Practicing mindfulness is its own reward, since it helps you enjoy life by being fully present instead of just going through the motions. But did you know it can actually improve the effectiveness of your flu vaccine? From The Four Virtues.
Awareness practices, such as meditation, have long demonstrated a direct impact on stress, from lowering blood pressure to altering brain wave activity. Practices based simply on noticing or watching our inner sensations rather than resisting or getting lost in them have demonstrable effects on pain management and increase the production of antibody titers to the flu vaccine (meaning simply that the immune system works better as a result of these practices in presence). Neuroimaging even suggests that contemplative practice may not only change how the brain is functioning but over time may also change the very structure of the brain itself, specifically increasing cortical thickness. (Thinning of the cortex is associated with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s.)
Beyond its utility as a natural performance and health enhancer, the ability to focus can also help us open to joy and deep satisfaction. The state described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as flow involves being fully absorbed in the activity at hand, whether working on a math problem, building a chair, or running rapids in a kayak. This state of mind and body is characterized by high concentration on a particular activity, the merging of action and awareness as we lose our sense of self and, along with it, our usual sense of time. This immersion is typically deeply satisfying, and the effort seems almost effortless. We and it are flowing; we’re in “the zone.” The capacity for being absorbed is also associated with deeply satisfying, deeply beautiful experiences, including peak or mystical moments. Attention opens us that deeply. Developing the capacity for focus gives us the power to direct and steady our minds intentionally, and this essentially helps us get out of our own way in order to tap both ourselves and the world at a greater depth.