What is Mindfulness Anyway?

Mindfulness seems to be popping up everywhere- Mindful Business, Mindful Parenting, Mindful Marriage, Mindfulness in schools. Just add the word ‘Mindful’ in front of anything and it seems to hold a promise of better.  And Mindfulness is a pretty powerful thing, proven to increase immunity, resilience, creativity, attention and to decrease stress and pain, among other benefits. But what is Mindfulness anyway

Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.

That doesn’t clear it up? Sometimes to understand what something is, it helps to talk about what it is not. Here are 5 things that are often misunderstood about Mindfulness and perceived barriers.

  1. Mindfulness will bring on a blissful state. Mindfulness does not aim to create a state; its practice is to observe what is really there and happening. The process is to watch curiously and kindly what is actually going on. In many cases, what is happening is a busy, worrying, anxious, stressed, planning, story-telling, and active mind. Some days you may observe a mind at ease and free of distraction. Other days it can feel like someone left cable news running in your brain or you can’t shake the blues. Whatever comes that day is observed with accepting awareness, and sometimes it’s not that pretty to watch.

 

  1. I can’t meditate, my brain is too ‘crazy’. People unfamiliar with Mindfulness meditation commonly think it is something that they cannot do because they cannot quiet their mind. These are exactly the people who would really benefit! As mentioned in point number 1, the goal isn’t to vanquish all thoughts. You do not fail if you have an active mind. We all do, this is not a unique problem! The purpose of Mindfulness is to bring awareness to the thoughts and your experiences of them, you watch them and release them. In a simple breathing meditation, the practice is to observe your in and out breath. When thoughts appear, you notice and acknowledge them, and then return to your breath. Each distracting thought is an opportunity to practice releasing yourself from it and back to the present moment of your breath.

 

  1. I don’t have time for Mindfulness. Most people feel that they have too little time in their day as it is, and definitely not enough to add in meditating. For many sitting down silently can just seem like a big waste of time, even if there is lots of science to support the benefits. Mindfulness is not about time quantity, it is about consistency. People benefit from a daily sitting practice as short as two minutes a day! If you can’t even fathom sitting still for two minutes, then you can bring Mindful practice to just about anything you are already doing. When you are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, driving, making dinner, walking… these are all perfect opportunities for Mindfulness. Notice where your head is during your daily activities, it’s probably not in the moment. Simply noting where your thoughts are and bringing them to your present direct experience (and repeating infinitely as your thoughts get pulled back elsewhere) is practicing Mindfulness.

 

  1. It’s too uncomfortable to sit cross-legged on the floor. When people think of meditation, most envision a Buddha smiling happily sitting cross-legged on the floor. For many people in our culture the idea of sitting in this way brings up immediate pain and discomfort and feelings of aversion. The good news, you totally don’t need to sit like that to practice Mindfulness meditation! Most teachers advise students to meditate sitting upright in a chair. The key is to have grounded feet and sit bones, and to be feeling upright and at ease. The goal of Mindfulness meditation is not to torture yourself and overcome physical pain. You can find a comfortable posture in your own living room and not try to bend yourself into a pretzel.

 

  1. I dunno, it sounds hard/unfamiliar. Mindfulness meditation is simple (though not easy!). It is as simple as sitting in a chair, closing your eyes, and paying attention to your breathing. No gear, travel, or expense required. There are some pretty amazing resources out there as well to get you started and help you. For many people starting out, guided meditation is most comfortable and effective. There are countless YouTube videos out there to get you started. There are also many apps you can have on your phone that can record, time, and lead your meditations. My favorite App is ‘Insight Timer’, though I have also heard great things about many others including ‘Buddhify’ and ‘Headspace’. There are also many great books out there. Here are two I recommend to get started:

 

  • Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World – Mark Williams and Danny Penman
  • The Art and Science of Mindfulness – Shauna Shapiro

 

**This article first appeared on Thirty on Tap

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