Experts are beginning to postulate that the concept of working out your mind may soon be considered as important and commonplace as working out your body. Most people already know the benefits of physical exercise for health and wellbeing, and there are entire industries built around physical fitness. While the results of mental exercise may not be as visible, the benefits have been found to be just as life changing. Mental fitness can be achieved in several ways, including meditation. A cultural shift that makes mental workouts a part of daily life would likely lead to improved physical health, focus, work performance, and quality of life overall.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Although there are various ways to exercise the brain, the practices of meditation and mindfulness have been the most extensively studied methods. Meditation is an ancient practice that can be accomplished in several ways, but usually encourages the practitioner to find a quiet place to sit and focus on their breathing. By paying attention to the breath, you can learn to quiet an active mind. One goal of meditation is to learn to become an observer of your thoughts rather than reacting to or identifying with them. In life we often allow our thoughts to dictate our emotions, but through meditation we begin to create distance between our busy minds and our feelings, helping us to react more peacefully to external conflict. Meditation also encourages us to exist in the present moment, and refrain from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Mindfulness is a more modern take on meditative practices, and may be incorporated into a traditional meditation practice or into daily activities. Being mindful means to anchor yourself in the moment by becoming fully present in your environment and aware of every action you are taking with your body. A common mindfulness practice is to wash the dishes mindfully, observing every detail of the process. Instead of allowing your mind to wander as it usually does during household chores, you would use all your senses to smell the dish soap, feel the water and the sponge, and see each dish go from dirty to clean. This mundane activity can be a great opportunity to practice mindfulness and spend a little time in the present moment.
The Proof is in the Data
Over the past decade, scientists have begun taking a serious look at the brain changes that result from mental practices such as mindfulness and meditation. While these techniques were once considered to be mostly spiritual, and therefore a subjective experience unique to the practitioner, science has now confirmed that anyone can reap the benefits of mindfulness and meditation despite their spiritual affiliation. Over time, these practices literally change the brain in a way that promotes focus and wellbeing. Committing to a meditation or mindfulness practice may also make you a better person. Buddhism has long advocated for a meditation practice to cultivate compassion and empathy towards all living things, and studies have shown that these mental training techniques may indeed allow you to expand your emotional capacity for human connection.
A study that used MRI scans to look at the brains of Buddhist monks that had completed more than 10,000 hours of meditation found significant evidence of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the malleability of the brain, and provides proof that certain areas of the brain can be strengthened and changed with mental exercise such as meditation. The study also concluded that even short-term practitioners were able to create physical changes in their brain through meditation that focused on the development of compassion.
Applications for the Future
While we are hearing a lot right now about meditation and mindfulness in popular science and spirituality, it is still a relatively new concept to the whole of western society. However, with access to this kind of groundbreaking research at everyone’s fingertips these days via the internet, we may start to see a large cultural shift over the next decade that begins to incorporate mental exercise into daily life. Meditation and mindfulness practices are already commonly used as a part of many holistic treatment programs for addiction and mental illness, but we will likely start to see these techniques employed as a common aspect of preventative healthcare as well. Many experts believe that within the next fifty years we will see these practices worked into the daily learning activities of schoolchildren, and we will likely see improved mental and physical health outcomes in generations to come as a result.
The practice of meditation and mindfulness can be a profoundly effective addition to a holistic treatment plan for addiction and mental illness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental health issues, now is the time to seek help. At Burning Tree Ranch, we specialize in long-term care that produces real results, especially for those who have experienced relapse. Here you will find a team of qualified and compassionate professionals, ready to help each client through a customized treatment program that addresses all aspects of addiction, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. We know that the journey towards recovery doesn’t end with the conclusion of an inpatient program, which is why we provide extensive aftercare programs to best support our clients during their transition into lasting sobriety. We also know that addiction affects the whole family, and therefore loved ones are encouraged to participate in the recovery process and take advantage of all our support resources.