Mindfulness involves consciously focusing our attention on the present moment by recognising what happens while it is happening, actively accepting the experience exactly as it is in that moment.
Mindfulness allows us to be alone with what we are experiencing without adding anything and there are some general misconceptions surrounding mindfulness that should be addressed before starting to practice mindfulness:
1) Mindfulness is not a breathing-based relaxation technique.
Relaxation is commonly a benefit but not an objective of mindfulness. It simply starts by centring oneself on the here and now and focusing attention on breathing or on other focal points in the body with the objective of becoming aware of what is happening to our bodies in that moment and how it is happening. Breathing is considered an anchor to focus ourselves in the present and guides our attention to the exact moment we are in. This is because we can only breathe from moment to moment.
2) Mindfulness is not a technique for clearing our minds.
It is a technique for being aware of the thoughts that pass through it and for recognising the emotions that our thoughts provoke. Once we notice these thoughts we can go back to focusing on our breathing without judging what we are thinking.
3) Mindfulness is not a positive thinking technique
During both formal and informal practice, we should try to not assess or judge the situation (positively or negatively), in this way we detach ourselves from expectation and memories associated with the present and future situations, which allows us to live every moment as it is. Not assessing the moment allows us to conceive each moment as unique, without judgment that cloud the present experience.
4) Mindfulness is not a form of therapy for reducing stress.
Mindfulness in itself is not a form of therapy and although its practice usually produces beneficial effects for relaxation and stress reduction, it should be used as a complement to other tools in pathological cases. It is not a substitute for psychological or medical treatments. Mindfulness does not look to escape reality but rather be conscious of what is happening in each moment and accept it without resisting.
5) Mindfulness should not only be practiced when there is an unbalanced situation.
In fact, simply continuing to practice mindfulness when we are well, helps us to remain present at different times in life without judging them, which contributes to the ability to stay balanced. This means not feeling euphoric when everything is “going well” or depressed when things are not going as we would like. Practising mindfulness every day helps us to accept each situation we find ourselves in throughout life.
6) Mindfulness is not an esoteric, medical or religious technique
Even though it is religious in origin, nowadays, its practice is free of mythical connotation and is meant to be used a tool for connecting with the present reality in the here and now. The reasons behind its benefits have been proven and explained by numerous psychological studies meaning that its effects are not magical, but scientific.
There are many people that believe mindfulness is boring and monotonous, but the reality is quite the opposite. Mindfulness allows us to discover and see what happens in our daily lives through a “beginner’s” eyes. This helps us notice the things that happen in our lives that would normally have gone unnoticed.
However, it is important to practise mindfulness without expectations because being able to accept things as they are is one of the basic premises of this technique.
Here are some simple suggestions for beginning the practice of meditation:
Exercises to train mindful awareness
- Brush your teeth while paying attention to the sensations that you feel. If you suddenly realise your mind has wandered, simply go back to thinking about brushing your teeth and the different feelings in your mouth.
- Eat with mindful awareness. It is suggested to eat at least one meal a day in silence without the television on or a computer, tablet or mobile phone near you. Pay attention to each piece of food that enters your mouth. Look at what you are about to eat, savour each bite, notice its consistency, temperature, etc.
- Walk consciously. Choose one of the times you walk throughout the day and do it consciously. That means that as you walk, you should pay attention to the position of your body, your arm movements, where your feet are supported on the ground and what you do when you lift them up to take a step. Observe the things that you come across as if it were the first time that you saw them.
- Listen to the person talking to you. Often when someone is talking to us, we are busy thinking about what we will say to them in response or we are thinking about things that seem more important to us than that conversation. Try, at least once throughout the day, to be aware of the conversation that you are having with someone. Listen to them with mindful awareness without judging them.
- Draw, even if it is just scribbles or sketches. Focus on the paper and the pencil and start to make any sort of line. Draw whatever comes out without trying to draw anything in particular. Do not judge what you draw based on whether it is pretty or not or if it could be done better. Simply be present in what you are drawing at each moment, and when you finish, you can rip it up or crumple it so that you are not tempted to judge yourself later.
Have you ever tried to do anything with mindful awareness? We want to hear your opinion and please share if you have any other interesting information or experiences to share about mindfulness.