Recent studies have found that mindfulness benefits everyone, from emergency room nurses to law students waiting for their bar exam results, and even pregnant women. We’ve shared some simple practices to help be mindful, in our earlier article as well.
But, the question keeps coming back – what is mindfulness? Simply put, it is about being aware. Still a tad vague? Let’s understand it better by examining some myths surrounding it:
- Mindfulness is meditation. Though these two terms get used interchangeably, meditation is a subset of mindfulness. The latter is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the first American mindfulness researchers, likens mindfulness to being behind a waterfall. “You’re not under the waterfall, caught in the swirl and pounding of thoughts, emotions, and sensations, nor are you trying to stop or change them. Instead, you’re behind the cascade, observing all that’s happening without evaluation.”
Meditation, on the other hand, is sustained attention – to your breath or the heartbeat or a sensation. Unlike mindfulness which is expansive attention, meditation is focused and laser sharp.
- Mindfulness is taking time to relax. This isn’t true. Relaxation may be an outcome of mindfulness – sort of a side effect, because when you notice your emotions or thoughts or body sensations, you work towards understanding them. This, in turn, reduces stress. But practicing mindfulness is quite a bit of work, as it involves re-training your brain. Moreover, noticing your heavy emotions and diving into them may not necessarily be restorative. It is informative for sure, but not restful.
- Mindful is something we need to be all the time. This is humanly impossible, because it would require you to be aware of yourself in the present moment, all the time. And that’s exhausting. Being ‘mindless’ is the best opportunity to practice being mindful. There is ample learning in being angry, being hurt, or distracted. Building a practice of coming back to watching your current experience, is what is important.
- Mindfulness means always being happy. It’s a myth that mindful people don’t experience negative emotions. In fact, they might experience their sadness or anger more intensely, because they are aware of it, and not in denial. They don’t avoid it. The better part – they don’t act out of impulse when experiencing strong emotions. That’s the work of mindfulness and such studied action might lead towards joy.
If you are just starting off on your mindfulness practice, these decoded myths might help ease the pressure to be mindful in a certain way. And that in itself is a step towards greater awareness and decreased overwhelm.