Two studies by neuropsychologist Richard Davidson, one conducted with MBSR founder Jon Kabat-Zinn in 2003 and another with fellow neuropsychologist Antoine Lutz in 2008 demonstrated that mindfulness capitalizes on neuroplasticity, leading to anatomical and physiological improvements in the brains of long-time mindfulness meditators.
One of the great health values of mindfulness practice is that it helps you become aware of your habitual and problematic behavior. This newfound awareness opens up choices that were not previously available to you, enabling you to choose actions that are more likely to create wellness. The practice also allows you to see how thoughts, sensations, and emotions affect you psychophysiologically, in real time.
Another health benefit relates to explanatory style, mentioned in earlier blog posts. Studies by psychologist Christopher Peterson from 1988; and another study by Gallo and Mathews from 2003 have revealed that a long-term negative explanatory style is associated with poorer health.
However, if you learn through mindfulness to recognize when you’re engaged in a negative explanatory style and then intervene, you create opportunities for better health.
For example, although I have always been able to manage my natural proclivity to a negative explanatory style without antidepressants, I have gradually been reprogramming my brain through practice. In recent years, I have been able to use mindfulness to actually reprogram my brain to such an extent that my cognitive processes could now be described as a positive explanatory style. This process has been the result of a deep commitment and intention to change the way I think. It’s not that my old way of thinking has vanished; those thoughts are still there. It’s just that now I am able to observe my unhealthy thinking processes and to consciously focus on my experience of the present moment and to let all my thoughts just pass on by. This has been made easier by the recognition that all thoughts are insubstantial mental constructs rather than truths that must be obeyed.