It’s a religion
Mindfulness has evolved and been made more mainstream through the work of John Kabat-Zinn who adapted it from its Buddhist roots. Despite these roots, mindfulness is secular, available to people of all religions and people with no faith or religious beliefs. Mindfulness is about changing the way we think but in no way does it prescribe what these thoughts should be.
The aim is to clear your mind
People say to me they ‘can’t do mindfulness’ because their mind is too full of thoughts. That is true of every healthy living adult and the aim of mindfulness is not to clear the mind like a form of electric shock treatment, instead the aim is to allow the thoughts in the mind to come and go without attaching on to them or analysing them. It’s about becoming a quiet observer of the mind, rather than trying to quieten the mind itself.
You need to sit still on the floor with your legs crossed and eyes closed.
Meditation is part of learning mindfulness however you can do it seated or lying down and there are even walking meditations and mindful movement exercises that enable you to practice standing up with eyes open. When doing formal meditation practice the aim is for you to be still in the mind and having a quiet and still body helps to master this, which is why we tend to practise formal meditations in a supported comfortable position.
It’s a bit woo woo
There is a wealth of sound and scientifically backed research into the quantifiable benefits of mindfulness. Most scientifically backed studies into mindfulness last at least eight weeks, and quantify mindfulness as participating in an eight week course and conducting regular practice throughout this period. Benefits include reduction in anxiety and depression, increased resilience and ability to deal with chronic pain.
Mindfulness is relaxation
Many mindfulness meditations start with bringing awareness to where we hold tension in an attempt to relax the body. This helps us keep both body and mind still to be able to concentrate on learning the meditation exercise being taught. Once the body is still the meditation begins, and involves keeping the mind focused on an anchor such as the breath. Relaxation on the other hand tends to allow for the mind to wander free and to continue thinking if it wishes. Mindfulness trains us to always bring awareness back to the anchor when the mind wanders and it is this process that strengthens the mind whereas relaxation does not.
Mindfulness is difficult and complicated
Mindfulness is actually very simple in that it is about bringing attention back to the present moment without attachment to any other thoughts. The difficulty is training our mind to do this over and over without getting despondent or bored.
Mindfulness is a good replacement for medical intervention
Practising mindfulness can help people with illnesses recover quicker and has been proven to reduce the rate of relapse in depression. It should not however be used in place of other medical interventions, and if you suffer from an illness you should seek advice from your doctor before starting practice. Mindfulness is safe to use alongside medical interventions and can help you manage the impact of the illness and help towards recovery.
Mindfulness is only for stressed out people who can’t cope
Mindfulness is like going to the gym and the spa for the mind and practising mindfulness as part of your wellbeing programme can help build you both physically and mentally. Physically, it can build your immune system and keep you out of the stress response responsible for inflammation and disease. Mentally, it can help build resistence to stress and can also help you better manage emotions and high level brain functioning such as decision making and reasoning. Building all these skills are hugely beneficial in our modern everyday lives.
The mind is the only focus of mindfulness
The name does suggest this, however mindfulness is also about building compassion for self and others. Some of the 7 main attitudes of mindfulness developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn relate to matters of the heart as much as the mind. Acceptance, trust and letting go all come from the heart rather than the analytical mind and practising these helps us build heartfulness and happiness rather than just a healthy and focused mind.