“Don’t be satisfied with stories. How things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth” – Rumi
Mindfulness is about living in the now. Essentially, it is about being more aware and awake in every moment of our lives. Mindfulness involves intentionally paying attention to each moment, being fully engaged with whatever is happening around us (externally) and within us (internally). It involves bringing an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to whatever is being experienced, rather than judgement and criticism.
There is increasing evidence about the benefits of mindfulness. According to science, mindfulness improves our overall well-being by making us less reactive and less stressed. This in turn can help us lead happier, healthier lives. However, as mindfulness programs become popular in schools and workplaces I have come across (and had my own) misconceptions around mindfulness over the years. I wish to address some of these myths in this blog.
#Myth 1: Mindfulness is based on religion
Most religions contain an element of mindful contemplation. Mindfulness, however, is not a religious or spiritual practice. It is an evidence based secular practice. The practice of mindfulness does not need to have a religious affiliation and we do not need to hold any beliefs or values to practice mindfulness. According to the writer and mindfulness expert Daniel Rechtschaffen, “Mindfulness does not belong to Christianity, Buddhism, or Taoism, just as the breath we inhale, and exhale does not belong to any of us.”
#Myth 2: You must clear your mind
Like a lot of people, I used to think that mindfulness is about clearing the mind of all thoughts before I started my own mindfulness practice. I found the very thought of emptying my mind extremely daunting. The reality is that the human mind is like a monkey. It likes to jump from one thought to another. Mindfulness is the process of sitting with our thoughts and observing them without judgment. Even if we become aware of lots of thoughts or distractions that is okay.
#Myth 3: Mindfulness needs to be mastered to make it worth doing
Mindfulness may require patience and persistence, but it certainly does not require perfection. I used to think that if any negativity arises during mindfulness practice, I must be doing something wrong. This is where being non-judgmental is extremely important. After almost 5 years of consistent practice I find that I still have busy sessions where the mind is unsettled. I just bring my attention back to my breath. Mindfulness is just like any skill. The longer we practice it, the more mindful we become over time.
#Myth 4: Mindfulness requires too much time
We live in busy times. Our social and work calendars are packed. It feels onerous to clear time in our schedules to practice mindfulness. Whilst I know people who meditate at least 30 minutes every day, you do not have to do the same. Even 2 minutes of mindfulness twice a day can make a big difference. 2 minutes is all you need to need to do to experience the benefits of your mindfulness practice.
#Myth 5: Mindfulness is meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a formal practice. With mediation we usually sit with our eyes closed and focus our attention on the breathing or a mantra. We can also practice mindfulness in other ways. We can practice mindfulness whilst eating, taking a shower, washing the dishes, and during a walk. All we must do is bring our attention to the present moment. When we do this, we become aware of the mental chatter, when it arises and with time, our mind will quieten down.
#Myth 6: You must be into yoga or a hippie or a vegan
Yes, I am a yoga teacher, and I am vegetarian. There is a common misconception that you need to be into yoga or live some sort of lifestyle to practice mindfulness regularly. Mindfulness in fact is for everyone i.e., doctors, CEOs, salespeople, nurses, and anyone else who is looking to release their stress and calm their mind. I have personally coached people who have never set foot in a yoga studio and will never give up eating meat.
#Myth 7: I will need to sit cross legged on the cushion or floor
When we think of mindfulness, the most common picture that comes to mind is of the Buddha or someone else sitting cross-legged on the floor. You can do this if you like, but you do not need to. I normally sit on my couch for my formal mindfulness practice. All you need to ensure is that your spine is as straight as your anatomy allows it to be. Mindfulness can be practiced on a bus or a train or as we walk down the street. In my corporate job I had the habit of arriving early for my customer appointments. I would sit in the car and meditate until it was time to walk into the customer’s office.
#Myth 8: Mindfulness will automatically make me peaceful
Unfortunately, this is untrue. Mindfulness is about paying attention to our feelings the way we are feeling. Some days we may feel calm and happy whilst other days we may be stressed, anxious or sad. I have a daily practice and I teach mindfulness and yoga. I have plenty of moments when I am unmindful. However, since I have started practicing mindfulness, I am quicker to notice my thoughts, and forgiving myself. The more I practice, the more mindful I become in other parts of my life. After all, we are all human and experiencing unpeaceful thoughts and moments are part of the journey.
#Myth 9: Mindfulness is only for people who are stressed
There is a growing body of scientific evidence about the benefits of mindfulness in relation to effective stress reduction and management. However, it is wonderful to practice mindfulness when we are not feeling stressed as it helps us open our mind to the details and vividness of life so that we become familiar with it. It is during one of my mindfulness sessions that I came with the idea of starting this business and teaching mindfulness to children and adults alike
#Myth 10: Mindfulness is easy
When we initially start practicing mindfulness and start noticing our thoughts, it can be quite confronting and overwhelming, it was for me. I wish I knew in the beginning that it was going to be challenging at the start. Another mistake I made was not seeking a teacher right at the beginning to learn the fundamentals and clarify any questions that I had. Mindfulness is just like any other skill. The more we practice, the better we get at it. Starting my own mindfulness practice is one of the most valuable things I have done in my life.