The Effect of Mindfulness on Brain and Body

4 min read

Education & Career Trends: March 23, 2023

Curated by the Knowledge Team of  ICS Career GPS

One of the core components that mindfulness hinges on is attention.

  • Excerpts are taken from an article published on

Neuroscientist David Vago begins each day with meditation. Like millions worldwide, Vago sees his mindfulness practice as good medicine holistically promoting health. Inspired by the staggering power of the human mind, Vago has studied the neurobiological mechanisms of mind-body practices for almost 15 years.

Mindfulness – a moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings – boasts benefits ranging from stress reduction to enlightenment.

Scientific research on mindfulness, however, presents a nuanced picture. Indeed, it can improve both physical and mental health. But, it is not a cure-all and in certain cases, it may even be detrimental for some people. Although mindfulness research has advanced significantly over the past 20 years, some conceptual and methodological problems persist. Vago claims that this is the reason for the inquiry, “What does mindfulness actually do? has a complex solution.

Mindfulness Is Far More Than Following Your Breath

There are four core practices in a mindfulness-based intervention:

  1. Focused attention. Mindfulness of breath or a body scan.
  2. Open monitoring. Being aware of thoughts arising and passing without attaching to them.
  3. Movement-based practices. Hatha yoga or walking meditation.
  4. Informal practices. Showing up with mindfulness in day-to-day life. Sometimes, the interventions can include constructive practices (loving-kindness meditation) that help individuals construct positive psychological states.

What about these practices that, moment by moment, begin to shift things for people? According to Vago, the possibilities are profound and consequential: people can get more insight into the workings of their minds; hone their ability to respond rather than to react to circumstances; gain glimpses of non-dual states; renew their understanding of the self and its place in the world; feel a deeper connection to others. “This is the Buddhist prescription for a flourishing life,” says Vago. “Everything else – the improved health and the calm – are merely side effects.”

The Gift of Paying Attention

One of the core faculties that mindfulness hinges on is attention. Attention might not have the buzzwordy flair of mindfulness. Yet, it’s one of our most precious resources. Attention, according to the father of modern psychology, William James, is somewhat of a curator of our lives (“My experience is what I agree to attend to.”) Poet Mary Oliver called paying attention “our endless and proper work.”

Philosopher Simone Weil considered attention “the rarest and purest form of generosity.” “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same as prayer. It presupposes faith and love,” wrote Weil. Attention can even alter the perception of another limited human resource – time. As haste and demands leave many of us with the depleting feeling of weeks slipping by, attention can act as a salve to slow down the perceived passage of time (“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention,” wrote Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction.)

Perhaps, then, one of the gifts of mindfulness can be found in nurturing our faculty of attention – to move it more nimbly, with more ease, between the micro and macro of our circumstances. To direct its precise lens on a single cherry blossom’s pale, velvety petals and cast its vast reach beyond all boundaries. To discern content (thoughts, emotions) and context (relation to thoughts and emotions). To revel in the wonder that we are alive at this very moment, together with billions of other sentient beings near and far the blooming trees. This reminder will likely kindle a profound appreciation: for our impermanent existence and our affinity with others.

Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

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(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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