Mindfulness: the good, the bad and the ugly

First of all, what is mindfulness and is it different to meditation?

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

Meditation can be thought of as a heading and the sub headings would be types of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, insight meditation, sensory meditation, mantra meditation etc. On the other hand, if mindfulness is our topic, mindfulness meditation is just one part of living mindfully. Mindfulness is made up of doing mindfulness meditation and also by living in the moment. If you want more information about mindfulness, there are some soothing, picturesque quotes about mindfulness from the experts here. Of the list, my favourite is this from Sharon Salzberg, whose personal story overcoming childhood trauma is inspiring.

Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.
— Sharon Salzberg

The good

Benefits: Just do 25 minutes for 3 days 

Matthieu Ricard is a French scientist and meditation expert who extensively researches meditation and the brain. He is the author of the bestseller, The Art of Meditation. He talks of the intuition that comes from practicing meditation and how this clarity of mind can present itself in our daily life. He said, “Let us live simply in the freshness of the present moment, in the clarity of pure awakened mind.”

Can you get the benefit of clarity by meditating for just a short time? Yes, even a short term meditation practice can reduce stress levels to contribute to more clarity. In a 2014 randomised control test, 66 people were put into either a control group or into the meditation group. The meditation group completed a brief 3-day (25-min per day) mindfulness meditation training program. The results were that the brief mindfulness meditation training not only buffered stress reactivity, but it also increased cortisol reactivity to stress. This pattern may indicate that initially brief mindfulness meditation fosters greater coping, resulting in reduced stress and greater cortisol reactivity during social stressors. There is a taming of the mind as meditation teaches us to reduce the impact of stressors, quieten our thoughts and remain in the present.

Good news for students who need self discipline and more focus

Did you know even short-term mindfulness meditation training can improve focus, attention and self-regulation. A study was done in 2007 and after only 11 hours total of mindfulness meditation over a month, the subjects improved their attention and self-regulation. That’s great news, the participants only did 11 hours of meditation in total and still experienced the benefits.

 

 

 
 The ugly. When your friends point out that you aren't mindful of others. Or when you feel like everyone else is centred, at peace and you are the only one struggling in a mindfulness class. Image from http://www.pmslweb.com/the-blog/crazy-friday-the-tgif-madness-is-strong/17-funny-doughnut-meditation-cartoon/

The ugly. When your friends point out that you aren't mindful of others. Or when you feel like everyone else is centred, at peace and you are the only one struggling in a mindfulness class. Image from http://www.pmslweb.com/the-blog/crazy-friday-the-tgif-madness-is-strong/17-funny-doughnut-meditation-cartoon/


 

The bad

Meditation is not recommended for people with bipolar, psychosis or with PTSD. This article outlines some negative side effects of mindfulness meditation. I think the bad side of mindfulness meditation can be reduced by discussing your meditation practice with a counsellor and stopping meditation if it is causing you anxiety. Bad things can happen from good things. I see meditation as similar to exercise. Exercise can cause injuries.  But generally, it is beneficial to most people.

The ugly

Mindfulness seems like aiming for perfection - to be non-judgemental and in the present moment. Point number 4 of Julia Cullen's list of why mindfulness sucks is funny. Julia Cullen is a corporate development consultant and she writes,

"Some mindful people have very high expectations from everyone (and themselves), but unfortunately fail permanently to live up to it themselves. So maybe better not talk about it so much, and accept we all are human."

I am sick of hearing about mindfulness 

This overtalking about mindfulness reminds me of vegans. When you type into Google, "why do vegans always talk about being vegan" there are 12.5 million results to the search. If you click through a post on Quora, an online counselling company has written a cheeky comment to the thread saying, if anyone is struggling with their friends always talking about how they are vegan, they can consider online therapy because you are worth it.

In summary,

  • Even a short term mindfulness meditation practice of 25 min for 3 days can reduce stress levels, giving you more clarity.
  • Good news for students wanting more focus. After only 11 hours total of mindfulness meditation over a month, peoples improved their attention and self-regulation which are the two factors needed for focus.
  • Some people can get trapped in chasing perfection, being perfectly mindful and non-judgemental. 
  • Meditation is not recommended for people with bipolar, psychosis or with PTSD