The Science of Mindfulness


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There are many ways that you can get involved with the Holistic Youth Project. We are always looking for volunteers, supplies, and monetary support. If you live in the ...

For over 30 years, researchers have been exploring mindfulness and its use in healthcare in the west. John Kabat-Zinn, a microbiology Ph.D. then teaching at the University of Massachussettes Medical Center pioneered these studies in the U.S. by applying mindfulness meditation in a medical setting. He developed the MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) program that proved to be effective in helping patients with chronic pain and other medical conditions. The success of Kabat-Zinn's program opened the doors for neuroscientists, psychologists, educators and more to vigourously work on studying mindfulness based practices and their efffects on the brain.

Studies show that when we intentionally shape our internal focus in these mindfulness based practices different parts of the brain become activated and with repetition long-term changes in brain function and structure can develop.

Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and breath have the potential to actually change the structure of the brain:

•increase grey matter density in the hippocampus (area of the brain responsible for  

learning, memory, and emotional control)

•increase gray matter density in insula (area that aids in the process of awareness)

•increase gray matter density in prefrontal cortex-improve our human function

•decrease gray matter density in amygdala (stress response detector, some people

with anxiety disorder show enlarged amygdala)

• Grey matter is where we find cell bodies, dendrites, axon terminals and unmylibanted axons. Grey matter shows where synapses (connections) occur between neurons; it is a region of integration and command initiation. Changes in grey matter density show that the brain structure has changes based on experience.


A lot of stress responses happen on a autonomic level; regulated by the older part of our brain - the limbic area. This brain area controls basic functions that help us stay alive - things like fight and flight and feed or breed. Fortunately for us, we are capable of using the override of the cortex to calm the lower limbic regions. 

During contemplative practices, breath work, and yoga, we practice paying attention to automatic functions within our body, thereby beginning to regulate the nervous system and bringing our bodies to a place of homeostasis. Science shows that we are able to shift from a stimulus-reaction model of life to one of stimulus-pause-respond which incorporates the power of choice through these mindfulness related practice. Change, of course, takes time and practice, but is very possible thanks to the scientific phenomena of neuroplasticity.

It’s neuroplasticity that results in a musician advancing the more they practice and taxi cab drivers improving spacial learning as navigate different routes. “Neurons that wire together fire together”. The physical structure of the brain changes with repeated experience. With the help of mindful based practices, we have the power to make positive changes to our individual life situations. With practice and discipline, we are able to replace negative habits with positive new ones.

For more information on the science of mindfulness and human behavior, check out this video of Dr. Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, the Mind, the Brain and Human Relationships

The Holistic Youth Project's (HYP) programs all use the tools of yoga, mindfulness and self-care practices to foster an enriched environment geared toward enlightening and empowering youth.

The Holistic Youth Project has created and is piloting an 18 week mindfulness based curriculum aimed at empowering and enlightening the youth of the region. Using tools of yoga, mindfulness, & self-care HYP ...

HYP's Curricula

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Bussing A. et al. (2012), “Effects of Yoga on Mental and Physical Health: A Short Summary of Reviews,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine  (2012):1-7

Davidson, R. (2003). Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, 65 (4), 564-570.

Draganski, et al. (2004). Neuroplasticity: Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature, 427(6972), 311-312.

Gaser, C. and Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non- musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience. 23(27), 9240-9245

Kabat-Zinn, J. et al. (1992).Effectiveness of a Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. AMJ Psychiatry. 149 (7), 936-942

Lazar et al. (2010). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.191(2011), 36-43

Maguire et al. (2006). London taxi drivers and bus drivers: A structural MRI and neuropsychological analysis. Wiley InterScience. Hippocampus (16)1091-1101

Maguire et al. (2000). Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. PNAS. 94(8), 4398-4403

Siegel, D. (2010). Mindsight: the new science of personal transformation. New York: Bantam Books.