Mindfulness and the Brain
Recent research confirms that the practice of mindfulness – the non-judgmental, present-moment awareness – not only changes the brain but does so in ways that organizational leaders especially, but anyone in general, should learn.
There are several ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, introspection, psychotherapy, and journaling, to name a few. Neuroscientists around the world have examined ways that meditation, a major mindfulness practice, changes the brain, and researchers from the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology gathered data from over 20 studies to determine the brain areas that are often influenced. Identifying a minimum of eight brain regions that mindfulness, specifically meditation, affects.
The two brain regions of particular interest for business professionals are the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the hippocampus as they shape reasoning, judgment, and in turn, interpersonal relationships.
Located behind the brain’s frontal lobe, behind the forehead, the ACC is associated with self-regulation, which is the ability to direct attention and behavior purposefully, suppress inappropriate reactive (as opposed to proactive) responses, and flexibly change strategies. However, people with damage to the ACC demonstrate impulsivity and aggression, and those with impaired connections between the ACC and other brain regions show poor mental flexibility as they may continue with ineffective problem-solving strategies rather than adapting their behaviors to a given situation.
Those who meditate exhibit superior self-regulation, resist distractions, and respond appropriately more often than those who do not meditate.
The mindful practice of meditation allows individuals to navigate stressful scenarios while exploring effective alternative solutions and doing so with calmness. In addition to self-regulation, the ACC relates to learning from past experiences to apply to present decision-making. In complex business environments or uncertain and fast-changing circumstances, the ACC may be of particular importance as it is responsible for adapting behaviors and strategies flexibly in such conditions.
As mindfulness reduces stress-related functions of connectivity with the ACC, it suggests that mindfulness training interventions could reduce the strength of the connectivity of the brain regions responsible for stress, leading individuals to act in a more thoughtful and deliberate manner under high pressure situations.
For more on integrating mindfulness practices into your employee wellness programming contact David Weiner, LCSW at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Congleton C, HölzelSara, BK, Lazar, SW. Mindfulness can literally change your brain. Harvard Business Review; January 2015.
2. Taren A, Gianaros PJ, Greco CM, et al. Mindfulness meditation training alters stressrelated amygdala resting state functional connectivity: A randomized controlled trial. Manuscript submitted for publication. 2014.