Mindfulness is an important component of my holistic approach to health and wellness. It’s a big part of everything I teach and share, and it’s a big part of my own daily life. If you’re new to the idea of mindfulness, it can be a little bit confusing at first. So, in this post, I’ll answer the top four most burning questions about mindfulness my clients routinely ask.
Q 1: Isn’t mindfulness the same thing as meditation?
A: Not really. They’re definitely related, but the difference comes down to focus. Mindfulness has an external focus, while meditation has an internal focus.
Meditation focuses on the inner self. When you meditate you get still and go deep within to find calm and, ultimately, nothingness.
Mindfulness focuses on the external environment. It brings your attention to what you’re doing, sensing, or perceiving right this very minute.
Sometimes it’s helpful to think of mindfulness as a doorway to meditation. Mindfulness practices can help you calm your mind and reduce your stress in ways that enhance your meditation efforts. There’s even a type of meditation called mindfulness meditation. If you’re having a difficult time with meditation, try mindfulness practices first. Once you master mindfulness, meditation gets easier and easier.
Q 2: How can I tell if I’m doing mindfulness right?
A: You’re doing mindfulness right if you’re doing it. It can be tempting to evaluate your practice, compare yourself to others, judge, reject, and criticize your developing skills and experiences. This will defeat your efforts from the beginning, so don’t go there! You have permission to let go of judgment. No one is grading you or auditing you on your mindfulness skills.
If you’re intentionally being mindful, and you focus deviates or your mind wanders, simply refocus in intention to be mindful. Keep gently and and kindly returning to the present moment by observing and bringing your attention back to the external object of your focus (your breath, a candle, a flower, an image, etc).
So many health practices involve tracking and logging numbers and assessing whether they are within a certain range or not. Not so with mindfulness. Don’t worry about quantifying how good or bad your mindfulness is. There is no right or wrong or normal range in mindfulness. There is only the present moment, and your experience of it. It is what it is, as it is, and that’s all there is.
You’re doing mindfulness right if you’re making an effort to be mindful. You can’t do mindfulness wrong, but you can choose not to do it at all. And I’m here to discourage that!
Q 3: Do tai chi and yoga count as mindfulness practices?
A: Sometimes. Physical activities like tai chi and yoga that integrate the body and mind can become fantastic mindfulness practices. But they’re not necessarily mindfulness practices in and of themselves. That’s because its possible to do tai chi or yoga (or any other physical activity) without being mindful at all. If you’re just going through the motions of the tai chi form or the yoga poses, and all the while you’re thinking about your to-do list or what you’ll fix for dinner, then you’re not being mindful.
You can do any physical activity in a non-mindful way. Which is what most people do. You know you’re not being mindful when your attention is anywhere other than focused on the activity itself. You can choose to do any activity mindfully. Or not.
Mind-body activities like tai chi and yoga are tailor made for mindfulness, but only if you do them mindfully. So even though tai chi and yoga were designed to bring awareness to the body, mind, and movement, you’ll still need to consciously and intentionally bring your mind to the current moment over and over again in order to claim that you’re practicing these activities mindfully.
Q 4: Can I integrate mindfulness into my existing wellness practices?
A: Yes! It’s like any other healthy habit. Start small, attach it to other activities you’re already doing, and reap the rewards. Take opportunities to be mindful multiple times throughout your day and you’ll find that your day goes much more smoothly, and you’ll have more energy at the end of it. You’ll also find that your mindfulness practices get easier and easier. Pretty soon, mindfulness will naturally be a part of your life.
On the flip side, as is the case when you’re learning any new skill or building any new habit, you might find your motivation slipping after the novelty wears off. The key is to be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack! If you fall off the mindfulness wagon, simply get back on. Change your routine. Focus on mindfulness itself for a couple of days. Try a mindfulness app. Recruit a mindfulness accountability partner. Try a new anchor to associate with mindfulness. If you can begin to feel like you’re making progress, you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
Of course, this brief Q&A is just the tip of the mindfulness iceberg. Some people make base their entire careers on the topic of mindfulness, so there can be a lot to it. It can also be simple if you allow yourself to let go, take action, and give it a chance to work. If you have additional questions, leave a comment on this post, or contact me here. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Meanwhile, here’s to your mindfulness practice.