meditation may sound difficult; for certain we have all already done it at some point. For example, if you have hung out just thinking about something, if you have prayed, if you have observed nature or someone for a few minutes, then you have awareness moments linked to the present.
In the last decades, neuroscientists have been keen to verify the effectiveness and brain changes that mindfulness can cause. This has lent greater robustness and reliability to this practice, which in turn has contributed to greater diffusion of this practice among society.
The truth is that science increasingly gathers more evidence that small changes in the mind lead to big changes in the brain and therefore into life experience. What flows through the mind sculpts the brain, especially if it is constant, lending credibility to the phrase: “The main activity of the brain is changing themselves,” Marvin L. Minsky.
The main changes in the brain result in neurophysiological modifications translated by the presence of certain brain waves and frequencies denoting synchronicity in the functioning, which means more coherence between connections and areas. According to brain scans, meditation can strengthen synaptic connections, as well as producing more cortical sulcus and gyrus, processes associated with increasing the speed of information processing, decision-making, better memory, and attention.
In addition, the effects of meditation practice are associated with morphologic changes, such as more density in the gray matter, which have a positive effect by improving cognitive, emotional, and immune responses, as well as better self-control, breathing, and heart rate. Moreover, other studies suggest that meditation increases the size of the hippocampus and frontal lobe, resulting in more positive emotions, more emotional stability, and more conscious behavior in day-to-day life. When we talk about more conscious behavior, we come to taste and therefore value manifestations from ourselves and from others, helping to free ourselves from the slavery of automatism—“stolen lives”—in which we live immersed every day.
In consequence, a quiet mind will always be more productive cognitively, and this will facilitate adaptation to change, reducing everyday stress and the impulsive reactions that tarnish our welfare.
“I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me”
- Albert Einstein
Elisa Laconich is a Ph.D. in Psychology with orientation in Cognitive Neuroscience. Partner of the ONG the world peace foundation. She works in the development of the neurosciences and the application of the neuropsychology in Paraguay. She has experience in the application of the neuropsychology to improve the quality of life in people who had brain damage through neurocognitive techniques and mindfulness. She was President of the First Congress of Research in Neurosciences Paraguay in 2015 and President of the Neurosciences Association of Paraguay. Member of the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society.