All The Reasons Why Mindfulness Is Not a Waste of Time

You just finished teaching a particularly challenging group exercise class and decide to end the session with a bit of quiet reflection. Your students aren’t used to the tradition of Savasana, and some have even admitted to you that they dislike yoga, so you decide to ease them in gently, offering options for different ways to sit or lay down and a variety of stretches that will likely feel amazing after that killer glute series you incorporated into today’s class.

As everyone is settling in, finding the rhythm to their own breath, some even closing their eyes, you notice one individual looks frustrated. They fumble with their gym bag, try disguising their annoyance as being late for a meeting, give you a short nod, and slip out the door. At the start of the next class they confront you, “Are you going to be doing that yoga stuff again???”

How would you react? You might be a little caught off guard, offended even, especially if you yourself have long felt the benefits of a mindfulness and meditation. But the reality is, meditation is not for everyone. What I mean by that is, all types of meditation are not for everyone. And this is the exact reason why we must be creative as fitness professionals when sharing mindfulness with our students.

I recently read a blog post that surprised me. It laid out eight reasons why meditation is “a complete waste of time.” While at first I found myself frustrated at how much of meditation, and mindfulness as a whole, was misunderstood within this post, I couldn’t help but remember my first interactions with meditation. I had hated it. My anxious mind thought my time could be better spent DOING something, anything else, other than sitting quietly with my own thoughts.

It’s no wonder I didn’t want to be alone with my own thoughts. The reality was, my thoughts weren’t very kind. Why would anyone want to sit alone with their biggest bully?

Many people struggle with practicing mindfulness because they too believe it to be a waste of time. What’s surprising to many, is that all the reasons we have to not practice mindfulness, are also all the reasons why we should practice mindfulness.

The lack of time, the stress that keeps mounting, the burnout, the sleepless nights that turn into days where we’re wishing we could rest our heads…all of these are reasons to practice mindfulness and they are also the exact reasons that keep us from initially giving it a try.

The irony is that in order for me to even recognize the critical tone I’d become accustomed to using with myself, to even begin to understand the deep rooted history of guilt and shame I had been using to “motivate” myself into burning the candle at both ends, quiet reflection was exactly what I needed. Yet seemingly everything I did was to avoid being present with myself because I just hadn’t found a way yet to make mindfulness feel accessible.

This is our challenge as fitness professionals who want to share the benefits of mindfulness. We must meet our clients where they are at and we find what works best for them. It took me a long time to realize mindfulness wasn’t about forcing myself to be still.

Before I continue, I feel it important to clarify that meditation, just one form of practicing mindfulness, is NOT…

  • sitting alone in a room free from any distractions,
  • isolating yourself with your thoughts,
  • remaining still when everything in your body is itching to move,
  • punishing yourself when your mind wanders,
  • the cure all for any and all of your problems

Let me repeat that last one: meditation alone will not solve all your problems, cure your anxiety and depression, and miraculously help you manifest your dreams. Sorry. I wish it were that easy.

What mindfulness can do, and what academic studies and scientific research has backed up, is…

  • help an individual cope with symptoms of depression and even reduce the likelihood of recurring bouts of depression (1). Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues actually created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program for patients diagnosed with depression.
  • minimize irritability and anxiety (2)
  • improve memory and reaction times (3)
  • reduce key indicators of chronic stress, like hypertension (4)
  • boost the immune system to help ward off the flu and common cold (5)
  • help recovery from drug and alcohol dependence (6)

Despite all of the research that supports the benefits of mindfulness, it’s not a miracle pill, and it’s not easy to do. Practicing mindfulness, slowing down and remaining present with oneself, goes against almost everything our modern productivity obsessed world endorses. It’s difficult. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

Mindfulness, and in particular meditation, can be messy. It requires us to face ourselves and look at the reality of the present moment without rose-tinted glasses. And sometimes we don’t always like what we see. But how can we expect change to ever occur if we can’t first clearly see and accept what is happening.

The messy, and the difficult, nature of mindfulness is what discourages many from practicing and keeps many away after their first “failed” attempts.

But the good news is. There is no “right” way to practice, and in turn this means there is no “wrong” way to practice mindfulness. Anything can be a meditation. Anything that allows us to tune in to our present experience, to see how we are interacting with and influencing others, to become aware of our thoughts and emotions or how we are reacting vs. responding to our environment…anything that helps us do this is an act of mindfulness.

What does this mean for you as a fitness professional?

We get to be creative. We get to find new ways of sharing with our clients the alternative to the fast-paced world we live in. We get to show them the benefits of slowing down, of paying attention, of practicing compassion, in a way that resonates with them. We get to showcase how mindfulness isn’t necessarily about being still, how it can happen in the middle of a run, just before beating your PR, or after a particularly challenging group exercise class. We get to show them how mindfulness is not a waste of time, but how to make the most of the time they have.

References

  1. Ivanowski, B. & Malhi, G. S. (2007), “The psychological and neurophysical concomitants of mindfulness forms of meditation,” Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 19, pp. 76-91
  2. Bauer, R. Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Kreitemeyer, J. & Toney, L. (2006), “Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness,” Assessment, 13, pp. 27-45
  3. Jha, A. et al. (2007), “Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention,” Cognitive Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, pp. 109-19; Tang, Y. Y., Ma, Y. , Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., et al. (2007), “Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (US), 104(43), pp. 1715-6.
  4. Low, C. A., Stanton, A. L. & Bower, J. E. (2008), “Effects of acceptance-oriented versus evaluative emotional processing on heart rate recovery and habituation,” Emotion, 8, pp. 419-24.
  5. Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Urbanowski, F., Harrignton, A., Bonus, K. & Sheridan, J. F. (2003), “Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, pp. 567-70.
  6. Bowen, S., et al. (2006), “Mindfulness Meditation and Substance Use in an Incarcerated Population,” Psychology of Addictive Behavior, 20, pp. 343-7

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