Mindfulness Frequently Asked Questions

Mindfulness: Some Frequently Asked Questions

(Excerpt from the upcoming book: “50 Best Mindful Practices – Quick & Easy Ways to Reduce Anxiety and Create Calm” by Maureen Fitzgerald, PhD (www.MaureenFitzgerald.com)

 “Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposely paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moments thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives based on our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness and insight.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living, 2004, 2


1. What is mindfulness

Mindfulness means being fully aware or awake.  It means being aware of your body, of your thoughts, your senses and all of your experiences. It also means being awake to your reactions, emotions your impact on those around you.  Mindfulness is about paying attention on purpose is a friendly non-judging way, so we can experience life more fully. We get in touch with our bodies, we pay attention to our monkey-minds; and we reconnect with our emotions.

The mindful approach to stress and anxiety is to understand what is happening and then approach it with new perspective.  It is about being conscious of what is happening in our bodies and in our minds and noticing how they are controlling us.

Mindfulness is not about being right or wrong. It’s about practicing techniques that will allow you to see yourself and your world more clearly, so you can respond more appropriately.  It’s about admitting that everyone suffers and everyone can learn by being mindful how to relate and respond to that suffering. We all have the capacity to heal inside. We just need to learn how.

2. What are mindful practices?

Mindful practices include both formal and informal techniques to help you be more aware.  From meditating on a cushion to day-to-day practices, each of the practices is designed to help you be more awake to what is here right now, in the moment.  Through mindfulness practices we learn how to listen to our bodies, our thoughts, our emotions and all of our life experiences so we can better use this information to embrace life and live with more ease. By being mindful we can reduce stress, but more importantly, we can develop powerful habits and ways of thinking, feeling and responding.

3. Where did the practices come from? 

Mindfulness practices are rooted in 3000 year old meditative and contemplative traditions. Although originally only permitted to be practiced by a chosen few, these practices are now available to all, regardless of religion or belief system.

For many years, all around the world researchers, doctors, therapists, teachers, nurses, and educators have been developing and testing the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation programs.

In 1979 Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn a molecular biologist founded the now-popular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. His early research on anxiety and chronic pain showed significant reduction in stress. That program is now in over 250 hospitals around the world.  Dr Daniel Siegel and others developed another programs referred to as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Lay people and teachers who research social and emotional learning (SEL) continue to create various programs in classrooms and communities for students everywhere.

Meanwhile may scholars and sages have been refining the ancient philosophies and making them accessible for the general public. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist monk, Sharon Salzburg and Jack Kornfield are such leaders. All their books are well worth the read.

4. Isn’t mindfulness a Buddhist practice?

Mindful practices are not related to any formal religion although many are based on ancient Buddhist meditation practices. Most formal religions embrace these contemplative practices, particularly silence and meditation. Many modern body-based practices involve mindfulness such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong.

5. What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Research shows that mindfulness has significant benefits including the following.

  • Mindfulness reduces anxiety , creates states of calm and build resilience
  • Mindfulness enhances the ability to concentrate and focus
  • Mindfulness makes us feel more alive and more empathetic
  • Mindfulness promotes acceptance, less judging and more open-mindedness

Over time mindfulness can create positive states of mind that allow us greater insight and understanding about ourselves and the world around us. 

6. Isn’t mindfulness just meditation, relaxation or zoning out?

Mindfulness based meditation can involve sitting still and being silent, but it does not mean zoning out. Indeed it is the opposite. Although your body is relaxed, you are directly relating to all of your experiences. You are not running away from your problems or sitting in a trance. Unlike basic relaxation techniques, mindfulness heightens our awareness of the present moment and encourages us to embrace, not avoid all our experiences, whether good or bad, moment by moment.

7. How does mindfulness work?

In Western culture we tend to think of anxiety and stress as a disease or something that needs to be cured. We are told that anxiety is a personal problem, that it is temporary and that it will go away. We believe that we simply need to be stronger to be able to cope with day to day stresses. We think we need to be more tolerant and not be so sensitive to “normal” difficulties. We turn to therapists in droves, we take pills and alcohol and we buy books on how to be more resilient. And if you visit a western-trained counsellor you will likely be urged to deal with your stress in three overlapping ways. You will probably be told that you need to think differently and could benefit from CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or replace your problematic thoughts with better ones. You may be told that your emotions are out of proportion and could learn to feel differently by learning body relaxation and mind control techniques. Finally, you might be told to behave differently by learning how to act out more positive physical or verbal reactions. Under this Western ideology, we tell people that there is something wrong with them and then we tell them what they need to do to “get better.”  In other words, if you are suffering, we not only tell you that you are the problem, but also that you must change – often quickly. Although it sounds strange, we essentially tell you that you are not good enough just as you are.But the truth is that anxiety and stress are by products of living in this world. They are human conditions that never really go away. We all experience illness, aging, death and uncertainty. They are unavoidable facts of life. We all suffer stress from these events to some degree, the only difference being how well wisely we respond. In other words, do we freak out, panic and knee-jerk or do we approach difficulties with mindfulness, wisdom and calm?Mindfulness is not about telling you how to change or to be better. It is about acknowledging and being open to all that is happening. It is about noticing and observing yourself in great detail so you are able to reflect and eventually respond in a way that is more skillful.

8. Where should I do to start?

Buy my book and other wonderful books by people like Pema Chodron and Tara Brach. And if you are keen to be even more mindful I would suggest watching videos and listening to audios. You could also take a basic course in mindfulness meditation or MBSR and eventually join a regular sitting or study group.

Some final words

Although life seems to be zooming by, the real richness of life becomes available when you are present for it. The more you pay attention to what is happening here and now, the more you can enjoy life and not dwell on the future or the past. When you are being present you feel a sense of peace and ease. You relax and release stress. You don’t have to stop what you are doing. You just have to mentally shift and say, I am here. I am mindful!

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