Updated: Nov 10, 2019
Getting my master's degree in Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Counseling Psychology raised a lot of questions from friends and loved ones.
Are you a Buddhist?
Are you going to sit on meditation cushions every day?
Are you going to walk around being zen from now on?
What the heck does that degree even mean?
It didn't take me long to realize that there are a ton of myths about mindfulness and meditation running loose out there! So without further ado, I am debunking 5 popular mindfulness myths.
Myth #1. The purpose of mindfulness is to 'calm down.
First things first, we need to define what mindfulness is and what mindfulness is not.
Mindfulness is 1) noticing the present moment 2) without judgement. These two concepts, as great as they are, do not magically induce calmness. What they do produce is awareness.
Imagine feeling angry at your dog for chewing up your favorite socks...
Mindfulness myth: If you sit down and take deep breaths you will stop feeling angry, you'll give your dog a big hug, and you'll wonder why you even got upset in the first place.
Mindfulness truth: You start feeling angry and this catches your attention. You begin to notice your quickening heart beat, the heat rushing to your face, and how your thoughts have shifted from love to frustration. You allow these thoughts and sensations to be exactly as they are, trusting that they will soon pass. With this awareness, you can consciously choose how to react and respond to your dog's behavior.
Mindfulness is designed to help you notice your patterns, your triggers, your thoughts, your behaviors, your EVERYTHING. And as you begin to notice all of this, you can then begin to accept them without judgement.
Myth #2. Mindfulness requires sitting on a meditation pillow with sounds of chirping birds.
Actually, you can be mindful anywhere, anytime.
In traffic? Yupp.
On a run? Yupp.
At work? Yupp.
On the toilet? Yupp.
Mindfulness can be a part of your daily life. Sitting on a meditation cushion is just one way of many to bring conscious attention to your breath, your thoughts, your present moment.
Since once of the main components of mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, you can literally do this at any point throughout your day.
I use certain events in my day as reminders to check in with myself. To notice my breath, notice my thoughts and how my heart is doing. A few of these are while I'm brushing my teeth, washing the dishes, and driving to work.
What are some events throughout your day you can use as a reminder to be more present and aware?
Myth #3. "Mindfulness isn't for me."
Often times people think that developing a mindfulness practice means that we are trying to erase our thoughts. If true, I can see how this would be quite the daunting task!
When meditating, practicing yoga, or going for a mindful walk the practice is in noticing your thoughts and letting them go.
Rather than having a thought, latching on to it, and getting swept away into story, fantasy, or worry, you can watch the thought float away like a cloud in the sky.
Noticing your thoughts and releasing them is a skill to be learned. You cannot sit down on a meditation cushion for 5 minutes once a week for a month and then give up claiming you're "bad at meditation."
You cannot be bad at meditation. The more you practice, the more quickly you'll be able to notice thoughts as they arise, label them, and let them go.
Why? What's the point?
-To notice patterns in your thinking, which helps you understand yourself better.
-To bring you back to the present moment if you are getting swept away in 'what-ifs' and worry, which can decrease anxiety.
-To put space between you - the thinker - and your thoughts. Often we have a thought and immediately believe it to be true. Learning to notice a thought as a thought helps us be less attached to whatever the thought is about.
-To help you catch your thoughts before they run wild with a story which allows you to take conscious action rather than react impulsively.
Myth #4. Mindfulness is only for Buddhists.
Mindfulness is a way of being in the world. Any school of thought that encourages you to be present in this moment without judgment is promoting mindfulness.
Mindfulness is present in all of the world's major religions and secular traditions. Spiritual leaders across the globe teach the importance of being present today, not worrying about tomorrow, and accepting your present situation with compassion.
With the surge in popularity of yoga, many assume that mindfulness is an Eastern practice only to be enjoyed by people who subscribe to Buddhist philosophy. We need to counter these beliefs with the truth that mindfulness is for everyone.
Sarah Rudell Beach, author of the blog Left Brain Buddha has a wonderful post going into more detail about how mindfulness is not a religion, but a way of life. It is totally worth a read!
Myth #5. Mindfulness is the same thing as meditation.
If mindfulness is a way of life, a way of being in the world, meditation is one way to get there.
The same way you would perform a variety of different exercises to build strength in a muscle, you can use a variety of exercises to bring more mindful awareness into your day.
Here are a few:
-Noticing your breath throughout the day
-Tuning in to your hunger and fullness cues throughout a meal
-Only doing one task at a time, giving it your full attention
-Going for a solo hike
-Doing a guided self-compassion meditation
There you have it folks! The top 5 mindfulness myths debunked!
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