Myth-Busting Mindfulness: Misconceptions and what Mindfulness Really Is
Mindfulness…you’ve seen the term everywhere from Tiktok to Target. With all the information being thrown around, how do you know what mindfulness really is, so you can start building your own mindfulness practice? All the misconceptions out there can get confusing. But at its core, mindfulness is a simple and powerful tool that can help build awareness of your inner life. Let’s start with a simple definition:
Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Such simple straightforward definitions leave lots of room for interpretation and complications. The reality is that mindfulness is as simple as focusing on one element of the present moment and coming back to that element when you’re distracted. And let’s face it, you will get distracted. If you are interested in weaving mindfulness into your life, read on as we go through the most common misconceptions about mindfulness.
Silence, brass bowls, and fancy cushions…are not needed for a mindfulness practice. If you first experienced mindfulness at a yoga studio, retreat, or through an influencer’s videos, you might have used or seen all kinds of items related to mindfulness. The truth is that all you need for mindfulness is yourself and the desire to try! There are a million ways to practice mindfulness, how and where you practice is up to you. If unguided meditations don’t work for you, try a guided exercise. If sitting still is hard for you, try walking or exercising. If your schedule is packed, try staying present during a mundane daily activity such as showering, drawing, or washing the dishes. If none of that works for you, you can focus on your breath as you draw it in and let it out, no matter where you are!
Religious and spiritual beliefs…are also not required for mindfulness! Anyone, of any religion or spiritual orientation, can practice mindfulness. It’s actually a neutral practice that is already built into many traditions across the world under different names. Mindfulness is the simple act of becoming aware of the present moment and need not be connected to any particular tradition or belief system unless you want it to be.
Stress reduction…can be a side effect of mindfulness, but it’s not the purpose of building a practice. The purpose is to wake us up to the internal processes of our minds, bodies, and emotions. It’s about being present and aware with whatever is, not forcing ourselves into a serene place.
An empty mind…is not possible. Our brains are made to monitor the world around us and to think about it! If you’re distracted by thoughts during mindfulness then you are normal. You’re not doing it wrong or incapable of practicing mindfulness, you’re human. Mindfulness is more about becoming aware of your brain’s processes, which can include recognizing distractions and becoming more in control of your ability to move through them. Mindfulness often consists of repeatedly refocusing on the present moment and it’s a habit, it needs to be built over time.
It will fix your life…sorry, this is unlikely. Mindfulness is ultimately a self care practice, something that is preventative and generally a good thing. But just like taking your vitamins can’t cure cancer, mindfulness by itself is probably not enough for many mental health conditions. And that’s completely ok. A random app or a workplace seminar on mindfulness might also be giving you a very watered-down, instant gratification version of mindfulness too.
So, why practice mindfulness if it won’t fix or heal you? Despite the fact that it won’t fix your life immediately or completely reduce your stress, there are benefits to regular practice, side effects like improved sleep, stress reduction over time, and changes in brain chemistry related to anxiety. All of that is great, but it takes some time to see these types of effects. The immediate benefit of mindfulness is that you carve out a few minutes for yourself during which you intentionally set aside worry and planning. In our modern world it is increasingly difficult to find time without stimulation, mindfulness can be that time for you and allow you to become aware of just how busy your mind might be.
I hope this has helped you learn more about mindfulness and the misconceptions that surround this beneficial tool. And if you’d love to know more about mindfulness and mental health, our team of therapists at Authentic Connections Counseling Center in Castle Rock, Colorado is here to support you. You can book a session by calling 720-370-3010 x100 or emailing us at [email protected].