Mindfulness for Sceptics: An Introduction from a Former Sceptic

MIndfulness for Sceptics from Attuned Psychology. Image: Photo by luci.cat on Reshot

I’m writing this article on Mindfulness for Sceptics because it’s finally time for me to admit the truth … I had previously been very sceptical of mindfulness.

I would hear people speaking about the ‘life-changing’ impacts of mindfulness practice, and internally roll my eyes.

In my head, I would see a mixture of 1960’s hippies, Kombi vans and love beads, and modern day ‘hippies’ shopping organic, drinking kombucha and trying the hot new styles of yoga (ironically, things I do actually enjoy!).

Mindfulness seemed like a lot of work, time-consuming, and a bit… fluffy.

A short history of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years, either by itself, or as a part of Eastern religious and non-religious traditions, including Buddhism, yoga or meditation.

While mindfulness can be practiced on its own, its roots can be traced back to Buddhism.

Buddhism is seen as a way of life more than a religion, with the Buddhist path guiding followers to lead a moral life, to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and to develop wisdom and understanding.

Some believe by following this way of life, you can reach true happiness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is often credited with the transfer of mindfulness from East to West.

He studied meditation under Buddhist teachers, and then went on to adapt these mindfulness teachings to develop the structured Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program.

Kabat-Zinn removed all connections between mindfulness and Buddhism, and moved mindfulness to a more scientific framework.

This all sounds amazing, right? But as someone who struggled to get through the first chapter of “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama, I just found that my over-thinking, over-analyzing mind would not let me buy into these ideas.

My mind told me that I was too practical, too busy; I wasn’t an herbal tea drinking flower child, so why bother? It would not help me, it was a waste of time, I wouldn’t be any good at it!

Ironically, this incessant chatter from my mind is the very reason that practicing mindfulness was perfect for me!

My mind: “You don’t have the time to practice mindfulness – it would take forever!”
Reality: Mindfulness can be practiced at any time, for any length of time. 5 minutes is more than enough – and we all have 5 minutes free at some stage.

Lets give one a go!

Mindfulness for Sceptics – some exercises

Try Mindful Breathing: Get comfortable wherever you are, and focus on your breathing. Close your eyes, or focus softly on a spot in front of you. Start by breathing in and out, slowly. Breath in for 3 seconds, out for 3 seconds, in through your nose, out through your mouth. Watch your breathing purposefully, letting any thoughts or worries go. If thoughts pop in (which they will!), let them be there, acknowledge them and then gently return your focus to the breathing. Focus your awareness of the sensations of breathing. If you can do this for 1 minute, then well done!

Next time, maybe try 2 or 3 minutes!

My mind: “Mindfulness doesn’t help! It’s just doing nothing deliberately.”
Reality: While it often seems like mindfulness is doing nothing and sitting still, it couldn’t be further from the truth! On the surface, you are doing everything deliberately, staying present and being aware.

However, a lot is going on behind the scenes too! Mindfulness has a myriad of scientific evidence behind the practice.

The science of Mindfulness

A 2011 study at Harvard looked at people who had never meditated before, and got them to practice daily brief mindfulness exercises.

The research showed that the gray matter in their brains linked with wellbeing and compassion actually grew!

Plus, the grey matter linked with stress got smaller!

Other research has shown mindfulness techniques can develop the area of the brain that regulates attention, improves the ability to regulate emotions, and can reduce physical pain.

My inner sceptic loves scientific evidence and physical changes.

My mind: “You don’t even know what mindfulness is!”
Reality: My mind is trying to make it complicated. Mindfulness is being aware and noticing the present moment, non-judgmentally. It means I am fully present, and not reacting or judging what is happening around me, or inside my head.

This sounds simple, and it is!

Mindfulness in practice

While Mindfulness is simple, it is like any skill, and takes practice.

If I learned to drive yesterday, I wouldn’t become a rally driver today!

Think of it as building a muscle, every time you practice mindfulness, it gets stronger and stronger! Make it a daily routine, 5 minutes a day!

Whether your inner thoughts are similar to mine, you have been curious about mindfulness, or you’re already a full-blown practicing guru, there are some links to other mindfulness exercises.

We already touched on Mindful Breathing before, which is a great first step!

There are many mindfulness techniques and strategies, for both the practical sceptic and the hippie at heart.

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, acceptance or stress reduction, a psychologist can help!

Please feel free to contact us at Attuned Psychology today to make an appointment with one of our friendly and experienced psychologists.

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