by Dr. Charles Gant M.D., Ph.D.
The concept of mindfulness is now searched on the internet over 70,000 times a month.
The concept of mindfulness is not: meditation, concentration, yoga, reflection, prayer, attention, awareness, enlightenment, inner peace or stress reduction. However, when practiced, mindfulness may play a role in all these things.
Mindfulness-based approaches to psychotherapy in the last decade have revolutionized clinical psychology and counseling practices. In neurophysiological terms, mindfulness has been proven on brain imagery studies (fMRI, PET scans) to involve the “awakening” of about 20 percent of the brain’s hardware—the prefrontal lobes and associated structures. Conversely, virtually all mental disorders are associated with diminished prefrontal cortex activity. Mindfulness can improve emotional stability and is often credited for opening up a whole set of potential skills from executive functioning, attentiveness, compassion and empathy, and an ability to downregulate anger, fear, compulsions and addictions and symptoms of mental disorders.
Mindfulness has been defined as:
- a completely separate faculty of consciousness; not cognitive (thinking), sensory (the five senses), emotive (feelings) or motor function (behavior)
- paying attention in an accepting, non-judgmental way
- paying attention and accepting of whatever thoughts, feelings or events arise in the present moment
- learning to observe a thoughts, feelings and events in a neutral way
- the letting go of the mind’s obsession to be preoccupied with thoughts, feelings or outcomes
- a faculty of consciousness conferred by prefrontal lobe activity in the brain
Be Here Now
Mindfulness practice and mindfulness psychotherapies correct the fight/flight response and chronic stress by assisting individuals in detaching from a preoccupation with the past (fight/anger) and the future (flight/anxiety) via well-defined inhibitory feedback pathways in the brain. Experientially, the stress-relieving benefits of mindfulness practice are thought to be related to the detachment from “toxic thoughts and emotions” which have trapped an individual’s mind in an illusory past which is over, and a future which has not yet happened, thus bringing those who engage in mindfulness on a regular basis into more contact with “the now” of life experiences.
Observe and Accept our Thoughts
When the mind encounters physical or psychological pain, it tends to resist and pull away in order to survive. Mindfulness-based practice and psychotherapies encourage the exact opposite—to to open up to pain or joy, however unpleasant or pleasant, with neutral, non-judgmental observation. Resistance causes persistence and one immediate payoff to letting go of resistance to pain is a marked lessening of discomfort, much like the Lamaze approach to natural childbirth diminishes the pain of childbirth.
The human brain is blessed with the anatomical structures which can mitigate fight/flight stress, and which improves relationships with others. Mindfulness has entered the curricula in elementary schools in the U.S. Our mindfulness-conferring, prefrontal cortex, when awakened through practice and psychotherapy, also lessens stress-caused medical and psychiatric disorders, which essentially boils down to all disorders. All healthcare providers should have this tool available in their toolboxes of healing modalities to facilitate the benefits that they provide for all other interventions.
Dr. Gant M.D., Ph.D., has practiced mindfulness for 45 years and he incorporates mindfulness- based psychotherapies into his integrative and functional medical practice as an essential tool for assisting his patients to lead healthier, happier lives. For more information, visit Nihadc.com/Health-Programs/Functional-Medicine.html.