Stuff that matters

Most of us lead busy lives and keeping up with routines like going to the gym or cooking a healthy meal can be time consuming.

However, diet guru and TV doctor Michael Mosley has shared one simple practice, which will take you only 10 minutes a day, but has powerful benefits for your brain.

Speaking on his podcast Just One Thing, Dr Mosley said: “I’ve been pressing pause on a busy day, taking 10 minutes to do something that’s been proven to improve sleep and memory, reduce pain and stress and boost my mood.

“I’ve been practising mindfulness, also known as mindful meditation.”

Here’s what you need to know about the health benefits of mindful meditation and how to practice it.

What is mindful meditation?

Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular wellness practice in the recent years. It is often defined as present moment awareness that you experience in an open, curious and non-judgmental way.

Dr Michael Mosley explained: “Meditation is a formal way of training the mind where you choose one object and you focus on it. Typically, with mindfulness meditation, you pick something like the breath and you just pay attention to it.”

He adds that anyone can practise being mindful anytime, anywhere, 24/7.

How does mindful meditation help your brain?

Though mostly known for its mental health benefits, mindfulness meditation can have a remarkable effect on the brain if practised regularly.

Dr Mosley said: “Research has shown that regular meditation could even be a way to counteract age-related decline in the brain. It can improve working memory, and even change the structure and function of our brains.”

Associate professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School Dr Sara Lazar, who was a guest on Mosley’s podcast, explained there was a study that showed the benefits of mindfulness on the brain.

Dr Lazar said: “They found that just eight weeks of meditation led to measurable increases in grey matter density in specific regions of the brain involved in regulating our emotions, learning and memory, which was pretty amazing considering this was just two months.”

Another study found that for people aged 65-80 with no previous experience of meditation, the regular practice of mindfulness showed improved memory in just eight weeks.

She explained that the benefits lasted up to at least a year in most and even up to two years in some people.

The studies showed that practising mindfulness – for a short while – boosted the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that declines with age, thus improving brain structure and function in context of memory and attention.

Despite there being plenty of benefits to mindfulness, Dr Lazar warns that people with trauma should approach the practice more cautiously.

She said: “If someone has a lot of trauma in their background, they should start with five or 10 minutes and definitely under the guidance of a good mental health professional, and also a good meditation teacher who has experience working with people with trauma.”

How to practise mindful meditation
You don’t need to be an expert at meditation to start practising mindful meditation and reap its benefits.

Just take 10 minutes of your day and make mindful meditation a part of your daily routine by following these steps:

Step out of autopilot mode
We’re all so used to our busy daily schedules that we perform most tasks on autopilot. Take a pause and step out of this mode for a 10-minute break every day.

Find a quiet place where you can sit still. Gently close your eyes and start focusing on your breathing.

Be aware of your breath
Bring awareness to your breathing for six breaths or 90 seconds. The goal with the practice is to focus on one thing: your breath.

Focus on how your body moves with each breath; how your chest rises and falls, how your stomach pushes in and out, and how your lungs expand and contract.

Find a pattern to your breath and anchor yourself to the present moment with the awareness of this pattern, of what you’re doing and sensing.

You might notice thoughts coming up – don’t try to resist them. Acknowledge the thoughts and let them pass.

Expand your awareness outwards
Once you’re aware of your breathing, let this awareness spread out. First focus on your body and notice any sensations you’re experiencing.

Then, try focusing on your surroundings. Keeping your eyes closed, attempt to bring attention to what you know is in front of you.

In your mind, conjure the colours, shapes, patterns and textures of things you are used to seeing everyday around you

When you feel fully aware of yourself and your surroundings, finish the exercise by opening your eyes slowly.

Try to carry that feeling of awareness and mindfulness from the 10-minute session as you go about your day.