Mechanisms of Mindfulness

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Research has increased our understanding about how mindfulness based programs have their impact on people, or what is referred to as the mechanisms of mindfulness. Also, delaying school start times can provide adolescents, many of whom have significant sleep deficits, with much needed sleep resulting in many positive outcomes. In this post I wanted to share a commentary on a few topics as well as a couple of quotes.


Mechanisms of Mindfulness

Sometimes it’s a challenge communicating what exactly is this mindfulness thing. Here’s a helpful video by Dan Harris, Why Mindfulness is a Superpower, and another by Sharon Salzberg, How Mindfulness Empowers Us. In both of the videos, they explain what mindfulness is and the benefits. Both are less than 3 minutes and effective ways to introduce some basic concepts in a straightforward manner. Both were animated by Katy Davis.


Also, I came across this article, The Mechanisms of Mindfulness in the Treatment of Mental Illness and Addiction by Edo Shonin and William Van Gordin published in the International Journal of Mental Health Addiction in 2016. I think the article provides insight into the benefits of a mindfulness practice for all individuals, not only those challenged with a mental health or substance abuse issue.
When thinking about how mindfulness-based interventions can assist individuals, it proposes 10 mechanisms of mindfulness based on the research literature:

  1. Structural Brain Changes
  2. Reduced Autonomic Arousal
  3. Perceptual Shift
  4. Increase in Spirituality
  5. Greater Situational Awareness
  6. Values Clarification
  7. Increase in Self-Awareness
  8. Addiction Substitution
  9. Urge Surfing
  10. Letting Go

Shonin and Gordon state, “Consistent with the biopsychosocial model of mental illness, these proposals suggest that mindfulness targets biological, psychological, and social (as well as spiritual) psychopathology determinants.” Since psychopathology presents on a continuum and individuals not presenting with a diagnosis still often engage in unhelpful behaviors and thought patterns, one can see how these mechanisms could be operational in individuals with and without psychological disorders.


School Start Times

In November 2019 the Miami-Dade County School Board decided to formally explore moving school start times. In high school I remember wondering why school started at 7:30 am. That meant I had to get up at 5:50 am to take the bus to get to school on time. During the mornings most of the students seemed to be in a daze. To get 8 hours of sleep (the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 8 to 10 hours for adolescents), I had to go to sleep by 9:50 pm but I was usually wide awake then. That’s not uncommon, during adolescence there is a biological shift toward later sleep onset and wake times.


Matt Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and sleep scientist at Google Life Sciences, has helped to clearly articulate the impact of sleep on physical health, grades, attention, behavior, learning, and psychological well-being. Recent studies have identified some of the benefits of moving school start times from a decrease in car accidents among adolescents to improved SAT scores. Adequate sleep is essential for our health and the health of our children.

Walker describes it as not just a pillar of heath but the very foundation.


No doubt, there are significant logistical challenges for schools and parents associated with a shift to later start times. It would be inconvenient for our family, we would have to manage with increased traffic at drop-off and pickup, but I think it would be well worth it due to the potential impact on our child’s health and well-being. I suggest following developments around this issue closely in your community and having your voice heard as related decisions are made.


“A feeling of aversion or attachment toward something is your clue that there’s work to be done.”

– Ram Dass

“Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men.”

– Robert Hunter





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James Pann smiling at the camera, sitting in front of green trees

James Pann, Ph.D. is a Professor at Nova Southeast University and a highly experienced psychologist and evaluator with nearly 25 years of experience. He conducts research and evaluation projects with non-profit organizations in the fields of health, human services, and education, and has received funding from multiple government agencies.

James holds multiple degrees including a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, an M.S. Ed. from the University of Miami, and a BBA in Accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the host of the EvalNetwork podcast, a frequent conference presenter, and has published several peer-reviewed research articles and co-authored a book. James currently resides in Miami, Florida with his family and enjoys backpacking trips. Find out more about his work here.


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