Is it all in your mind?

Mindfulness and meditation are popular topics on the web.  Each has its own variation, but what does that mean for us?
In the simplest terms, mindfulness means focusing on this moment now.  After practicing you learn to stop worrying about things in the past or the future and focus on right now.  Often, this is accomplished through the aid of meditation.  Classic meditation tools teach to you to focus on your breath in and out.  In doing this, you can learn to quiet your mind and eventually release your body.
It really is amazing what this simple act can do physiologically.  By focusing on your breath and letting your mind stop wondering and worrying, your heart rate is lowered and controlled.  Your blood pressure decreases as does your respiration rate. Additionally, your brain activity “calms” as shown by EEG. Controlled studies have shown that it also can aid in insomnia and help with those who have anxiety. Further, some have shown that mindfulness techniques can help those with substance abuse and withdrawal issues.

But how is this possible?  Mindfulness is just about thinking, right?

Buddha said that, essentially, we are what we think. To some degree this is proving true in mindfulness research. There have been many studies in the last 5 years attempting to address these topics.  While there is still more to understand, some answers have become clear.  Probably the most renowned of such studies was conducted by Deepak Chopra’s foundation, the Chopra Center.  In this study, hundreds of epigenetic markers were measured pre and post activity.  The activity was that participants either did a vacation at a spa or attended mindfulness training at the same spa.  Analysis of this data was remarkable.  It showed that both groups improved their “stress” related epigenetic markers.  It also showed that those in the training had a higher improvement that lasted longer (even in those who did not continue what they learned after leaving).  The overall improvement was dubbed “the vacation” effect, while the longer improvement was attributed to the mindfulness efforts of the individuals.

Epigenetic markers are ones that are shared by all (so not dependent upon your unique DNA subset) but turned “on” or “off” based on the stresses and activities in that person’s life.  The result of this study is that what we think directly impacts our health and wellbeing – down to the very DNA in our cells. Not only that, but how we think can change them by turning them on or off based on how we think and how we react to stress.

Maybe Buddha was on to something – we are what we think!