Mindfulness & Your Brain

Mindfulness, Yoga, Self-Esteem, Brain- What's the Connection?

Researchers have shown that mindfulness affects regions of the brain that deal with metacognition- the awareness and understanding of the mind’s own patterns and thought processes.  Basically, the practitioner begins to look at his or her emotions differently. Mindfulness practices help create space and distance from the ephemeral nature of feelings and the practitioner becomes less attached to the need to interpret or change their emotions or autobiographical memories.

The ability to look at feelings differently may have something to do with an increase the tendency of the mind to regulate one’s own attention; this is generated at least partially by facilitation of the prefrontal cortex, which exerts control over the more emotional and instinctive brain centers. Negative moods, thoughts and feelings can all be attenuated by feedback from the prefrontals- essentially lessening the amount of neural attention they receive and retarding our compulsion to ruminate- and turning down their importance in one’s overall schema. Because of a shift in attention, one becomes less reactive and much less sensitive to the negative underpinnings of a particular passing state of mind. The effect of this awareness seems to silence the ego’s seemingly endless musings. 

Yoga as Mindfulness Boosts Self-Esteem

The mindfulness that comes with yogic meditation is also known to produce this effect of well-being, which is the supreme goal of yoga. It is introduced in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in the very beginning of the first book as ‘Yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ’, which Sri Swami Satchidananda translates as being the base for the entire science of yoga. He says that this peaceful, effortless state is the natural condition of the mind, and the modifications of the mind, these ever-changing thought-forms, disturb that peace (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated by Satchidananda, p. 3- 4).

Why would one want to set aside the meandering mind-stuff, the introspective thought patterning of the ego or the ‘Self? Like the Sanskrit saying ‘Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoho’ (‘As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind’) imparts, what we see and experience as our outside reality is created by our own internal processes.

If the inside workings change, then the outside responses follow. So mindfulness overhauls the way our mind associates our feelings with our actual experience.

Furthermore, many people believe that meditation is distinct from the physical exercises of yoga asana. But many have hypothesized that physical movements (like the balancing and stretching that are so essential to yoga asana) can teach more mindfulness and attention to the practitioner by way of self-awareness than can sitting meditation- and that this mindfulness may better transfer to the many aspects of daily life that are based in somatosensory response and perceptions.

Scientist Robin Boudette researches yoga’s effects on body image and has found that practitioners “experience a radical boost to their self esteem” as well as “improved self image and confidence”. She insists that students gain confidence in themselves and their ability to become centered and relaxed even in challenging postures, and that this is indeed what transfers mindfulness into everyday living experiences.

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