Creating new paths..
What effect does mindfulness meditation have on the brain ?
When we sit to meditate it doesn't take too long before we notice we're engaged in a distraction - thinking, planning, day-dreaming, ruminating etc. The more we notice and come back to the present the more we train our mindfulness muscle. But what's happening in the brain?
Imagine you've to go from A to B and there are two options. Your preferred option is the highway where you mindlessly cruise along on auto-pilot. The other option is much shorter but it means crossing a field of high grass. Choosing the field means wading through the grass to create an initial path. However, the more you go through the field the more established the path becomes. The grass gets bent over, trodden on and eventually earth and stones appear - a path is established.
Just as the path is established through the field, our repeated returning to the present moment creates new neural pathways in the brain. Each time we notice we're distracted and return our attention to our breath we make the new neural pathway stronger and we weaken our propencity to be distracted. Like creating a new path through a field, establishing our mindfulness practice requires intention and effort but both may be enriching.
TIP: notice when you become distracted and return your attention to the breath - just like training your muscles in the gym making them stronger with each repetition. you're training your mindfulness 'muscle' by returning your attention to the present moment.