The mind is an incredibly powerful tool. Within it, we can calculate, strategize, sympathize, recognize, memorize, survive, dream, build, believe. Everything that has ever been made, started as a thought. Everything that has ever been destroyed, started as a thought. It is absolutely amazing and it is absolutely terrifying, realizing the power of the mind.
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT):
We use God’s weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)
Finally, brother and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. 9) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
From these Scriptures, we can determine that:
- Left unkempt, our thoughts are rebellious.
- God tells us to renew our minds to keep us from becoming like this world (stressed, anxious, depressed, etc.).
- We renew our minds by considering the truth.
The Root is Belief
Years ago, I did a Bible study called, “Battling Unbelief”, by Pastor John Piper. If you haven’t done this study, I would urge you to do so. The premise of this study is that at the root of all sin and all struggle is unbelief. Unbelief in God, His promises and his goodness. And while I believe he is correct and, maybe, I am just splitting hairs, I want to go half a step farther and declare that it isn’t merely unbelief that is the root of all sin, it is wrong beliefs.
At the root of every decision, there is a belief. At the root of every word spoken, there is a belief. At the root of every action taken, there is a belief. You may have been taught that the universe happened by accident and that is what you have chosen to believe. And that belief has determined your way of thinking in far-reaching areas such as, who God is, who you are and whether or not you matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Whether you have chosen to recognize it or not, believing that the world is an accident, has determined the value you have placed on yourself and the value that you have for the people around you. Belief matters. Thoughts matter. Renewing your mind by considering truth, righteousness and purity, matters.
When we practice mindfulness meditation in conjunction with right beliefs, beliefs that line up with Scripture, we will receive the greatest possible benefits.
What is Mindfulness and How Should a Christian Approach it?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in the present moment. Every single one of us has felt or will feel within ourselves a draw to negative thinking. For many, the past is haunting. I’m sure you’ve seen the memes floating around about trying to fall asleep and then your mind wanders to an embarrassing moment in your past or something bad happened and, suddenly, that’s all you can think about. For others, the future is unsettling. Where will I be in 20 years? Will I “make it”? Am I going to be single forever? Is life just always hard and then I die?! Or even, in considering the present, I, at least, have a tendency to focus on the hard. I have 5 children and a husband and a home to take care of and so many dreams that I am working toward. There are so many reasons to stress out and I am always so tempted to take every single one of those opportunities. But then, the Holy Spirit reminds me, I don’t have to stress, simply because He loves me. When we take a moment or two to remember His love, no fear, no struggle, no sorrow can over take it.
How do you Practice Mindfulness?
As a Christian, there may be a number of ways we can practice mindfulness. We can consider a Scripture, we can count our blessings or we can clear our minds of all our worries and focus on feeling the love of God, even listening to his voice. Zephaniah 3:17 says “He rejoices over us with singing.” When we begin to understand that God is love and that He rejoices over us with singing, it’s such a tremendous revelation. How could we worry about anything? How could we so easily wander into negative thought patterns? In catching our pull toward negative thoughts and instead, press pause and ponder the Lord, renew our minds by thinking of His many characteristics, to me, that is the most beneficial use of mindful meditation.
How Does Mindfulness Affect the Body?
Let’s take a look at the benefits of practicing Christ centered mindfulness meditation, not only to have a godly way of thinking but also to move forward in mental and physical health. Studies suggest that there are hundreds of health benefits for mindful meditation. Below are 25 scientifically proven health benefits of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a technique of deliberately focusing your attention on the present, not allowing yourself to become distracted by other thoughts; you clear “noise” (fear, anxiety, stress, rebellious thoughts) from your mind. Focus on the truth of God’s word.
Stress is an underlying cause of many health concerns. Mindfulness based stress reduction can have far reaching benefits on your overall health.
25 Amazing Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Decreases Depression: A study conducted on secondary school students who follow an in-class mindfulness program reportedly decreased depression, stress, and anxiety 6-months later. Research suggests that once a person recognizes the thoughts of depression, they are able to intervene before it sinks in. Meditation programs have evidence shown to treat depression, anxiety, and stress after eight week mindfulness practices.
Regulate Mood and Anxiety and bipolar disorders: Studies found that the strongest evidence for success was found for epilepsy, premenstrual syndrome symptoms and menopausal symptoms. Mood and anxiety disorders, autoimmune illness, and emotional disturbance in neoplastic disease were also benefited. Meditation cannot replace medication for bipolar disorders, but the practice can improve the effect your medication has. Doctors are beginning to look into meditation as a beneficial addition to medication.
Stress and anxiety reduction: Meditation can change the pathways in your brain as evidenced by fMRI scans. Anxiety and stress have shown to decrease the longer the individual practices meditation. It takes time to build all the new pathways in your mind but you can train yourself to think more positively about situations and other things that trigger your anxiety and stress.
Decreases Symptoms of panic disorder: Panic Disorder has proven to be benefitted by relaxation techniques. Much like anxiety, creating new pathways and connections in your mind can decrease panic attacks and other such occurrences. The longer you practice mindful meditation the greater benefits you will notice.
Decreases alcohol and substance abuse: Studies were done on incarcerated individuals who suffered from substance abuse. While there were definite improvements, it is also suggested that the improvements might be greater in those who are not in prison. Like I mentioned in the article above, belief is at the core of everything we are, without those foundational beliefs changing, it may be difficult to see much benefit when dealing with substance abuse issues since addictions can be so strong in some cases. It is imperative that those struggling with addiction get the help and support they need to come off of the alcohol and other substances. Meditation may help more with the underlying reason for the abuse and therefore maintain a lifestyle free of drugs and alcohol.
Increases focus, attention, ability to work under stress: A study was done on a group of individuals who went on a retreat to learn meditation to improve focus and concentration and took extensive, boring tests, before and after the retreat to measure the increase of concentration. They found that those who were able to really meditate improved their concentration tests. Other tests done using MRI scans on older participants showed differences in prefrontal cortical thickness (the part of the brain that is involved in planning and personality development), suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Additionally, mindfulness training may improve attention-related behavioral responses by enhancing functioning of specific subcomponents of attention.
Increases information processing and decision making: Studies show that meditators seemed to display enhanced depth of processing and an uptake of information. In conjunction with increased focus, enhanced convergent and divergent thinking, decreasing stress and anxiety, it would seem that, overall, the mind functions much more smoothly.
Increase mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence: Studies done on groups of volunteers show that meditation improves, self awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management. When stress and anxiety decrease, we are more free to consider the thoughts and feelings of others, maintain self control, keep a positive attitude, and resolve conflicts.
Stronger resistance to pain: A study, showed a stronger resistance to pain in those meditating than those in the control group. Another extensive study, complete with MRI scans and volunteers accepting painful heat treatments show that mindful meditation increases resistance to pain. The longer one has practiced mindful meditation, the better the results, but improvements were made even after limited practice. Long-term meditators with 30 or more years of experience showed a 40-50% lower brain response to pain compared to healthy controls.
Relieves pain: Cells and neurons in the brain are constantly making new connections and getting rid of old ones based on their response to stimuli. If you have chronic back pain, for example, starting and continuing meditation can help to relieve pain over time because you changed how your mind responds to the pain.
Manage ADHD: Studies show reduced ‘hyperactivity/impulsivity’ and ‘inattention’ symptomatology in adults with ADHD. Since new pathways can be formed in the mind, making a long-term habit of meditating will show the most benefits. This video shows improvements for kids with ADHD in school after practicing meditation twice a day for only 10 minutes at a time. Using meditation along with a healthy diet as a lifestyle, children and adults should see improvement in their ability to focus, and increase self-control.
Improves learning, memory, self-awareness: This finding may support the idea that, advanced levels of concentration are associated with a significant decrease in emotionally reactive behaviors that are incompatible with stability of concentration. This study also found that attention is a trainable skill that can be enhanced through meditation.
Rapid memory recall: Mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction. This ability to focus could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.
Improves mood and psychological well-being: Volunteers who went through meditation awareness training (MAT) reported that they had experienced improvements in their mood and psychological well-being. When our stress and anxiety levels decrease, our overall mood and outlook improves.
Prepares you to deal with stress: This study shows that the practice of meditation before a stressful event can significantly reduce the adverse side effects of stress, additionally, memory improved for the volunteers who practiced meditation before the event.
Fosters creativity: Meditation can improve convergent and divergent thinking and problem solving. Convergent thinking is finding a concrete or “correct” answer or solution to a problem, whereas divergent thinking is a process that explores multiple possible solutions in order to generate creative ideas. Most of the time, schools practice convergent thinking in multiple choice or true and false tests where there is one possible answer and the student must choose the correct one. Divergent thinking refers to opening the mind in various directions and trying out multiple solutions for a problem. Both of these ways of thinking are useful and needed in everyday life. Mindfulness meditation helps improve the mind's spontaneous and linear thinking. This doesn’t mean that practicing meditation will directly help you be a better painter, but it could enhance your ideas for those paintings.
Decreases risk of heart disease and stroke: Researchers found a 48% reduction in the overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from any cause among members of the meditation group compared to those from the health education group. These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors. Frequently, high blood pressure can be found in people who also have issues with stress and anxiety. Since meditation has been proven to reduce stress, thereby reducing inflammation in the body, it stands to reason that health issues related to inflammation would decrease.
Positively affects genes that control stress and immunity: An eight week Study showed that meditation positively affects brain and immune function. This data suggests that engagement in compassion meditation may also reduce stress-induced immune and behavioral responses.
Decreases blood pressure: Mindful meditation was found to increase alpha and theta brainwave activity, generally related to relaxation, in many brain regions, including the frontal cortex. Meditation helps increase the formation of a compound called nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to open up. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure.
Decreases inflammatory disorders: A study showed that after eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes. Meditation substantially reduced expression of inflammation-related genes. Mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.
Prevents asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease: The results of this study show that behavioral interventions, like mindfulness meditation, reduce emotional reactivity and are beneficial to people suffering from inflammatory conditions like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. This study was so successful that mindfulness techniques proved to be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.
Helps treat PMS and Menopause symptoms: This study had 958 participants and meditation improved many things including PMS and menopausal symptoms as well as mood, anxiety disorders and autoimmune illness.
Decreases risk of Alzheimer’s disease and premature death: Meditation promotes healthy brain aging. This study was done on 6 elderly meditation experts who have lifelong meditation practice. By comparing structural MRI and FDG-PET data in 6 elderly expert meditators versus 67 elderly controls, they found increased gray matter volume and/or FDG metabolism in elderly expert meditators compared to controls.
Manages heart and respiratory rate: This study shows that mindfulness meditation produces changes in brain activity. It also can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress).
Improves relationships, increases feelings of compassion, decreases worry, loneliness, emotional eating: Scientists did a 9 week study with testing before and after the study and observed a decrease in fear of compassion and an increase in self-compassion. The data also suggest that certain elements of compassion can be cultivated through training. Another study found that, after compassion training through meditative practices, the selfless behavior increase was associated with altered activation in brain regions implicated in social cognition and emotion regulation.