Written by Christina Johnson
Connor Fields, winner of the 2014 USA Cycling Elite BMX National Championship and the 2013 BMX World Champion, agreed that meditation has helped. “But the biggest thing I have learned is how to be consciously mindful and aware of my current situation,” he said. “I am more present than I used to be.”
Indeed, the goal of mindfulness training is to help people become more fully present in the moment by training their minds to notice when their thoughts are wandering, and then to bring their attention back to the current moment. Repeated over and over, the researchers say, the brain’s baseline functioning changes and so does its anatomy.
Haase said that other researchers have shown that long-time practitioners of meditation have larger regions of the brain known as the insular cortex and hippocampus. Their brain’s gray matter is also denser, she said, and their white matter has greater connectivity.
One of the more fascinating discoveries made by the Paulus research team is that Navy seals and elite adventure athletes have mental attributes that are also cultivated by meditation. Their work has shown that compared with “average Joes,” these peak performers tend to be:
In tune with their bodily sensations. They are more likely to notice if their heart is racing or if they have tightness in a muscle. The scientific term for this state is “interoception” and it refers to the ability to help the brain maintain the body’s natural equilibrium by bringing awareness to bodily sensations.
More focused. They spend more time in an “intentional mode,” as opposed to mind wandering, the default mental state for most people. Not surprisingly, those who spend more time focused on the task at hand will likely be higher performers than those who are constantly distracted.
Not averse to challenge. Instead of fleeing or avoiding stressful situations, they orient toward difficulty and are more likely to deal well with whatever is happening around them. The scientists believe that the ability to face stressful situations head-on alleviates some of the long-term negative health effects of stress.
Recent studies with U.S. Marine Corps personnel have shown that mindfulness training reduces neuronal activity in the anterior insular cortex and anterior cingulate, regions of the brain responsible for integrating emotional reactivity, cognition and interoception. High-activity levels in these brain regions are associated with anxiety and mood disorders…