Mindfulness can change your life!
I know this isn’t big news anymore. With the explosion of interest in this ancient practice over the past couple of decades, there’s no longer any doubt that it’s helpful to practice mindfulness. It’s good for your emotions, performance, relationships, waistline, and health. CEOs, elite athletes, famous performers and your next door neighbor are all jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon.
But despite the mindfulness frenzy, I’ve noticed several misconceptions that keep people from experiencing the real rewards of mindfulness. Let me clear these up for you.
1. You need to clear your mind
Mindfulness is a simply a state of raw awareness of the present moment, and mindfulness practice, like connecting with and focusing on your breath, is how you train yourself to experience mindfulness. New practitioners often think that when they practice, they’re supposed to clear their minds, but that’s neither true nor realistic. The goal is to find a new way to relate to what’s going on in your mind, not to empty it. If your mind is like a radio playing while you’re trying to read a book, mindfulness practice can’t turn the radio off, but it can help you lower the volume so you can focus on what you’re reading.
2. You need to sit for a long time
You’ve probably been told that mindfulness practice takes 30 minutes to an hour, and I’m sure that would be very valuable – if you didn’t have a busy life! The truth is, you can experience many benefits of mindfulness even if you engage in a brief practice. Sitting regularly is even more important than sitting for a long time, because habits get built by repetition. You would be better off sitting for a few minutes most days of the week than sitting for an hour once in a while.
3. You have to sit in a specific posture
When mindfulness practices are used in spiritual traditions, they may prescribe a certain posture or hand position, but in order to get the psychological and health benefits of these practices, there’s no specific posture required. It’s useful to sit upright so you don’t fall asleep, but your eyes can be open or closed, and your hands can be wherever they’re comfortable. And if sitting still isn’t your thing, you can even take a mindful walk, run, swim, bike ride or paddle.
4.Mindfulness practice should be relaxing
Mindfulness practice is often relaxing, but that’s not the point. The goal is to be present and notice what’s happening, whether you like it or not, and to develop control over your mind so you don't get swept away by worrisome thoughts or unpleasant feelings. For example, if you’re stressed while practicing mindfulness, your job is to pay attention to the experience of being stressed. Notice where you feel it, what it feels like, how it changes over time, and what kinds of thoughts accompany the stress. There’s no need to strive for any particular experience.
5. You should be mindful all the time
Mindfulness uses your mental resources, but those are in limited supply. We practice mindfulness so we can be in control of ourselves, rather than having our habits and automatic reactions run our lives. We also practice mindfulness so we can savor the beautiful moments in our lives rather than missing out.
But it would be ridiculous to bring mindfulness to every activity. To get through your day you need to have a bunch of mindless routines to follow or you would be too exhausted and overwhelmed to function. Everyday lives need both mindfulness and mindlessness. Mindlessness comes to us naturally, but we practice mindfulness because that takes a bit of work to cultivate.
The Bottom Line
A mindfulness routine can be simple and life-transforming when you avoid these misconceptions. Don’t complicate it too much. When it comes down to it, all you need to do is to find a little time each day and bring your raw attention to the present moment. Mindfulness practices are simply strategies to help you do that.
Have a Present Day!
This is the second of 4 posts in my month of mindfulness series. Click here for my first post in the series.
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