The biggest misconception about mindfulness as well as meditation is that people think that the objective is to think about nothing or to stop their thoughts. This is impossible even for the most accomplished meditators. People often say that they are not good at focusing, concentrating or that they have scattered thoughts so they can’t do mindfulness or meditation.
It is natural for our mind to wander to other thoughts as we try to become more conscious of living in the present. Our minds have had years of practice in being allowed to wander where it would like and so it is natural for your thoughts to drift away from the present moment. Your only goal is to bring yourself back to the present any time you notice that your thoughts have either drifted into the past or projected into the future. As we practice mindfulness, we need to ignore and simply watch such thoughts as:
• “I’ve always had a racing mind”
• “It’s impossible for me to stop thinking.”
• “I can’t do this. My mind is not trainable–it always ends up wandering.”
• “This is pointless. It’s not producing anything.”
Minding the Inside
Mindfulness is not simply about the external. It also involves an awareness of our bodies, our emotions and thoughts. Essentially, being mindful means paying attention to what is happening in the NOW–even if that is an unpleasant experience. Anxiety and frustration intensify when we try to push it away and resist.
We are aware of our thoughts and feelings and with time we develop a distance from unhelpful thoughts and feelings; we can simply watch them come and go. Instead of struggling against or resisting our feelings of anxiety or anger we simply bring our awareness to that experience and how that feels in our body. If we notice anxiety is creating a tightness in our chest then we also don’t need to rush off and fix that. We bring acceptance to that experience, focusing our attention on that feeling with a non-judgmental curiosity.
Example: It is Monday morning. You have a million things to do and you are feeling overwhelmed. As you go along with your tasks, become aware of your feelings of stress and where you are feeling them in your body. Accept and be present with the feelings of tension and you might be surprised to see how much more quickly these feelings will dissolve when you stop resisting them and develop acceptance.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Below are just a few of the benefits of mindfulness. Once you truly understand just how beneficial mindful living is you will wonder how you ever thought that you could afford not to practice mindful living.
Mindfulness has been shown to:
- Raises IQ levels because mindfulness sharpens and exercises the brain and helps to improve concentration
- Strengthen the immune system (Prevents everything from the flu to cancer). In countless studies, cancer patients who meditated were either more likely to go into remission or lived significantly longer than those who did not.
- Reduce relapses of depression and anxiety by 50%. In fact, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which is now being used by many psychotherapists has proven to be extremely effective in helping individuals with various mental health issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders and the list goes on.
- Prevent and treats heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure
- Improve sleep and treat insomnia
- Decrease emotional reactivity. Helps with anger management issues, oversensitivity, impulsiveness, short attention span (ADHD)
- Reduce pain in chronic pain sufferers like fibromyalgia by 50% and 90% for accomplished meditators
- Regulates hormones
1. Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., Gordon, N. S., McHaffie, J. G. & Coghill, R. C. 2011, ‘Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation’, Journal of Neuro- science, 31(14), p. 5540.
2. Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., Sellers, W., Brew, M., & Burney, R. Reproducibility and four year follow-up of a training program in mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain.
3. Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2002). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York: The Guilford Press.
4. Ten Mindful Minutes – Goldie Hawn & Wendy Holden
5. Transcendence – Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation – Norman E. Rosenthal M.D.