Mindfulness is really simple to explain. It is the act of paying attention to our direct experience as it unfolds in the present moment and without judgement. But there are a lot of misconceptions about what it really all means and how to practice it.
Mindfulness teacher and author of Mindfulness for Children, Uz Afzal helps bust some of the common mindfulness myths below.
Is mindfulness emptying your mind?
Mindfulness is not about emptying
your mind or stopping yourself from
thinking. Instead, it’s about observing
what’s happening in your mind. Even if
you become aware of lots of thoughts or
distractions, that’s okay.
Is it religious?
Mindfulness is not religious, it’s a
secular practice. However, most religions
do contain an element of mindful
contemplation and some have practised
in this way for a couple of thousand
years. The writer and mindfulness
expert, Daniel Rechtschaffen, puts it this
way, ‘Mindfulness does not belong to
Christianity, Buddhism or Taoism, just as
the breath we inhale and exhale does not
belong to any one of us.’
Is it about feeling happy and calm all the time?
Mindfulness is about feeling the way
you are feeling. Sometimes you may feel
calm and happy, sometimes you may feel
anxious or overwhelmed. Mindfulness is
about accepting the truth of our experience
with a sense of kindness, no matter how we
Will I need to sit cross-legged on a cushion?
You can do this if you like, but you don’t
need to. You can carry out many of these
practices sitting upright in a chair with
your feet flat on the ground. You can also
practise as you sit on a bus or a train, or
as you walk down the street or down a
corridor. You can practise as you carry out
routine activities and as you move through
Is it only for people who are stressed?
Mindfulness can certainly help people
who are stressed. Much of the research
on the benefits of mindfulness has been
conducted on an eight-week course called
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
However, it’s wonderful to practise
mindfulness when you’re not feeling
stressed, to help you open up to the details
and vividness of life and also so that you
become familiar with it. If you do this then
you will hopefully remember to practise in
difficult times as well.
Is it just a fad?
I wonder if that’s what they used to say
thousands of years ago.
Will it turn me into a hippy?
Hang on, let me untangle myself from
this tree I’m hugging before I answer.
Mindfulness is practised in government, in
many of the Fortune 500 companies, by the
emergency services, the armed forces, in
prisons, schools and hospitals. They can’t
all be hippies, can they?
More about mindfulness in Uz Afzal’s Mindfulness for Children.