Is mindfulness only a trend?

Is mindfulness only a trend?

Lots of people have asked me, as someone really into mindfulness and meditation, whether it’s only a trend. Is mindfulness a fad, nothing more than a metaphysical fidget spinner, or is there something inherent to the concept of meditation and mindfulness that it cannot be a fad? A lot of writers, including some in the Guardian, have argued that mindfulness is a way for people to simply sell you things and piggyback off Eastern traditions and spirituality. Some have used the term McMindfulness to describe the commercialisation of mindfulness and eastern spiritual practices.

In my view, mindfulness cannot possibly be a trend. Certainly, there will be some people out there who don’t take mindfulness seriously, and only use it to sell products or for other ulterior motives. But most people who practice mindfulness take it very seriously and have incorporated it into our lives for years. Can something that is derived from centuries old meditation practices really be considered a trend or a fad?

Some people have argued that if you divorce mindfulness from its spiritual context and make it a secular activity, it devalues what mindfulness and meditation is really about. Meditation, these people argue, comes from Buddhist traditions, and without attaching the relevant Buddhist spirituality and spiritual texts, mindfulness becomes a pale shadow of what it is meant to be.

I disagree. You don’t have to be spiritual to get benefits out of mindfulness, and indeed, many secular societies and groups have looked into the benefits of mindfulness and discovered that they still apply even when meditation practice is divorced from its context in Buddhism. Mindfulness would be ridiculously successful for a trend – hundreds of millions of people practice mindfulness and meditation, and meditation centres are established across the world. There are five in my city alone.

Either way, perhaps the real takeaway is that it doesn’t much matter if mindfulness is a trend. Who cares? If it benefits us to use it as a tool for improving our mental wellbeing, I don’t much mind if it’s a trend or if it isn’t. I’ve found a huge benefit from it, and whether people think of it as a fad or not doesn’t affect that.

How exercise promotes mindfulness

Exercise is a great way to promote mindfulness

Exercise. Urgh. We all know it’s good for us, and most of us really don’t like it. It’s a bit like mindfulness, in a way. At first. We’re all beginning to gradually accept that mindfulness and meditation are good for us too, but that doesn’t stop most of us from trying to get out of doing it. Something I’ve noticed is that, while you’re exercising, it’s pretty easy to be mindful. Focusing on the breath and the body becomes a lot easier when you’re quickly losing your breath and your heartrate is going into overdrive.

Different types of exercise aid mindfulness in different ways. When you’re swimming, it becomes quite simple to notice the feeling of the water on your body, and notice the escalated pulse, and experience the smells and sounds of the pool. Playing football lets you focus on the green of the grass and the feeling of the wind in your hair as you run. Exercise, in its own way, is one of the best times at which you can be mindful. And combining exercise and mindfulness is a sure-fire way to get a huge dopamine boost and feel good about yourself.

Another advantage of exercise as a form of mindfulness is that it isn’t impossibly difficult to incorporate exercise into your everyday life, which means that mindfulness is incorporated into your everyday life by proxy. If you cycle to work or school every day, and you’re able to mindfully cycle and be aware of the feelings in your body and the road ahead of you, you’ve found a simple way to add mindfulness into your life every single day. I’ve written before a list of how to incorporate mindfulness into your life every day and why it’s so important, and exercise would make a fine addition to that list.

One thing I used to do was do my daily workout, and then have a meditation session directly afterwards. The reason that this came so easily to me was because, while exercising, I was already hyper aware of the experience and the present moment, and so meditation directly afterwards felt like a natural continuation of that. When you have just woken up or whatever and go directly into a meditation session, it can often feel like you’ve gone straight from one thing (sleep, work, etc.) and into a completely different thing. Meditation doesn’t feel like much else, but I do think that when you’re exercising you do get some of that same feeling that you get from meditation and mindfulness, especially if you’re making a conscious effort to exercise mindfully.

Exercising is fantastic. It makes you feel great, it makes you healthier, and it makes you look better. There is nothing bad I can say about adding exercise to your daily routine. But if you’re able to combine that exercise with mindfulness, either by exercising mindfully or by making a meditation session the thing you become used to doing after taking up your exercise, the benefits of exercise will be multiplied.

Why spirituality is so important even if you’re not religious

Spirituality can be helpful for everyone

Are you religious? No? Me neither, honestly. I like the idea of religion and I sometimes feel envious of people who get to have a community that they feel part of, and I even often envy the idea that other people have an obvious purpose bestowed upon them by their belief in God. But one thing I don’t feel envious of religious people for is their spirituality – because I have it too. Spiritually is often portrayed as being inextricably linked with religion: you can’t be spiritual unless you believe in some kind of higher power. For me, this argument is about as persuasive as the argument that people can’t be moral without religion. That is to say, it doesn’t persuade me at all.

Spirituality is, at its core, about finding meaning in your life. It’s about believing in the important of something beyond your own self-interest. It’s about introspection and quiet moments of reflection. These moments of reflection can take the form of prayer to a God, but they can also take the form of meditation or just taking some time to think about what you’re doing with your life and how you’re planning to get to wherever it is that you want to be.

One of the best ways to find some kind of spirituality is by figuring out what you believe the end you’re pursing in life is. What I mean by that is, to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing in your day to day life. What is it that you’re pursuing? You might be living in order to provide a happy home for your family, you might be living in order to alleviate worldwide poverty, you might be living in order to make great things that other people can enjoy. It doesn’t much matter what it is, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t immediately seem supremely important in the context of the world, what matters is that you’re able to say: this is it. This is my purpose, and I’m living to accomplish it. This is what religious people have in their religion, and you can find in something else.

Meditation is also important when thinking about how to be spiritual. Taking that time to focus on yourself and your experiences and your feelings accomplishes roughly the same thing as prayer, and that’s so important for your mental wellbeing. Meditating is a way of taking some time out and being with yourself.

Another aspect of spirituality that’s important in the lives of religious people is community: when a religious person goes to Church or Synagogue or whatever it is, they have a community of people who they know care about them and are interested in their lives. Non-religious people can find communities of friends in the form of societies, clubs, interest groups, etc. Finding a community that cares about you is a great way to bolster your mental health.

Being spiritual is important for everyone. Finding a quiet moment to reflect, finding a purpose in life, and finding a community that cares about you and loves you. If you can do these things, you can have all the benefits of spirituality that religious people have without having to become religious yourself (if you don’t want to!)

Five top tips for meditation at home

Meditation at home can be just as effective as at a centre

I’ve always found it easier to go and meditate at a meditation group than I have to meditate at home. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because the place you’ll go to partake in a meditation group will inevitably be designed to make it as meditation-friendly as possible. In my view, one of the ways you can make sure that you’re more mindful at home and are more likely to meditate regularly is by making your home similar to the kind of places you’d go to do meditation in a group. Here are some tips for how to do that.

1) Make sure that you’ll be free from distractions during your session

At a meditation centre, there are strict rules that nobody is to come in during the session. You won’t be distracted by some bozo waltzing in and asking what the code for the internet is. Not so at home. Your spouse, your flatmate, or your kids are liable to come in at any moment. Your phone could ring. So, what should you do? The obvious answer is to wait until nobody is home and put your phone on Airplane mode. If you cannot avoid meditation at a time when other people are in the house, kindly request that they give you ten or fifteen minutes without distraction so that you’re able to meditate

2) Get meditation pillows

Meditation on a hard chair is fine. Meditating on a sofa or a bed is also fine. But these things aren’t optimal. Whenever you go to a meditation centre they’ll have these pillows, and they’ll advise you on the proper posture to meditate with the pillows. I bought a couple of these pillows online and I have to say, it does make a difference. Meditation for long periods of time with comfortable pillows specifically designed for meditation is great. It makes it so much easier and I’m much less prone to be distracted.

3) Wear the right clothes

Meditation in a suit is bit antithetical to the purpose of meditating. That’s not some kind of jab at people who work in business or need to wear a suit to work, it’s a comment on how important it is to be wearing relaxing clothes while you meditate. Nobody wants to be distracted by the feeling of tight trousers pushing into your stomach. It’s so much easier to meditate properly when you’re wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothes.

4) Use guided videos on Youtube

There are so many great guided meditations on youtube, I don’t need to bother linking to them because a search on Youtube for ‘guided meditation’ will give you plenty to start with. Instead of just going straight into silence, begin your meditation practice by putting on a guided video, often from a real Buddhist monk with years and years of experience, just like at a Buddhist centre or secular meditation centre.

5) Get some incense

This can be a controversial one because a lot of people don’t like smells while they’re meditating. I like them because they act as something to focus on and I’m easily distracted if I’m only focusing on my own breath. For this reason, I highly recommend buying incense and trying it for only a few of your sessions, and seeing if you see an improvement.

How watching movies can be a form of meditation

Watching movies can be a form of meditation

What exactly is meditation? When most of us imagine meditation, we imagine sitting around, perhaps with some impossibly hard to achieve posture, maybe with some incense and a few meditation pillows. This perception of meditation as a hippie-dippy new-age pursuit is pernicious, because meditation (and mindfulness) can be achieved by doing the same things that we do every day, but in a mindful way. If we brush our teeth and are fully aware of the fact that we are brushing our teeth, not lost in thought about today’s work meetings or yesterday’s arguments, we are being mindful, and we are meditating.

One of the best ways to meditate, in my opinion, is by watching movies. This can be done at home, but I think the best way to achieve a state of mindfulness is by actually going to your local cinema and watching a film. The reason watching a movie is so great as a form of meditation, especially at the cinema, is because it’s so easy to engage fully with a movie. When you’re at the cinema it’s pretty much impossible to check your phone every few minutes (I would hope! I know there are a few people who annoyingly do check their phones all the time while at the movie theatre). Distracting thoughts are less likely to permeate into your skull when you’re being blasted by a massive sound system. Okay, that doesn’t exactly sound pleasant, but you get my point.

Movies are also a good way to cultivate compassion. When we go to the cinema, most movies give us an opportunity to engage with the characters, and take on their problems and feelings for an hour or two. If you go to see a film about an Indonesian skateboarder, it’s likely that you’re entering a world you know nothing about. For a brief amount of time, you’re transported into this whole other universe and get to think about the problems of others that you didn’t even know existed.

Meditation, at its core, is about focusing on the present experience instead of being focused on the future, or on the past. Movies are a way that most of us do this very often. That isn’t to say that it’s incredibly easy to be mindful while we’re at the cinema, we can still get distracted and we can still lose track of the plot because we’re thinking about other things. But it’s easier to bring our focus back to the trials and tribulations of a character on the big screen than it is to bring our focus back to the breath during a meditation session.

I love movies. I read a study a few years ago that suggested that people who go to the cinema regularly are generally happier and calmer, and I can totally believe it. By taking the time out of our stressful lives to watch a movie, we allow ourselves to become totally engrossed in someone else’s life: this allows us to cultivate empathy and be mindful in a way that’s relatively easy, and fun!

Five simple ways to be mindful every single day

Mindfulness, for an idea so simple, can be pretty difficult to implement in your life every day. Really, all mindfulness involves is taking some time out of your day to just be in the moment and experience life, not worrying forward to the future or living through the anxieties of the past, but simply existing in the now. Being mindful is so, so important for your health and wellbeing.

It sounds pretty simple, and as a concept perhaps it is, but in reality introducing this idea of experiencing the moment rather than getting lost in thought or anxious about the future or the past can be really, really tough.

So, here are five simple ways to introduce mindfulness to your life every day. They are simple, but they aren’t necessarily easy. Being mindful takes dedication, and consistency. In a way, being mindful is like doing push-ups or taking a stroll. Over time, your mental muscles get stronger through consistent practice and exercise. Doing a push-up, once you learn the form, is simple, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to persevere with doing push-ups everyday!

1) Concentrate on the water running over your body as you take your daily shower.

Most people take a shower every day (I hope!) While you are taking your shower, focus on the feeling of water streaming onto your body and be aware of the physical sensation of the drips and drops making their way down your arms and legs. This is a really easy routine to get into because it wedges itself into your day-to-day life.

2) Be mindful while you brush your teeth

Similarly, almost everybody brushes their teeth everyday. Not once, but twice! So, this gives you to opportunities to be in the moment and experience the feeling of the toothbrush and the taste and smell of the toothpaste in your mouth.

3) Be mindful while cooking

Cooking is a great way to cultivate mindfulness. If you cook everyday, and I highly recommend that you do (it’s a great way to save money as well as incorporating mindfulness into your life), concentrate on the sensations of cutting the vegetables and seasoning the food. Cooking can be stressful, and an easy way to help alleviate this stress is to try and be mindful while making your meal.

4) Be mindful while eating

Following on from this, it’s great to be mindful while you actually consume your meal. Studies have shown that not only is mindfulness itself great for your mental health, but partaking in mindful eating can mean that a more appropriate amount of food is consumed. This is a fantastic way of eating more healthily without attaching an emotional or moral baggage to food.

5) Be mindful while listening to music

Listening to music isn’t something that many people associate with mindfulness or meditation, but it should be. Many of us listen to music everyday as a way of zoning out, but instead you ought to try zoning in on the music that you’re listening to. Be aware of the different instruments in your songs, and try to really listen to all the lyrics in one of your favourites!

These five simple ways of incorporating mindfulness into your life every single day make mindfulness a routine rather than a chore. Mindfulness can certainly be tough, but by making it a habit we can make it easier to improve our mental health  and general wellbeing one day a time.