Our ability to study the brain and understand how it works has improved tremendously in the last few decades.  Technology has allowed us to watch brain activity and to "see" how it works in real time.  You may be familiar with the brain's hemispheres and also know that the left hemisphere is responsible for logic and the right hemisphere is more about creativity.  You may also know that there are "lobes" in the brain with names like frontal, occipital, or parietal.  There are many other parts of the brain that have specific jobs and are critical to our ability to live, learn, and function in our world.

Mindfulness practices have been shown to have an impact on behavior and also changes in the brain.   Bringing attention or mindfulness to what we are thinking, feeling, and sensing helps us respond to the automatic, biological responses that are programmed in our brains.  Three parts of the brain are especially important to mindfulness. 

  • The pre-frontal cortex helps with "executive function" - making decisions, solving problems, regulating attention and emotion, and integrating experiences. This part of the brain communicates with other parts to make decisions and take action. 

  • The amygdala is located in the center of the brain and is responsible for two things - emotional reactions and attention to novelty.  The amygdala is always "on alert" to look for danger or new things that need our attention.   It is the most primitive part of the brain and magnifies our emotions. It signals quick reactions needed for survival - fight, flight or freeze.  When you feel overwhelmed with emotion (positive or negative), the amygdala is at work.  It is not our "fault" when this happens; the amygdala has taken charge.   Mindfulness helps us learn to manage this response, or at least pay attention to it and decide how to proceed.

  • The hippocampus focuses on memory - remembering details and storing memories.  Learning and remembering are good for our brains.  It is important to keep learning throughout our lives.  We know that brains can learn and change for a lifetime, so it is possible to create new habits and learn new ways to respond to challenges.

These three parts work together in helping us to learn and grow.  Things like stress, fear, or trauma can interfere with our success.  Mindfulness can help to ease the biological reactions and find new ways to interact in the world.