A superficial or incomplete understanding of concepts can lead to all kinds of misinformation. In this series I discuss the most common myths I encounter about mindfulness through my work as a psychologist and mindfulness coach and I attempt to debunk them.
Myth #3: Mindfulness is Woo
Some may see mindfulness as nothing more than a passing fad, new age pseudoscience, magical thinking, or religious mumbo jumbo. Mindfulness is certainly not a passing fad as it has been around since the first century BCE. Although the concept of mindfulness originated from the teachings of the Buddha as related and passed down by followers and admirers, there is solid science providing objective evidence of the benefits of practice. Its recognition in US medicine grew out of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, so it has been well-respected here for several decades.
Mindfulness is made up of a variety of formal and informal practices such as meditation, mindful movement, and intuitive or mindful eating. Research shows that meditation is correlated with differences in the structure, function and neural patterns of the brain such as increased activation in areas related to emotional regulation and positive affect, greater cognitive flexibility, faster processing speed, improved concentration and working memory, and slower age related cortical thinning.
Meditation has also been correlated with a number of physical and behavioral health benefits in children and adults. These include enhanced immune function, decreased stress, faster return to baseline cortisol levels after stress, decreases in depression, anxiety, anger, and rumination, reduced emotional reactivity, improved communication and relationships, and less implicit bias.
Mindful or intuitive eating corresponds in the research with reduced episodes of binge eating, lower cortisol levels and decreased anxiety among stress eaters, improved BMI, weight loss or decreased abdominal fat, improved glycemic control, increased fiber intake, and increased vegetable and lower animal product, trans fat and sugar consumption.
A relationship has been shown in the research between yoga or mindful movement and improvements in quality of life, physical fitness and cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility, as well as reduced stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and improvements in neck and back pain and related functioning.
For a citation of the research referenced in this blog post, please visit our Mindfulness Research page. Take a look and see for yourself that mindfulness practices are not just exercises in metaphysical speculation. Rather, mindfulness offers us an additional set of useful tools for our growing health and wellbeing toolkit. If you are interested in learning how to practice mindfulness, register for one of my classes or workshops in the Kansas City metro.
…don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them. – Kalama Sutta