by Tehani Gunasekara
Mindfulness has captured the world’s imagination. So I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you've even given it a try, or maybe it sounds like a great idea but you haven't got around to trying it yet.
As a Clinical Psychologist and a mum, I both practice and teach Mindfulness. However despite its popularity, or perhaps because of it, there is still a lot of confusion about what mindfulness is in the first place, and there are quite a few myths about mindfulness that could stop you from experiencing the full benefits of it.
Myth #1 – You need peace and quiet to practice Mindfulness
Not quite! The whole point of mindfulness is simply to be present, whatever your present may look like. In fact, this is one of the biggest reasons I like mindfulness. Let’s face it, how many of us mums have 2 minutes to brush our teeth in silence, much less 20 minutes to meditate each day? The good news is you don’t need to sit still in complete silence to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness comes in various forms and shapes, including informal mindfulness that you can practice on the go. You can drop anchor and channel your attention to the here and now anywhere, at anytime. I often find it most helpful in the busiest moments of all, to simply draw a breath and intentionally focus my attention.
Myth #2 – Mindfulness involves emptying your mind
Not so! It’s called mindfulness not mindlessness or mind-emptiness for a reason! Rather than emptying your mind, mindfulness helps you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, as well as your external environment. This in turn can help you to make informed choices about your behavior. For example, you may become aware that your heart rate is increasing, your muscles are clenching, you are feeling angry and you are having thoughts such as “he's being an idiot!” Being mindful of these thoughts and feelings means that you can then make an informed choice as to what you do with these thoughts and feelings. Do you: Give full vent to them? Walk away? Draw a breath and speak in a calm manner? Get some help to learn how to manage such thoughts and feeling? The choice is yours (perhaps with a lot of practice).
Myth #3 – It is important to be mindful all the time
Again, not quite! Our minds have the ability to dwell on the past and ruminate about the future for a reason. There are benefits to reflecting on the past. We can learn from it, modify future behavior and make changes to our environment by reflecting on what worked and didn’t work in the past. Thinking about the future also has significant benefits, such as helping us to anticipate and prepare for barriers to our success or wellbeing. However, it isn’t always helpful to get caught up in our thoughts about the past and the future, and mindfulness can help us take a break from the seemingly constant buzzing of our minds by dropping anchor for brief periods of time.
Myth #4 – Mindfulness is a cure-all
If only! There is no such thing as a panacea when it comes to mental health. While mindfulness has been found to have tremendous benefits in helping to manage stress, improve concentration, improve sleep etc it is not a cure-all. If you suffer from Depression or Anxiety for example mindfulness can actually bring up painful thoughts and feelings and without knowing what to do with these thoughts and feelings it can worsen rather than improve your suffering. Mindfulness can be a great part of the therapeutic process for mental health concerns, but it will not necessarily work as a stand-alone intervention. If you think that you may be experiencing depression or anxiety talk to your local GP who can point you in the right direction.
Got any questions about mindfulness? Enter them in the comments below and I'll get back to you.