Mindfulness Meditation Vs. “Just A Good Ole’ Walk in The Park”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

There has been a lot of hype over the practice of mindfulness within the past few years. This has come in the wake of research showing the myriad of mental and physical health benefits associated with mindfulness. These include reduced stress, anxiety and depression; increased attention, memory and productivity; and improved sleep, blood pressure and nutritional intake, to name a few. It is no surprise that amidst this ever-growing area of research there has been an influx of books, magazines, documentaries, apps, CDs and other popular media spruiking formal mindfulness practices to either add or incorporate into people’s daily routines. Examples of these include body-scan meditations, breathing meditations, mindfulness of eating, mindfulness of movement, and mindfulness of thoughts. Increasingly, these types of exercises are being brought into workplaces, education systems, mental health settings, medical centres, etc., and becoming accepted as part of western culture as a diffusion from traditional eastern meditative practices.

 

However, as with everything that’s ‘in vogue’, there are sceptics. One of the most common comments from people within this group is, “I don’t need to do that mindfulness *?!%, I get enough relaxation from (insert common leisure activity)”. For example, some may presume that regularly taking a walk in the park, going for a surf, or having a beer with mates achieves the same benefits as formal mindfulness practice. There is no doubt that such leisure activities play an essential role in mental health, especially if they incorporate physical activity and/or socialising. Yet, there are some specific skills that more formal mindfulness practice teaches that are not necessarily tapped into through normal everyday ‘feel good’ stuff. Below is a list of three of these skills:

 

  1. Attention training – unlike normal leisure activities, mindfulness provides attention training by exercising the skill of continually returning to the present moment. When you are walking outside (for example), you may be feeling calm, but your attention is likely switching between all sorts of stuff – what you’re going to have for dinner, the sweat under your arms, the unpleasantness of having to pick up your dog’s poo, etc. In contrast, one of the main aims of mindfulness is to witness when our mind has travelled elsewhere and gently bring it back on task.
  2. Metacognition – This fancy term describes awareness of our own thoughts and mental images, also known as “thoughts about thoughts”. Practicing this skill is highly beneficial in strengthening the parts of the brain that enable us to make highly intentional, goal-driven decisions, rather than running on ‘autopilot’.
  3. Interoceptive awareness – Another fancy term, which describes awareness of our internal bodily states and sensations. This skill is particularly helpful in instances where people’s mind-body connection has become haywire, such as when people have lost their ability to detect when they are hungry, full or in need of sleep.

 

An easy way to think of mindfulness vs. “just a good ole’ walk in the park”, is to consider this relationship as similar to cardio vs. strength training – both have their benefits, and combining them is the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to building a well rounded health routine. So for those sceptics out there, next time you’re engaging in your not-quite-mindfulness leisure activity, you can start by engaging in mindfulness of this activity for five minutes or so and taking note of any differences in experience.

Sophie Mattingley

Doctor Of Psychology (Clinical) Student

Deakin University

 

 

 

Ref: Anxiety Counselling Melbourne

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