Why mindfulness is often misunderstood

Australia is, in general, a nation of health and fitness lovers. Backyard cricket, going for a swim in the surf and even chowing down on the odd green smoothie or two has become second nature to many of us (Ok, ok the kale thing is still taking a bit of getting used to).

So why is it that when it comes to mindfulness, many of us are more inept at tuning out, than tuning in to our inner thoughts?

Middle-aged brunette sitting in lotus poses and meditating at home while following video tutorials.
Why is mindfulness often misunderstood? Photo: Getty

Speaking to Yahoo Lifestyle, mindfulness and meditation facilitator Aisling Quigley says it’s not as complicated as many think.

But first things first: What IS mindfulness?

Mindfulness - what it is and what it isn’t

“Mindfulness is the ability to become fully aware of and attentive to your inner and outer environments (where you are, what you're doing, and how you're feeling), all the while not being overly reactive or judgmental of what you're experiencing at any given moment,” Aisling says.

“There is growing research showing that with regular mindfulness practice we can start to remodel the physical structure of our brain for the better.”


So why is mindfulness often misunderstood?

“Some believe that it is spiritual, mysterious, or reserved only for monks or green juice-loving yogis, or that it's going to instantly relax and calm you. In reality, mindfulness is actually really simple and ordinary. Rather than going into some time-space continuum, it's really just about paying attention," she adds.

"It's also not easy. This is why I believe so many people think it's not for them.”

Aisling Quigley from the sunrise collective
Aisling Quigley runs corporate workshops, retreats, online meditation courses. Photo: Supplied

Mindfulness and the pandemic

So how has mindfulness become more important during a global pandemic? Aisling, who runs corporate workshops, retreats, online meditation courses, and community initiative The Sunrise Collective, says it left us with "no choice but to spend a lot more time with ourselves".

“Collectively we have been through one hell of a rollercoaster ride. There has been so much instability and change," she explains.

"While being mindful is centred around awareness, it also involves seeing things more clearly, as they really are - the good, the bad and the ugly.

"Our ability to meet, and face into each moment and ourselves, to process fully how we're feeling, and go through the hard stuff, also helps us recognise our strength and builds not only our resilience but our ability to be nicer to ourselves and others, which is definitely more important now than ever.”

Listening to your body

Aisling, who used to work in the corporate rat race of media and marketing, knows first hand how important listening to your body is, and how mindfulness can help you tap into that.

“Your typical A-type, I was trying to meet endless expectations to perform,” Aisling recalls.

"I’d been working through the night. Exhausted. Heart racing. Suddenly I found myself on the bathroom floor, the cold tiles against my cheek. I had a panic attack and passed out, and it changed everything.

Aisling Quigley
Aisling says having a panic attack changed everything for her. Photo: Supplied

"That panic attack was a catalyst for me. It led me to finally start prioritising myself and investigating tools and practices to support my wellbeing and mental health. Out of everything I have since experienced, mindfulness and meditation have been the most important tools for me.

"It has taught me that with awareness we gain choice, and whilst I can't always control all that happens around me, I can control how I meet that.”

How mindfulness can help you

Aisling explains: “Mindfulness can help to create better focus & boost productivity, build the capacity to self-regulate your emotions and help you respond vs. react to stress and avoid burnout.

"It helps you become a little kinder to yourself and others, and has many physiological benefits like better sleep, reduced heart-based disease, less stress-related digestion issues and much more.

"The science is there; this stuff works, but like any habit or any positive change worth doing, it takes work.”

Top three tips for practicing mindfulness:

So you want to try practicing mindfulness but aren’t sure where to start? Aisling offers some helpful tips.

  1. “Start small. If you want to start practicing mindfulness through a seated or lying down position, set a timer and focus on your breath and the sensations in your body. You can also use an app like Insight timer or Headspace.

  2. "Wherever you are, be there - outside of meditation try your best to bring your full attention to what you're doing as many times as you can throughout the day. Every time your mind wanders, just bring it back. Mindfulness isn't only about meditation, it's about showing up more fully to your life.

  3. "Be consistent - do it every day. Positive change takes effort and time, but mindfulness is more likely to make long-lasting changes when we do it often. Each day, check in and notice what you're learning about yourself. You’ll be amazed at the impact just those few minutes can make.”

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