That Exercise You’re Doing Might Not Actually Be Mindfulness: Filtering Through the Noise
By Clif Smith
It’s clear to anyone who has picked up a magazine or newspaper or has perused any social media feed in the last 5 years that mindfulness is hot right now, and I must admit, it is one of the reasons why I got the deal to write this book [which launches April 20th]. Just searching the term “mindfulness” on Google yields 264 million results! Unfortunately, many of the items the search results point to aren’t actually mindfulness related practices. Many results are the outcome of savvy marketing and search engine optimization to get you to buy a product or sometimes even to buy into a worldview.
It’s staggering seeing so many products, activities, exercises, social movements, and meditation techniques in the world today that just 15 to 20 years ago didn’t carry the mindfulness moniker alongside them but now seem determined to prove they were in the mindfulness camp all along.
Executive presence courses have become executive presence and mindfulness courses. Yogic breathing exercises are now passed off as mindfulness exercises. Yoga teachers claim to be mindfulness teachers. Plain old mayonnaise has become mindful mayonnaise. Money and attention tend to lead to this style of marketing or “we’ve always been xyz” type claims but with something as impactful as mindfulness can be, it is quite counterproductive because people looking for the benefits of mindfulness may not be learning actual mindfulness practices. If you want to reap the benefits of mindfulness, it behooves you to do genuine mindfulness practices.
I spend a great deal of time on the road delivering keynotes, workshops, and other training to a variety of clients interested in mindfulness. These events are often held in large hotels, sprawling conference centers, or the occasional private villa in an exclusive resort catering to high-net-worth individuals or c-suite executives. There are often multiple corporate events running concurrently at these venues, and as I’ve roamed around them, I’ve had the opportunity to step into a few other “mindfulness” sessions (which are now a part of many large corporate events). I’m sad to report it seems as if any exercise that involves closing one’s eyes or breathing can be passed off as mindfulness and because most people do not know what it really is, the person in the front of the room can say (or sell) whatever he or she wants with impunity.
Following are some examples of event titles I’ve seen at different corporate events or have seen on event materials and agendas claiming to be mindfulness in their titles or descriptions:
“Mindfulness Session: Laughing Yoga”
“Today’s Mindfulness Class—Yogic Breathing”
“Learning from Near-Death Experiences”
“Mindful Social Action”
“Connecting with Crystals”
“Guided Visualizations for Relaxation”
It might be surprising to you, given all the deliberate conflation of mindfulness with these types of activities that none of the aforementioned is actually mindfulness. It’s not just the purveyors of various non-mindfulness-related techniques, perspectives, and exercises that slap on the mindfulness label to get in on the action or to co-op the mindfulness movement for their own purposes; it’s also consumer products. Take 5 minutes to do a basic internet search on mindful products and you’ll not only find mindful mayonnaise as mentioned but also mindful pistachio nuts, mindful skin cream, mindful salt, mindful soap, mindful tea, mindful essential oils, and, of course, mindful coloring books.
Let me make a quick disclaimer here. I’m not saying any of those activities, exercises, products, and so on are bad or that they are not beneficial in some or even many ways. I’m merely saying they are not mindfulness. So, the question that might be arising in your mind right now is, “If none of these things is mindfulness, what actually is mindfulness?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
Excerpted from Mindfulness Without the Bells and Beads: Unlocking Exceptional Performance, Leadership, and Well-being for Working Professionals, Wiley, available April 20, 2021.
Clif Smith, a US Army veteran, former diplomat and intelligence officer, is the author of Mindfulness Without the Bells and Beads: Unlocking Exceptional Performance, Leadership, and Well-being for Working Professionals, (Wiley). He also serves as Ernst and Young’s (EY) foremost advisor on mindfulness and is an internationally recognized leader for bringing mindfulness into the corporate world. The views expressed by the author are his own and not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization. Follow Clif here: LinkedIn Twitter Facebook Instagram Web
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What actually is mindfulness to you? How do you filter through the noise? Share in comments below.