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Mindful Meditation – The Power of Breath

Updated: Nov 21, 2023


Mindful meditation is now at the leading edge of scientifically supported medical interventions. The research is quite clear, Mindful Meditation is a powerful means to greatly improve both your mental and physical well-being. In fact, Mindfulness practices are now integral components of several university programs from medical schools to the classroom of future lawyers and engineers (7; 11; 12). It is also being used by some of the most successful business organizations on our planet today (13; 14).


Article Index:

 

Benefits of Mindful Meditation


Peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that Mindful Meditation offers a range of benefits for individuals seeking to improve their mental and physical well-being. Studies have indicated that engaging in Mindful Meditation:

  1. Cognitive Function: Enhances cognitive function by promoting neuroplasticity and cortical thickening. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt and reorganize itself, while cortical thickening indicates increased neuronal density and connectivity, both of which contribute to improved cognitive abilities (2; 3; 4; 5).

  2. Memory Capacity: Boosts working memory capacity, which is crucial for everyday tasks such as problem-solving, decision-making, and maintaining attention (6).

  3. Stress Reduction: Reduces stress levels by decreasing cortisol production. Cortisol is a hormone released during stress that, if chronically elevated, can lead to various health issues including anxiety, depression, and even cardiovascular disease (7).

  4. Immune Function: Increases immune function, as evidenced by an increased CD4+ T cell count. CD4+ T cells are essential for a robust immune response, and higher counts are associated with a stronger immune system (1).

  5. Reduce Inflammation: Decreases inflammation by reducing NF-kB transcription activity, C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, and cortisol levels. Lower levels of NF-kB activity, CRP, and cortisol indicate decreased systemic inflammation, which is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (1).

  6. Biological Aging: Slows biological aging by increasing telomerase activity and telomere length. Telomerase is an enzyme that maintains telomere length, the protective caps on chromosomes. Longer telomeres are associated with increased cellular lifespan and delayed onset of age-related diseases (1; 8; 9; 10).

Additionally, deep slow breathing during Mindful Meditation helps stimulate the vagus nerve, which in turn lowers the heart rate. This practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "rest and digest" response, promoting relaxation, and counteracting the effects of the sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight" response.


 

Mindful Meditation


When discussing Mindful Meditation with individuals, it is not uncommon to encounter misconceptions regarding its purpose and practice. Contrary to the belief that Mindful Meditation aims to attain a dreamlike or euphoric state detached from reality, its actual goal is to enhance one's awareness and attentiveness to the present moment.


Scientifically, Mindful Meditation is a mental training technique that cultivates mindfulness – the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness of one's thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. This heightened awareness of the present enables individuals to fully engage with each moment, fostering a greater sense of focus and concentration.


By embracing the present moment, practitioners of Mindful Meditation are better equipped to acknowledge and let go of past experiences and to refrain from excessive worry or anticipation about the future. This approach promotes emotional resilience, mental clarity, and overall well-being. Recent studies in the field of cognitive neuroscience have provided empirical evidence supporting the benefits of Mindful Meditation, such as improved attention, emotional regulation, and cognitive flexibility.


 

The Power of Breath


Breathing exercises serve as a fundamental component in the development of mindfulness practices. As a personal testimony, I engage in a daily 20-minute breathing exercise routine each morning, followed by a session of Tai Chi. This regimen has proven highly beneficial not only for myself but also for numerous patients experiencing musculoskeletal pain, headaches, insomnia, back pain, sciatica, stress, and an array of other conditions.


From a scientific perspective, breathing exercises provide a straightforward method for cultivating present-moment awareness and inducing a sense of calm in both the mind and body. The breath serves as an anchor for our attention, enabling us to remain fully engaged in the present. Despite its simplicity, the impact of this exercise can be profound.


Research has shown that controlled breathing exercises can positively influence the autonomic nervous system, which regulates essential physiological functions such as heart rate, respiration, and digestion. By eliciting a relaxation response, these exercises can alleviate stress, improve emotional regulation, and enhance overall well-being. With this in mind, I would like to introduce a scientifically-backed breathing technique for you to try.


 

Simple Yet Powerful - Breathing Exercises


Incorporate this potent breathing exercise into your daily routine for a duration of 15 to 20 minutes. Establishing a consistent practice (similar to brushing your teeth) and performing the exercise at the same time each day can be highly beneficial. Utilize your cell phone timer, set to a gentle chime, to track your progress.

The goal of this exercise is to immerse yourself in the moment-to-moment sensory experience of your breath.

Prepare Your Body:

  1. Locate a quiet space where you can sit undisturbed.

  2. Sit comfortably with your body upright. If you have back pain, ensure your chair offers adequate lumbar support. Your spine should be straight yet relaxed. Visualize a string at the top of your head gently lifting you up and elongating your spine.

  3. Close your eyes and consciously relax your face, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, and legs.

  4. Gently place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth. Breathe through your nose, as research indicates that mouth breathing is linked to poor posture, increased muscle tension, and stress (14).

Begin Breathing:

  1. Initiate the exercise with slow, deep breaths (4 to 5 counts for inhalation and 4 to 5 counts for exhalation).

  2. Allow your mind to follow your breath as your abdomen expands with each inhalation and contracts with each exhalation.

  3. Focus on the complete inhalation and exhalation cycle. Your breath should be continuous without pausing at the end of each phase or holding your breath.

  4. Maintain this rhythmic cycle, concentrating on your breath.

During this process, it's common to experience distractions – a phenomenon referred to as "monkey mind" in meditation. Our thoughts tend to pull us in various directions, but that's completely normal. If your thoughts drift away from your breathing, gently redirect your focus back to your breath. Over time, honing this focus and attention will become increasingly effortless.


Through consistent practice, this scientifically-backed exercise can yield significant improvements in mental and physical well-being.


 

Conclusion


In conclusion, incorporating a daily breathing exercise into your routine can have transformative effects on your overall well-being. Mindful Meditation, which focuses on present-moment awareness, has been scientifically proven to offer a wide array of benefits, including enhanced cognitive function, reduced stress, and improved emotional regulation.


By engaging in this simple yet powerful exercise, you can foster a greater sense of focus, mental clarity, and emotional resilience, ultimately optimizing your mental and physical health. As you continue to practice and refine your mindfulness skills, you will discover a deeper connection with yourself and a more profound appreciation for the present moment, paving the way for a healthier, more balanced life.


 

DR. BRIAN ABELSON DC. - The Author


Dr. Abelson is committed to running an evidence-based practice (EBP) incorporating the most up-to-date research evidence. He combines his clinical expertise with each patient's specific values and needs to deliver effective, patient-centred personalized care.


As the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems developer, Dr. Abelson operates a clinical practice in Calgary, Alberta, under Kinetic Health. He has authored ten publications and continues offering online courses and his live programs to healthcare professionals seeking to expand their knowledge and skills in treating musculoskeletal conditions. By staying current with the latest research and offering innovative treatment options, Dr. Abelson is dedicated to helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness.


 

References

  1. Black, D. S., & Slavich, G. M. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 13-24.

  2. Lazar, S. W. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16, 1893-1897.

  3. Vestergaard-Poulsen, P. et al. (2009). Long-term meditation is associated with increased grey matter density in the brain stem. Neuroreport, 20, 170-174.

  4. Tang, Y. Y. et al. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 15649-15652.

  5. Hölzel, B. K. et al. (2010). Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5, 11-17.

  6. Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion, 10(1), 54-64.

  7. The Harvard Gazette. (2018). Less stress, clearer thoughts with mindfulness meditation. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfulness-meditation/

  8. Blackburn, E. H., Epel, E. S., & Lin, J. (2015). Human telomere biology: A contributory and interactive factor in aging, disease risks, and protection. Science, 350, 1193-1198.

  9. Rao, K. S., Chakraharti, S. K., Dongare, V. S., Chetana, K., Ramirez, C. M., Koka, P. S., & Deb, K. D. (2015). Antiaging effects of an intensive mind and body therapeutic program through enhancement of telomerase activity and adult stem cell counts. Journal of Stem Cells, 10, 107-125.

  10. Epel, E. (2012). How "reversible" is telomeric aging? Cancer Prevention Research, 5, 1163-1168.

  11. Meditation for Law Students: Mindfulness Practice as Experiential Learning. (2017). Law and Psychology Review, 41, 157. U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-26.

  12. Harvard Business Review. (2019). How mindfulness can help engineers solve problems. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-mindfulness-can-help-engineers-solve-problems

  13. Financial Post. (n.d.). Why big companies like Apple promote mindfulness and how you can start. Retrieved from https://financialpost.com/personal-finance/business-essentials/why-big-companies-like-apple-promote-mindfulness-and-how-you-can-start

  14. Cuccia, A. M., Lotti, M., & Caradonna, D. (2008). Oral breathing and head posture. Angle Orthodontist, 78(1), 77-82.

  15. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion.

  16. Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163-169.

  17. Tang, Y. Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225.

  18. Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., ... & Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368.

  19. Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 491-516.

  20. Bohlmeijer, E., Prenger, R., Taal, E., & Cuijpers, P. (2010). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy on mental health of adults with a chronic medical disease: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68(6), 539-544.

  21. Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593-600.

  22. Fox, K. C., Nijeboer, S., Dixon, M. L., Floman, J. L., Ellamil, M., Rumak, S. P., ... & Christoff, K. (2014). Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 43, 48-73.

  23. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.

  24. Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 125-143.

 

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