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The Neuroscience of Mindfulness & Meditation

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

                    ― Viktor E. Frankl

Focus | Attention

Associated Brain Region: Pre-frontal Cortex

Studies have demonstrated that the practice of meditation techniques over an extended period positively affects grey matter density around areas of the brain responsible for focus, learning, memory, and cognitive function - leading to improved executive functioning and sustained attention.

Links to Research: 

Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices (Norris et al. 2018 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience)


Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density (Holzel et al. 2010 - Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging)


Associated Brain Region: Amygdala

Studies show that practicing mindfulness meditation can reduce the physiological and psychological impacts of stress. In particular fMRI scans display a reduction of grey matter around the amygdala - the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and the activation of the stress response (fight-flight-freeze). 

Links to Research: 

Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation — an fMRI Study (Lutz et al. 2014 - Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 

Stress Reduction Correlates with Structural Changes in the Amygdala (Holzel & Lazar et al. 2009 - Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience)   

Anxiety | Depression

Associated Brain Regions: Amygdala | Hippocampus

Meditation and mindfulness are proven to cultivate attention on the present moment, which counteracts rumination on the past and worry about the future - maladaptive use of the mind linked to anxiety and depression. 

Links to Research: 

The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression (Hoffman et al. 2010 - American Psychological Association)

Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Emotion Regulation in Social Anxiety Disorder (Goldin & Gross 2010 - American Psychological Association)


Associated Brain Regions: Prefrontal Cortex | Anterior Cingulate Cortex | Interior Insula

Employing mindful attention has been demonstrated to improve interpersonal skills such as listening and in turn, relationships. People who practice mindfulness have been found to be more empathetic towards others feelings, able to better express themselves and are less reactive to conflict within relationships. 

Links to Research: 

Mindfulness Skills and Interpersonal Behaviour (Dekeyser et al. 2008 - American Psychology Association) 

Does Mindfulness Meditation Increase Empathy? An Experiment (Ridderinkhoff et al. 2016 - Self & Identify)


Associated Brain Region: Medial Prefrontal Cortex

Gratitude is the idea of acknowledging the goodness in ones life, it helps to cultivate more positive emotions, enhance relationships with other people and the surrounding world. Gratitude supports being grounded in the present moment, as it is a celebration of what is now - science is now demonstrating the physical, emotional and mental benfits of gratitude.

Links to Research: 

Functions of Positive Emotions: Gratitude as a Motivator of Self-Improvement and Positive Change (Armenta et al. 2016 - Emotion Review)

The Effects of Gratitude Expression on Neural Activity (Kini et al. 2015 - NeuroImage)

Breaking Bad Habits

Associated Brain Regions: Basal Ganglia | Prefrontal Cortex

It is said that 70% of our daily behaviours are habitual - what if some of them have a negative impact on us? Mindfulness helps develop the awareness of what triggers unhealthy behavioural patterns, as well as how habitual and automatic reactivity can create and reinforce a negative loop. This ability to pause mindfully allows for the possibility to make a new healthier decision in response to triggers.

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