Mindfulness is everywhere, these days "“ in books, the news, schools, and research journals. This practice of maintaining focused and nonjudgemental awareness of the present moment been linked to such positive outcomes as improved attention, better relationships, and more skillful emotional management. Still, not everyone is convinced of the benefits of mindfulness, and some outright reject it. Below I present and bust a number of myths that get in the way of people understanding or learning more about this life-changing practice.
"It's just another fad."
Actually, mindfulness has its basis in the ancient Eastern traditions of the Buddhists and Hindus. Later, mindfulness was brought into Western psychology in the 1970s, particularly by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the still-popular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program and founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Although mindfulness has received more exposure in recent years, it has a long history of use around the world.
"It clashes with my religion."
Mindfulness is not linked to any deity. Although it has its historical links to Buddhism and Hinduism, there is no worship or even necessary mention of any gods when practicing mindfulness. Learning to become aware of one's thoughts, and making conscious choices in actions supports any religious values. Many people use mindfulness practice to help them become better, more deliberate practitioners of their chosen religion.
"It's just about relaxing."
Mindfulness is often confused with relaxation techniques such as visualization. However, the aim of mindfulness (if there is one), is to continually notice when the mind has wandered, and to bring it back awareness of the present moment. Thus, the practice is more about focus than relaxation. This is why it is wise to sit in an upright and alert posture during mindfulness meditation, and also why mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime "“ it is not necessary to sit in a quiet space on a cushion, as mindfulness can and should be applied to all aspects of daily living.
"The aim is to get rid of your thoughts."
What a frustrating practice this would be, if that was the case! The brain's job is to continually generate thoughts, so to try and stop or suppress that would be a futile endeavor. With mindfulness, we notice our thoughts, and choose whether to engage with them. It is our habitual pattern to believe in and get caught up in the endless chatter of our minds, so we learn with mindfulness to get a little space. This allows us to make better choices with the often-biased information our minds produce, and has the knock-on effect of our being less battered around by the resulting emotions.
"It's weird and tree-huggy."
Given that meditation has been associated in the past with the more fringe elements of Western society, the relationship between mindfulness and these perceptions of meditation is off-putting for some. Meditation is one of the core mindfulness practices, and mindfulness courses generally teach participants a basic meditation structure as a foundation. This is generally just as simple as observing the breath, noticing the mind's activity, and gently bringing it back to the breath when thoughts start to take over "“ no crystals or tree-hugging required. It is useful to practice in this relatively controlled way, so that when we are going about our day or confronted with a difficult situation, we are more easily able to access this calmer, aware space. Mindfulness and meditation are also practiced by some of the world's top athletes and business people, such as Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter, and Ariana Huffington.
Mindfulness is a practice that is readily accessible to anyone, and has numerous and far-reaching benefits. If any of these myths have been getting in the way or causing you to hesitate on trying it, consider giving it a go. Speak to someone or do some more research if you have questions. You have nothing to lose and a whole world of awareness to gain.