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The Benefits of Mindfulness

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So why practice mindfulness?  As we take time to be present to our experiences, and practice focusing on the present, we actually rewire our brains by creating new neural networks.  What are neural networks, you ask? When we learn behavior (how to swim, how to write the alphabet, how to drive a car) we create a neural network in the brain--neural networks, essentially, are neurons collecting signals from others and this creates electric activity that creates connective branches in the brain. The more we repeat this behavior, the stronger the neural network becomes, and we establish this network as an “expert”—meaning that it is fully learned behavior (we don’t have to relearn it).  Students hiking through the wilderness is a beautiful metaphor for this process.  Imagine a single-track trail in the woods.  The more this single-track is used, the more established it becomes.  If we imagine how our road system started, many thoroughfares were once dirt roads, and the more certain roads were traveled, those became paved roads, and perhaps eventually highways.  The brain works similarly in that behaviors we practice over and over again create a neural network of “superhighways” in the brain.  This is why we can have difficulty learning new behavior as we get older, because we are working against very established neural networks.

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