Focusing the mind on the body is the starting point for all mindful practices. Many professionals engaged in mind-body training have observed the mental, and even spiritual, changes that emerge from prolonged practice of focusing on physical sensations.
Researchers from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; Stanford University in Palo Alto, California; and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have offered a theory for why focusing attention on the breath and other bodily sensations plays a key role in organizing the brain’s processing of sensory information in a way that can help people with chronic pain tolerate their pain more easily and can improve mood in people with depression. Scientists believe that by training attention, initially by focusing on the body, people become better able to notice and regulate the wandering of the mind. Over time, this practice leads to improvements in selective attention and working memory.
The theory sets forth a predictive sensory-cognitive sequence of practice-related gains and explains how specific attention to body sensations leads to subsequent gains in emotional and cognitive regulation by improving how sensory information is processed in the brain.
The study was reported in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2013; 7 ; doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00012) and is available online at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3570934/.