Mindfulness and Neuroscience

Mindfulness is about being able to bring your consciousness to the present moment on those occasions where you want to be present, focused and engaged with whatever is happening


Understanding the vast resource that is our brains as well as some very surprising automatic responses and processing limitations is important to understanding how mindfulness works. This helps us truly impact on our emotions, focus and connection in our daily lives.

Some startling revelations are beginning to emerge using advanced technology to view the brain functioning in real time that shows mindfulness as both a positive and life enhancing experience. This relates to differences in brain activity when someone is experiencing the world first hand through their senses versus the activity that occurs when thinking about the past or planning for the future.

The discovery of two brain circuits, a direct experience circuit and a narrative circuit, has shown the brain functions in one mode or the other but not both simultaneously. This means when engaged in mindfulness, the direct experience circuit is active and when thinking about the past or planning for the future the narrative circuit is active. This is important because activating the direct experience circuit helps direct our attention away from rumination or catastrophizing. In other words thinking that is unproductive and potentially damaging.

We know that anxiety and concerns can be self-generated and stem from what our mind gives us moment by moment in the way of past memories and future scenarios. We also know that for many, these thoughts and feelings can be uncomfortable or painful and that we can get drawn into a story that may be a fabrication, exaggerated, or simply not true. Rather than recognising this our feelings of discomfort become intensified. We struggle with this and pretty soon we are feeling worse.

When we are in the narrative mode the brains control centre, the pre frontal cortex, becomes busy with the stories that the mind is generating, meaning that there is less capacity available for our direct experience to enter our consciousness. For example, when someone is talking to you and you are more concerned about the impression you might be making you cannot engage fully with the conversation.

There are many other scenarios where connecting to the brains direct experience circuit would enable a much richer and positive life experience.

This is not to say that we never need our narrative mode, however it is about bringing into consciousness the things we want to, when we want to, that ultimately allows us to live our lives on our terms.

Author: Graeme ByeJanuary 13, 2017


Graeme Bye is an organisational psychologist with a background in corporate organisations in HR and Leadership Development.

He coaches individuals and teams and includes mindfulness practices and techniques to improve effectiveness, manage stress and achieve focus.