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An exciting new study published in Biological Psychiatry and profiled in The New York Times demonstrates, for the first time, a link between mindfulness meditation, brain connectivity in two important areas related to emotional well-being, and a reduction in unhealthy markers of inflammation. Remarkably, these benefits were absent in a control group that practiced relaxation without mindfulness. Dr. J. David Creswell, who led the study, believes that the positive brain changes led to the reduction in inflammation.
Like yoga, mindfulness is a several thousand-year-old tradition. Being mindful means that we purposefully pay attention, without judgment, to what’s happening in the present moment. It isn’t something you only do with your mind, however; in fact, mindfulness starts with the body.
Emerging research in neuroscience has focused on interoception: the art of paying attention to momentary fluctuations in bodily sensations—purposefully, non-judgmentally, and without needing to change or fix anything. Think of interoception as mindfulness in the body.
Amazingly, interoception has a positive impact on our physical health, benefitting our immune system, gut microbiome, and connective tissue matrix. Interoception also helps with emotional resilience: among many things, it turns down the volume on the negative self-referential thinking characteristic of anxiety, depression, chronic pain, addictions, and other “diseases of disembodiment.” And as Creswell’s new study indicates, practicing mindfulness meditation may also increase functional connectivity, or communication, between this ruminating and negative part of the brain, and the part responsible for executive control.
When it comes to neuroplasticity, or positive change, the frequency of our practice is more important than its duration. Think for a moment of anxiety: doing a quick body scan several times throughout the day helps us notice when anxiety levels are escalating; we can then practice one of the embodied tools below to reset our nervous system. Do this often enough, and we create a new neural baseline or set-point. By integrating simple, two-minute embodiment tools several times daily, you’ll see profound changes in your health and wellbeing.
The following practices might not seem like “real yoga,” but they’re rooted in mindfulness and embodiment. Practice them several times daily to become more embodied, rewire your nervous system, develop emotional resilience, boost your immune system, and access your sensory intelligence and intuition.
To improve your overall health and reap the benefits of mindfulness, try these five exercises in addition to your practice.