9 Common Misconceptions of Mindfulness

Flower and Mirror

 

Mindfulness is a simple yet powerful practice that can offer many benefits. It’s popularity has led to an explosion of information through apps, podcasts and blogs over the last 20-years.

 

Some of this information has led to misconceptions of mindfulness and what it means to practice it. These misconceptions can often act as obstacles to the practice, resulting in feelings of failure and sometimes even causing people to stop practicing altogether.

With this in mind, we’ve highlighted some of the most common misconceptions around. Are any of these holding back your mindfulness practice?

 

1: Mindfulness Is About Emptying the Mind

The goal of mindfulness isn’t to get rid of thoughts and to get the benefits of mindfulness we don’t need this to happen. If you’ve ever actually tried to ‘clear your mind of all thoughts’, you’ll notice it’s virtually impossible!

If we think of emptying the mind as the goal, we may quickly become frustrated in the practice and may want to quit.

Rather, the intention is to focus our attention on something in the present (e.g. the breath), and when the thoughts arise see if we can keep bringing our attention back, with kindness. 

 

2: Mindfulness is Only Cultivated Through Meditation

A common misconception of mindfulness is that it’s about meditation and nothing else. 

Whilst practicing mindfulness meditation in a formal way is important, we can also practice mindfulness informally, by bringing mindfulness into our daily activities.

 

Can we be present with nature when we’re out on a walk?

Can we mindfully listen to someone speak, rather than thinking about how we might respond?

 

The essence of this informal practice is can we be fully present with whatever we’re doing.

 

3: Mindfulness is The Same Thing as Relaxation

There is often the perception that when we practice mindfulness we should feel relaxed.

The reality is that during our meditation we sometimes feel relaxed, but often also experience frustration, boredom, restlessness and the whole range of human emotions! This doesn’t mean that the practice is going ‘wrong’. It’s part of the process.

There are more longer-term benefits to be gained from mindfulness than feeling relaxed. By observing our experiences and allowing them to be as they are, we can cultivate a sense of contentment and gain freedom from habitual thought patterns. This can help to release us from loops of stress, depression and anxiety. 

 

Sleeping Cat

 

4:  Mindfulness Is a Quick Fix

Mindfulness is a long-term approach to help us to cope with worry, stress, and anxiety. It’s not a quick fix. Stressors, unfortunately, are simply part of being human. They will always be there, one way or another, big or small. 

Mindfulness can help us to respond to stress more effectively, to be less overwhelmed,  and to build resilience for when it’s needed. Over time, we may find it helps us to deal with whatever life throws at us, without pre-empting what that might be! 

 

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5: You Have to Sit to Practice Mindfulness

You do not have to sit on the floor to practice mindfulness. In fact, you don’t have to do anything. It’s your practice. 

Meditation can be done in any posture. Seated, standing, lying down or walking are usually recommended, but we probably want to avoid lying on the bed, as this usually results in sleep!

The most important thing is finding a balance between comfort and alertness, and what works for your body.

If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend beginning with sitting on a chair with your feet on the floor and using a cushion or rolled up yoga mat to support your back.

 

6: There Is a Goal in Mindfulness

If there is a goal to mindfulness, perhaps it’s not to have goals; to just let things unfold. 

That said, we all come to mindfulness practice hoping for some benefits. We can try to hold these lightly rather than making them the focus. We often find that the more we try to get somewhere, the further that place gets from us.

  Autumn Leaves

 

7: We Can Have a ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ Meditation 

One day we might find mindfulness comes naturally, the next it might be more difficult. It might be exactly the same practice, with a different result each time. The effect of each practice can also vary immensely from person to person. 

If you’ve had a difficult morning – your alarm didn’t go off, you spilled your coffee, etc. you might find it hard to settle. Another day, it might come more easily.

Just as the season changes, so too does our meditation. If we find a practice simple or difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s simply as it is.

It’s reassuring to note that we can often learn more from our practice when we come up against challenges, approaching them with curiosity and self-compassion. 

 

8: Mindfulness is a Religion

Mindfulness is not a religion. It can be practised almost anywhere by almost anyone. 

Meditation and mindfulness have been practised for thousands of years as part of some religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Stoicism and Taoism.

Additionally, many religions include aspects of mindfulness, such as patience, non-judging, compassion, and generosity. These are human values, as opposed to being religious. 

Secular mindfulness specifically – which is what we teach at The Mindfulness Project – is rooted in scientific evidence. This means that whether you have a religion or not, you are welcome to practice it.

 

Pelican on Calm Sea

 

9: Mindfulness is Easy 

On the surface it might look easy, but mindfulness is a work in progress for even the most committed. 

After decades of practice, there may still be challenging days. And these won’t always come when we’re expecting them. 

In fact, in a world where our attention is turned from one thing to the next, simply being present can be tricky, but with time it does get easier on the whole. As with many things it takes practice, accepting that there’s no ‘makes perfect’ in mindfulness.  

It’s not uncommon for people to expect to feel tranquil after a single meditation, dismissing it as ‘not for them’ if that’s not what happens. Whilst it’s true that it isn’t for everyone, we can be doing ourselves a disservice by not exploring it more fully. 

To really feel the benefit of mindfulness, consistent practice over a sustained period of time is recommended. It doesn’t have to be an hour a day; five minutes of practice each day can be much more useful. It’s a bit like training for a marathon – we can build it up bit by bit.

If you are finding the practice really difficult, then you can take action and reach out for support, you don’t have to go it alone. Our inbox is always open, or you can join a class, course or drop-in session for more guidance and support.

 

Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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