Mind training, such as mindfulness practice makes us more stress-hardy and resilient. Instead of being victims of environmental stressors or stressful situations, we can choose to respond in healthy ways to the stressors that are part of life. Thought processes below the level of our awareness become increasingly observable as we practice mindfulness. In a related concept, which I learned from one of my mentors—O. Carl Simonton, M.D.—energy is essential to health and mindfulness frees up enormous stores of energy. This is because, as psychologist Charles Tart explains, we no longer need to expend so much of it processing events that actually require no processing.
Another key health advantage of mindfulness practice is that it allows us to detect prodomes: early, subtle signs and symptoms of illness. This gives us the opportunity to care for ourselves in ways that can lessen the severity of illness—to rest instead of going out, for example. It also gives us a chance to see a doctor early, when treatment can often be most effective. Many types of illness, especially cancers, become more treatable the sooner you catch them, and in the very early stages can even be cured. Given the frequency with which colds and more serious diseases follow episodes of emotional distress, it is useful to view the signs of emotional distress themselves as prodromes of illness. Of course, we must first learn how to develop the awareness that we are in fact feeling distressed, and this, too, is where a mindfulness practice proves useful.
And so we have seen that there are many benefits to be gained from a mindfulness practice—psychological, emotional, and physiological. These include profound and in some cases even life-saving health benefits, which is why the practice can be especially helpful in terms of health and well-being.
In our exploration of mindfulness in previous posts, we saw that mindfulness is an activity, not a philosophy. Practice is the activity that will deliver its benefits, and will be explored in future posts.