Close your eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out.
This instruction is commonly known in meditation practices, which is something that has been rising into an obsession for these past few years. Starting from yoga, to the essential oils, the growing interest in mindfulness has come into its peak.
Coming from Buddhist perspectives, the alternative Eastern spiritual practice has recently gained a lot of popularity—be it the mushrooming yoga mats or the emergence of meditation studios. To be exact, in the last five years in America, it has been a 55% increase in the number of Americans doing yoga, and a 350% increase in the number of Americans meditating.
This massive craze has also been spreading quickly in social media, especially on Instagram, showing mindfulness as the new hype. With a lot of glorifying pictures of people meditating in nature, this new mainstreaming culture gives rise to one major question: does mindfulness deserve all this hype?
Mindfulness is the New Black
Though the roots came from Buddhist meditation, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream through its massive marketing as well as numerous published studies on it. The person who was responsible behind this is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who launched a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in 1979. The program uses meditation to target stress specifically and has shown to be very effective in treating stress-related problems.
Nowadays, we can't deny the fact that mindfulness is often disguised as a way to gain profit. Popularly used in various forms of marketing, mindfulness is now seen as a great business opportunity. This perhaps might be one of the concerns with the trends in the West. With mindfulness becoming a billion-dollar industry, there is a possibility that the practice could be corrupted.
However, all these cons don't necessarily mean that mindfulness is merely a trend. In fact, it is so much more than that.
Beyond the Hype
To look further into this case, let's go back into the roots: what does mindfulness exactly mean?
Mindfulness is the quality of being present by maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, as well as our surrounding environments. To be mindful also means accepting things the way it is—saying that we need to be in tune with our thoughts and feelings without judging them. By practising mindfulness, we are teaching ourselves to live in the present as we become more aware of what we are sensing in the current moment.
Although mindfulness is famously known in the form of meditation practices, mindfulness is more than that: it is a way of living and a way of thinking. Through mindfulness, we are adopting an attitude of openness and acceptance towards our experiences, bodily sensation, a mental image, or inner chatters. That way, when we are faced with a challenge in our daily lives, mindfulness allows us to be more thoughtful in how we react and respond to things. So, instead of suppressing anger or sorrow, mindfulness helps us develop the ability to reassess our emotions without impulsively acting on it.
Aside from that, numerous medical studies on meditation, as well as mindfulness, have quickly jumped on the rise. One of them is a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, which proves that just four days of mindfulness meditation halved pain perception in participants compared to those who did not practice it. It presents compelling evidence for meditation's ability to improve the quality of life for those suffering from pain.
Consequently, if practised right and regularly, meditation and mindfulness could be the answer to our internal problems and stress-related issues. It doesn't only help us to understand our bodies and minds even further, but it also helps us to gradually calm the noise in our heads.
Misconception in Mindfulness Practice: The Rise of Toxic Positivity
While mindfulness brings a lot of benefits, what we are less commonly aware of is the rise of toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity is where an individual is so caught up in wanting to stay elevated and positive that they neglect to sit with any form of pain or suffering. It is often found in many social media contents, with the infamous saying of "good vibes only." This can be very dangerous to ourselves as we keep avoiding or denying our negative emotions, and only choosing to filter out our positive emotions. That way, we are not holding ourselves accountable, and we tend to avoid any problems, as we've been asked to just simply "let it go". Not only becoming harmful to ourselves, but this can also leave friends or partners feeling invalidated or misunderstood.
Meditation may bring us great positivity as well as calming effects if done correctly and regularly. However, what we often don't understand about this is that meditation and mindfulness shouldn't be a practice that disguises and neglect our real emotions.
In life, we are often faced with challenges and struggles. Sometimes, we cannot just simply 'meditate' to make it all okay. While we can always control our reactions and responses to our externals, other times, we cannot control our surroundings or any accident in our lives. The truth is, meditation and mindfulness are not an instant band-aid for our conditions.
When we start to include our negative emotions and treat them with justice, we begin to accept our conditions even more—and that is what mindfulness is actually about. It neither denies any sorrow nor sadness, but it is to accept our whole contentment: the good and the bad, without overly criticizing ourselves. It is to understand our portions: which one we can control and which one we cannot. It is about a healthy balance, fairness, and justice. More than that, it is about increasing our consciousness to walk hand-in-hand with the both good and bad in life, because we realize that by accepting our whole emotions, we can manage to get through anything no matter how hard it may feel.
Despite all the hypes and misconceptions surrounding the mindfulness craze, the root of the practice is to teach us about how to fully accept and listen to ourselves. Because in the end, our mental well-being is as important as our physics, and mindfulness is here to make us aware of it.
Photo by Samuel Silitonga