Mindfulness. It’s the 11-letter buzzword we’re all keen to discover more about – and that we’ve all formed our own assumptions on. Thankfully, mindfulness pro Anna Black is on hand to bust 17 common myths we all thought were true. Phew!
1 Mindfulness is not the same as positive thinking
When we practice mindfulness we are practising being with all mind states – the good, the bad and the neutral.
2 Mindfulness is not a quick fix
It takes discipline to practice regularly and it takes time to unlearn the patterns of a lifetime so letting go of particular expectations, being patient and trusting in the process is the most helpful attitude.
3 Mindfulness is not a miracle cure
It won’t make our stress or pain go away but if we meditate regularly it will change the way we relate to the difficult moments in life. Our normal reaction might be to avoid unpleasant feelings, however, by learning to stay present when we experience painful thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, we can learn to relate differently to them. We see the extra ‘stories’ we create about the pain or difficulty and learn to let them go thereby letting go of the additional suffering that is often generated by ourselves.
4 Mindfulness is not a religion
Although founded on Buddhist practices, it is taught in a secular way.
5 Practising mindfulness is not about learning to relax
You might relax when you meditate but then you might not – this doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. We are not practising to achieve any particular mind state but simply noticing our experience whatever it may be.
6 You don’t need to be able to sit in Lotus position to meditate
It’s fine to sit on a kitchen or dining chair, making sure your feet are supported by the floor or a cushion.
7 We are not trying to empty our mind or stop thinking when we meditate
Rather we are learning to see our thoughts as passing mental events – a bit like the weather, which can change from hour-to-hour and day-to-day.
8 ‘My mind is too busy to meditate’ is a common belief but it is the nature of the mind to be busy and always looking for new things
When we practice, we are learning to let go of our thoughts and return to a point of focus (such as the breath). Our mind will quickly wander again and the instruction remains the same: as soon as you realise your mind has gone for a walk, acknowledge this as ‘thinking’ and bring it back to the focus without any judgement. Every time the mind wanders, it is an opportunity to practice bringing it back and thereby strengthening that muscle of awareness – so a busy mind gives you the opportunity to have a good mental workout!
9 Meditation is not just about sitting still
There are many different types of meditation including moving practices such as walking, yoga, qi qong and tai chi.
10 You are never too old to learn to meditate!
You can begin at any age.
11 The benefits of meditation are not all just ‘in the mind’
Research has shown that meditating regularly changes the brain, with increased activity in the areas to do with concentration, awareness, empathy, compassion and perspective-taking. Also, regular meditators were shown to have a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure.
12 Meditating doesn’t stop you feeling
People who meditate regularly experience emotions more strongly than non-meditators but they also recover from them more quickly, so they are less likely to get stuck in a cycle of negative thinking or anger, for example.
13 When we talk about ‘living in the moment’ we don’t mean living without any regard to the future and consequences
It simply means paying attention to our experience in this moment. The past has already happened and can’t be changed, the future will be determined by what we do now, therefore the present moment is the only moment where there is an opportunity to do something different.
14 The benefits of mindfulness will be experienced if we practice regularly
Little and often is better than longer and occasionally. It is better to ‘weave our parachute’ by making mindfulness part of our everyday life rather than just wheeling it out when things are difficult are hoping that it will make all our problems go away.
15 Meditating doesn’t just mean sitting or walking practice
We can meditate informally by intentionally paying attention to our experience as it unfolds without judging it. So next time you sit down to have a cup of tea, sit and sip your drink, feeling the warmth of the mug, the smell of the tea, fully experiencing the taste… Avoid thinking about your ‘to-do list’ or about something that has happened or checking your phone or talking to someone. Simply be, drinking your tea.
16 There is no good or bad meditation
We are not expecting something particular to happen so whatever our experience is (calm, peace, restlessness, anxiety, anger, happiness…) it simply is our experience and we practice being with it as best we can.
17 Learning mindfulness is not a linear process
Often we have to learn the same lessons over and over and sometimes our attention feels very strong but other times very distracted. Practising mindfulness is a life-long journey that provides endless opportunities for learning.
About the author
Anna Black began practising mindfulness as a way of managing her own general and work-related stress. She has taught mindfulness in the workplace and has been teaching stress reduction through mindfulness since 2006.