Five Common Misconceptions About Practicing Mindfulness

Peaceful picture of a small, white Buddha figurine with pretty rocks laying on ground.

In previous posts, we’ve discussed the many and varied benefits of mindfulness, particularly for those struggling with anxiety and depression. Mindfulness has been shown to assist in improving one’s mental and physical health. In fact, according to survey results from a 2011 research article titled “Doing and Being: Mindfulness, Health, and Quiet Ego Characteristics Amongst Buddhist Practitioners,” published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, there are 5 key ways that mindfulness training can improve our overall wellbeing. 

  • Reducing stress – this can help lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression, thereby allowing us to ultimately feel happier.
  • Improving our social relationships with others, including family, friends, and even strangers.
  • Strengthening our immune systems due to lessened physiological stress and negative emotional impact.
  • Increasing our self-awareness. Helping us become flexible, clear, and practical towards our realities. This also allows us to pay better attention to our consciousness in the present and address our needs as they arise.
  • Opening us up to new, diverse experiences. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce feelings of paranoia and neuroticism, thereby enabling us to try new things without feeling limited by fear or worry.

However, despite the multiple benefits of practicing mindfulness, there are a few misconceptions that seem to persist regarding the practice. These misconceptions can misrepresent what exactly mindfulness is as well as how it works. Thus, in order to better understand mindfulness and the subsequent practice of mindfulness therapy, we should learn to recognize and distinguish between the facts and myths associated with mindfulness.

Below are 5 of the most commonly held misconceptions about mindfulness and mindfulness-based treatments:

Mindfulness is a Fringe Practice 

Perhaps one of the most harmful myths is that mindfulness is a fringe practice, almost on par with cultish behavior. However, in the last couple of decades, mindfulness-based treatments have served as somewhat of a “third wave” in cognitive-behavioral treatment. As such, many practitioners, including Dr. Seth Gillihan, clinical professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, are supporters of this method.

Despite its connections to the often decried “new age” spirituality that has been growing in popularity as of late, mindfulness remains its own distinct practice. That being said, many religions may incorporate mindfulness into their teachings and methods, but the act of being mindful is accessible to everyone, regardless of spirituality or lack thereof. As Dr. Gillihan explains : “mindfulness is available to everyone at every time, and is as normal as breathing.”

Mindfulness is Religious

Building off of our previous point, many individuals insist that mindfulness is strictly religious. However, this isn’t true. As we’ve discussed, many religions do incorporate mindfulness or some variation into their practices. This often leads to the assumption that one must be affiliated with a particular religion, or with religion in general, in order to benefit from mindfulness itself.

That being said, although many religions practice some form of mindfulness, the concept itself is not inherently biased towards any one religion. You do not have to follow any particular religion, nor do you have to be religious at all, to benefit from mindfulness or mindfulness-based treatments. Dr. Gillihan adds that “Whatever our beliefs and values, we can practice them more fully through a mindful approach.”

Practicing Mindfulness Means You Are Weak

Yet another toxic belief is that mindfulness, or similar methods that advocate mind-over-matter and/or the unification of the body and mind, are weak. For some, mindfulness represents failing to take a stance on an issue, thereby being too passive or “wishy-washy.” This argument comes from a perspective that equates strength with fighting, rather than with fortifying one’s own psychological resilience.

Recognizing this, it’s important to realize that mindfulness, despite any outward appearances of ease, can actually be a challenging process. This is because practicing mindfulness includes letting go of well-established habits, mindsets, and behaviors. This process of letting go can be especially hard. Learning to relinquish the past and focus our energies on improving our futures is anything but weak. In fact, by practicing mindfulness, we are directing our strength and resolve towards ways that serve us, rather than fighting without any direction.

Mindfulness Contradicts Science

Similar to the belief that mindfulness is inherently religious, there are some who may argue that mindfulness actually contradicts science. Luckily, this misunderstanding is one of the easiest to dispel. This is because a large number of studies, many of which were quite rigorous, have proven the effectiveness of mindfulness and mindfulness-based treatments. In essence, the scientific foundation for practicing mindfulness is very strong; certainly strong enough to prove that the practice itself has legitimate benefits rather than acting on a sort of placebo effect.

Mindfulness is just Meditation

This misconception is one of the more understandable: many people assume that mindfulness just means meditation. The reason for this is obvious – meditation is one of the most common forms of mindfulness practice. However, although meditation is, in fact, incredibly beneficial, any activity can prove to be mindful so long as the individual is able to be reflective and act mindfully during.

Activities like holding a child, going for a walk, hammering a nail, or talking with someone can all potentially be mindful depending on the individual and how they process their present state of mind and surroundings. Practices such as meditation are more formal and, while successful, are not the only way to train ourselves to be mindful. Growing research evidence supports the idea that learning to be mindful during our daily activities can be almost just as beneficial as taking the time to properly meditate.

Exposing Mindfulness Myths Removes an Obstacle

When we dispel harmful myths such as these we ultimately open ourselves up to a new opportunity to improve ourselves and our overall wellbeing. Mindfulness can be key to removing mental and emotional barriers which keep us from living our lives in a meaningful way. Being consistent about any form of treatment, including mindfulness, can be challenging at times, but the rewards make the practice itself worth it. Therefore we need not pay heed to any misgivings about the practice which, rather than serving a constructive purpose, only exist to make us doubt ourselves and our true potential.

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