The concept of mindfulness has become widely popularized in recent years. However, there still seems to be a wide range of misconceptions regarding mindfulness and what it actually is. Danny Penman (Ph.D. and author of Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World) says, “Mindfulness is, quite simply, full conscious awareness. It is paying full conscious attention to whatever thoughts, feelings and emotions are flowing through your mind, body, and breath, without judging or criticizing them in any way.” Essentially, being mindful is to live fully in the moment.
However, notice what isn’t mentioned in the quote above: there is no mention of any specific deity or religion. Mindfulness is not inherently spiritual. Atheists, agnostics, and people of all religions are able to practice and benefit from mindfulness and the mental clarity it brings about. Mindfulness is simply a way to slow down, focus, and be more present.
In fact, mindfulness can even be a scientific practice. Harvard researcher Gaelle Desbordes is currently studying the effects behind mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to treat depression, an alternative approach that has been shown to have effects on par with other more traditional treatments. And there is another Harvard study that found that mindfulness practices actually changed gene expression in hypertensive individuals, effectively lowering blood pressure. How cool is that?
The last misconception of mindfulness we’ll discuss here is that there is one very specific way to practice it. Spoiler alert! There isn’t. What usually comes to mind when most people think of mindfulness is someone meditating. And while there are four main kinds of meditation (breathing meditation, body scan, loving-kindness meditation, and observing-thought meditation), none of these force you to sit cross-legged and chant! Each one is a great option that can bring about incredible benefits, but meditation is not the only way to be mindful.
This article by Dr. Penman offers some wonderful suggestions on how to implement mindfulness practices seamlessly into your everyday life anytime, whether you’re standing in line or spending time with a loved one. Another great option for mindful movement is yoga.
A major reason mindfulness is becoming more and more prevalent in the workplace is because of studiesthat show it leads to improved cognition and better focus. Even a brief, 4-day course was shown to significantly improve memory and visual-spatial processing skills.
Like anything, mindfulness is a practice. If you want to see how it can benefit you, there are myriad apps, books, and YouTube videos – find one that resonates with you and commit to a daily practice. It can be as little as two minutes a day. After a week, evaluate how you are feeling and make any necessary adjustments.