Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Acts of Mindfulness

New York City is often referred to as The City That Never Sleeps, but what does that mean for the people who live there? As it turns out, New Yorkers snooze for almost seven hours a night on average, faring better than people living in other urban areas across the US.

But comparisons and bragging rights aside, I think most people will agree that modern life isn’t particularly amenable to sleep. Everyone wants more of it. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a plethora of techniques on the sleep easy menu. Mindfulness is one, and lately, it’s everywhere. Perhaps because it’s not just sleep that it seems to help, it carries a host of other therapeutic benefits, such as stress reduction, exercise, eating and weight management.

On top of all of this, one study has found that practicing mindfulness – the state of active, open attention on the present – boosts performance, by physically altering your brain. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that practicing mindfulness increases brain activity and brain tissue density in two key regions: the part of the brain that is responsible for self-control, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for grit (or “resilience in the face of setbacks and challenges,” to be precise) among other things.

An article on TIME uncovered similarly interesting findings in relation to the effect that mindfulness has on the brain. The research found that practicing mindfulness reduced both pain intensity and emotional pain (in comparison to a placebo group), and that people who practiced mindfulness seemed to use different brain regions to reduce pain than other groups.

Mindfulness is sounding pretty good to me, so where to begin? There’s no set time limit, and you can do it pretty much anywhere, although you might try to find a quiet spot if you’re prone to distractions. It’s about focusing on the present, and observing yourself in that present moment (your breathing, the sensations of your environment), whatever you’re doing. Travis Bradberry likens it to a workout for your brain, which given what some research is beginning to show, is a spot-on analogy.

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