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How Mindfulness Benefits our Bodies

An unpublished “bonus track” from Dr. Charles Stone’s Holy Noticing: The Bible, Your Brain, and The Mindful Space Between Moments

Published on:
May 20, 2019
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5 min.
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The young man worked as a hunter and was extremely handsome. His face seemed to be chiseled from the purest marble. His body’s beauty attracted others. Yet, they could not get close to him because he had found his true love.

Walking along a river one day at age sixteen, he paused at a calm pool to take a sip of water. As he knelt, the image he saw in the pool transfixed him. He had found his true love, for the image he saw was his own. This mythical Greek story of Narcissus tells us that he could not bear to leave his reflection. So, he lay down by the pool and pined away for himself. His obsession with his own body kept him from giving or receiving love from others. Eventually the earth absorbed him, and he became a narcissus, a flower. 

The young man worked as a hunter and was extremely handsome.

From this story we get the English word ‘narcissism,’ which connotes a fixation with oneself. His response to the human body was self-absorption, contrary to the response from another famous person. This person, however, was not a mythical character, but a real person in history.

Others described this young man as “handsome in appearance.” One day, he also began to marvel at his body, perhaps as he looked at his reflection in a pool though we do not know for sure. He realized God had created it with tenderness, purpose, and love. Rather than becoming self-absorbed, as did Narcissus, he became God-absorbed exclaiming, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” King David was this man and as he marveled at how God valued the human body, he burst into praising God for his creation of it.

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul further reminds us how God values our bodies, and how we should as well. As he teaches about sexual purity he writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

And as he refers back to God’s work of grace in Romans 1–11, he transitions to the section in his letter where he explains how we apply grace to our lives. We do it by worshipping God with and through our bodies. He writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” David marvels at the human body. And Paul tells us to honor God with it as we offer our body as a living sacrifice.

Our bodies matter to God, and they should matter to us.

Our bodies matter to God, and they should matter to us. So, it behooves to take good care of our bodies and science tells us how we can do that. For decades we’ve known that diet, exercise, and sleep help keep our bodies healthy. But in the last several years a new practice has emerged that can also help us keep our bodies healthy. It’s called mindfulness.

Many Christians think mindfulness is new age and should be avoided. However, in my new book, Holy Noticing: The Bible, Your Brain, and The Mindful Space Between Moments I dispel that myth by showing that mindfulness is deeply rooted in scripture and Christian history. I define mindfulness for the Christian as “Holy Noticing”—noticing with a holy purpose, God and his handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings.

Holy Noticing is a spiritual discipline that is more like an art (there isn’t just one right way to do it) that involves noticing with a holy purpose. We don’t notice just to notice. We don’t notice just to benefit ourselves (although evidence-based research has discovered many benefits). We notice, however, with God’s purposes and perspectives in mind.

What we notice first and foremost is God himself. That involves noticing his handiwork (including our bodies), what’s happening in our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings, which happens inside our bodies and brains. It’s a way to bring intentional awareness in the present moment to what and who is around us and what we’re doing, thinking, and feeling—all from God’s perspective.

What we notice first and foremost is God himself.

I suggest a simple acronym from what our bodies do twenty-five thousand times a day and nearly 675 million times in an average lifetime: we breathe. The acronym BREATHe represents these seven easy-to-learn components of holy noticing:

Body: Awareness of your physical body states and sensations;
Relationships: assessing the health of your relationships;
Environment: taking notice of your current surroundings, including sights, sounds, smells, and God’s creation;
Afflictive emotions or Affect (a general term for emotions): acknowledging how you’re currently feeling;
Thoughts: being conscious of your current thoughts;
Heart: paying attention to the state of your spiritual life and the Holy Spirit’s whisperings or impressions on your heart; and, to tie it all together,
engage: engaging the world like Christ, practicing holy noticing in the mundane, the everyday, the ordinary.

Scientists publish hundreds of research studies each year that show how mindfulness benefits our bodies. The list below reflects only a partial list of these benefits and excludes the many benefits mindfulness brings to our emotional and thought life, to our relationships, and to our spiritual lives.

So, practicing mindfulness benefits our bodies in these ways:

  • It helps improve our sleep.[1]
  • It decreases inflammation, now considered a key marker in many chronic diseases.[2] [3]
  • It decreases the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in our bloodstream,[4] thus reducing the negative effects of chronic stress on the body.
  • It increases our brain density (gray matter) in areas involved with memory, learning, problem solving, conflict monitoring,[5] emotional self-awareness, and self-regulation.[6]
  • It increases another key indicator of health called heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of the variation between each heartbeat. A higher HRV is generally considered a measure of good health.[7]
  • It  may actually help us live longer by slowing the aging process.[8] At the end of our chromosomes lie protective caps, like plastic caps at the end of shoelaces. They’re called telomeres and are linked to longevity. The longer and healthier your telomeres, all else being equal, the longer you tend to live. Chronic stress apparently shortens them. Telomerase is an enzyme (a catalyst that brings about a chemical reaction) that slows the shortening of these telomeres. Some studies show that those who practice this lifestyle have more telomerase, a good indicator of a longer life span.

Mindfulness is an effective practice to help keep our bodies healthier and in doing so, we honor God with the gift of the human body He has given us. God cares about our bodies. So BREATHe well in light of that truth today.

Charles Stone
Dr. Charles Stone (M.Div., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, D.Min., Trinity Evangelical Divinity Seminary) has served for 37 years in ministry, 24 of those years as a senior pastor. He currently pastors West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, a multicultural congregation with over 1,000 attendees. He founded StoneWell Ministries to serve pastors and churches through coaching and consulting. Many of his articles have been featured in magazines such as Outreach, Leadership Journal, REV, New Man, and In Touch and his blog posts have appeared on sites such as Pastors.com, SermonCentral.com, ChurchCentral.com, and Churchleaders.com. Charles and his wife Sherryl have been married for 36 years and have three adult children.​

Cover photo by Jan Tinneberg.

[1] Andrew J. Howell, Nancy L. Digdon, and Karen Buro, “Mindfulness Predicts Sleep-Related Self-Regulation and Well-Being,”Personality and Individual Differences48, no. 4 (March 2010): 419–24, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2009.11.009.

[2] Shiloh Rea, “Neurobiological Changes Explain How Mindfulness Meditation Improves Health,” Carnegie Mellon University, February 4, 2016, http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2016/february/meditation-changes-brain.html.

[3] Ivana Buric et al., “What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices,”Frontiers in Immunology8 (2017), https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670.

[4] Karen O’Leary, Siobhan O’Neill, and Samantha Dockray, “A Systematic Review of the Effects of Mindfulness Interventions on Cortisol,”Journal of Health Psychology21, no. 9 (September 2016): 2108–21, https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105315569095.

[5] Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire,Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind(TarcherPerigee, 2015), 112–13.

[6] Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson,Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body(New York: Avery, 2017), 179.

[7] Annette M. Mankus et al., “Mindfulness and Heart Rate Variability in Individuals with High and Low Generalized Anxiety Symptoms,”Behaviour Research and Therapy51, no. 7 (July 1, 2013): 386–91, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2013.03.005.

[8] Elizabeth A. Hoge et al., “Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice Associated with Longer Telomeres in Women,”Brain, Behavior, and Immunity32 (August 2013): 159–63, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2013.04.005.

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