You’ve probably heard of “mindfulness” before, but do you really understand what it is? After all, it’s easy to piece together a few things you may have heard about it and form your own interpretation. So, if you’re happy to put your hand up and admit you don’t know a lot about it and are open to learning, we’re happy you’re here! In this article, we’re going to explain what mindfulness really is, take a look at a few common myths (and dispel them) and show you a simple way you can get started with the practice of mindful meditation.
It is the practice of bringing your awareness to the experience of the present moment. Notably, it is fueled by positive intention. Rather than thinking over a problem you need to solve, dwelling on an uncomfortable conversation you had or thinking about what you’re going to do tomorrow, mindful meditation helps you learn to live in the moment and appreciate it for what it is. Mindfulness isn’t about emptying the mind of all thoughts, but about recognising you have them.
Mindfulness can improve our lives in many ways, but one of the primary ways it can benefit us is in terms of our thoughts. When we turn thoughts over and over in our mind, it forms an obsessive pattern that makes us anxious. And of course, anxiety isn’t fun, and it isn’t very good for us either. Some key benefits of mindfulness include:
According to mindful.org, research has shown that training your brain in mindfulness changes its physical structure. In fact, it remodels and builds new neural pathways to help it improve our focus and flexibility.
It’s because of these effects on the brain that many athletes practice mindfulness. Not only does it contribute towards better performance, but also helps them deal with the mental anguish that can accompany injury. In fact, that same focus that they turned towards peak performance, can even be used to turn their energy towards their healing and rehabilitation.
Everyone has the ability to do mindful meditation – it is something innate. But no matter your expertise at being aware naturally, everyone can benefit from cultivating it through proven techniques. You can be mindful when you’re doing absolutely nothing, or incorporate it into other activities like yoga and sport.
Now that you have a foundational understanding of what mindfulness is, I want to draw your attention to the many myths around it.
Hopefully, as I dispel these myths, any preconceptions that may have been holding you back from trying mindful meditation will be put to rest. Let’s dive in:
Even though it might appear to be a buzzword lately, mindfulness has been quietly practiced for thousands of years. It’s a mistake to believe something that has so solidly stood the test of time could be a passing fad. Just because one of your friends may have tried it once and discarded it doesn’t make it any less useful for you to explore.
Some people mistakenly think that mindfulness will make you a softer, weaker person. They think that you might lose your sense of ambition even. But, mindfulness can actually help to pave the way for achieving your goals by making you more resilient and better able to cope with stressors.
While a meditative state is a natural fit for practising mindfulness, it can actually be incorporated in most areas of your life. And no – I don’t mean by swapping out your cycling or strength-training for yoga.
For instance, you can practice mindful eating by setting aside distractions like Netflix, and paying attention to the smells, tastes and textures of food, rather than eating mechanically like many of us do. Walking is often a favourite too. You can take in the smells, sights and sounds of your natural environment. By the way, you can even do it while cleaning the house!
Mindfulness is about so much more than relaxation. Yes, it can have a soothing effect on the body. But, as Jeff Brantley, MD, psychiatrist and Buddhist practitioner explains: mindfulness is actually about the mind becoming more aware and learning to understand yourself better. You should notice things without judgement, and over time you’ll see that you free yourself from unhelpful thought patterns.
It is a basic human ability, that is true. But while it may sound simple, that doesn’t mean it actually is. Our brains are amazing with capabilities beyond what we can fully grasp. And, like many things in life, mindfulness requires some practice before it comes naturally to you.
And, by the way, just remembering to be mindful can be a challenge in itself! Why not turn that dismissiveness into curiosity instead? You might be surprised.
Mindfulness was originally taught by Buddha, but you don’t need to be a Buddhist to practice it. Mindfulness is about enriching the relationship you have with yourself and getting more from your experiences by facilitating acknowledgement and engagement on a moment-to-moment basis. It is not a replacement for a belief system and can complement any religion that you follow.
Some people interpret the practice to be passive. But, it most certainly isn’t, nor does it exist only in your head. If it did, surely it would not be able to calm the body’s internal rhythms and reduce blood pressure as it has been proven to do. Nor would it have positive effects on how we respond to others – over time, influencing the words we choose and how we act.
Following is a simple mindful meditation you might like to try if you’re just starting out:
We’d love to hear how your first experience of mindfulness goes. Please, drop into the comments below and share your story!
Written by K. Cooper for WeirdMojo
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