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The Evolving Practice of Modern-day Mindfulness

Updated: Apr 14


During 2020, like most, life was shifted into a new way of functioning. When my in-person activities ended or moved to ZOOM, I stopped teaching yoga. Feeling a massive void in my life led me to return to school to obtain my master's in Psychology at Pepperdine University. Keeping mindfulness and holistic healing my focal point in school, I incorporate the psychology industries best practices to sweeten my offering and stretch my knowledge to create a more robust wellness offering for what I hope is a bright future.


Below is a media review paper I wrote for my Social Psychology class comparing a Forbes.com article on Mindfulness and the original research the journalist referenced. As a lover of teaching mindfulness, I was very intrigued to see how one might explain the process of Mindfulness to the masses. As part of the assignment, I needed to be critical of the popular press article, and I cannot help but throw a bit of playful shade, though, in all honesty, I support and appreciate anyone wanting to share Mindfulness with their audience from their lens and unqiue tone.


The Evolving Practice of Modern-day Mindfulness

Allison Escalante's (2021) Forbes.com article "New Research Finds Most People Are Not Using Mindfulness Correctly" examined the social trend of incorporating mindfulness into an individual's everyday life. She referenced "What do People mean when they talk about Mindfulness" new research by Choi et al. (2021) to support her stands that mindfulness is being practiced incorrectly and missing the actual benefits. After reading Escalante's article and Choi et al.'s research, one can conclude that modern-day mindfulness is an evolving practice that is easy to critique and difficult to define.


Article Summary

Escalante (2021) introduced this topic with a layer of sarcasm, noting how most working professionals are likely to have a mindfulness-based email floating around their company, raving about the benefits of this practice in the workplace. She points out that current adopters of this modernized practice are missing the mental health benefits and are taking on the practice as a passive avoidance behavior instead of being present to life’s challenging moments. Escalante referred to the Buddhist origins of mindfulness, stating that this practice's basic principles are awareness and acceptance. She defined awareness as the practice of observing one's thoughts and feelings in the present moment (Escalante, 2021).

Escalante (2021) led the reader to understand that mindfulness is hard work, and awareness is only the first step. The mindfulness practice she witnessed is taking shortcuts and missing the critical point. The essence of the practice is sitting in stressful moments or negative feelings to gain insight for future awareness. Instead of avoiding stressors and negative emotions, acceptance is experiencing these intense moments, not avoiding them. Escalante critiqued the mindfulness method in daily life, misses the crucial component of confronting challenges, not avoiding them (Escalante, 2021).


Research Summary

The research by Choi et al., delineated modern-day mindfulness from the origin of Buddhist mindfulness practice. Choi et al. (2021) referred to a clinical stress-reduction mindfulness practice such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a tool that omits a spiritual practice. Stress-reduction mindfulness appeared to have evolved in critics' minds as a "McMindfulness," a branded marketable practice full of quick fixes and short-term stress relief (p.1). Choi et al. examined how critics have viewed the modern mindfulness practice as "corrupt[ing] the intended understanding of mindfulness as engagement amidst promises of stress relief" (p.1). The research took a deep look at this social behavior by examining how scholars and everyday people have constructed mindfulness; this deeper look intended to answer if modern-day mindfulness was genuinely becoming the coined behavior of McMindfulness (p. 2).

Taking a linguistics approach, the researchers observed how mindfulness appeared in popular media and academic resources. The focus of the study was to collect from multiple resources which top five to ten words that are most associated with the word mindfulness. Choi et al.'s findings showed that awareness and acceptance were among the top five most used words connected to mindfulness. When they broadened the study, they were able to find the word stress-relief among the top ten most popular mindfulness buzzwords (Choi et al., 2021, p.3). The linguistics portion of this study led the researchers to believe that the critique of McMindfulness's primary use for the benefits of stress-reduction was only partially accurate (p.5). Choi el at. (2021) concluded that the understanding of mindfulness by everyday people and scholars is on engagement-related processes verse stress-relief (p.11).


Discussion

After reading and fully absorbing Choi et al.'s research, Escalante barely scratched the surface of the findings. She opened her article directing the reader to a research hyperlink; however, she does not incorporate the research throughout her article. Escalante diluted the research for her readers, giving them small digestible bites of the fifteen-page research; while watering down the research makes this information more accessible for her readers, essential nuances are lost.

The researcher’s tone is curious and exploratory, showing that mindfulness is a challenging concept to conclude in black and white terms. Escalante’s Forbes.com article takes on the tone of critiquing modern-day mindfulness and approaching her findings in a concrete analytical way of a practice that needs room for evolution. The research concluded that measuring the outcome of mindfulness is challenging because the practice of mindfulness evolves as the mindfulness practitioner grows from a novice to an expert (Choi et al., 2021, p.13). Escalante left out this critical piece, which would appear that she did not read all the research or took the points she wanted to support her social observation.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this exercise of comparing a popular press article to the original research, and though I am very critical of Escalante’s article after reading the research, I think she did a great job taking this complex concept and making it accessible to her audience and in the best form for a Forbes reader. As a mindfulness teacher and practitioner, this exercise showed the importance of checking the research connected to a popular press article to fill in the gaps. Escalante omitted that mindfulness is an evolutionary process that would not significantly affect her readers; however, as a teacher of this practice, I find it necessary to relay that element to my students. I see many newcomers focusing on whether they are “doing mindfulness correctly” and feel this article would reinforce this fear and possibly discourage some from beginning the practice. I agree with most of what Escalante wrote however would be mindful of using the word “incorrectly” when explaining the practice of mindfulness.

Over the last five to ten years, the mindfulness and holistic healing industries have become an integral part of our society gaining traction in the popular press. The broad spectrum of opinions from critics, skeptics, and supporters of this social movement are necessary for the practice to evolve and spread. Reviewing and comparing these two resources proved that modern-day mindfulness is an evolving practice that is easy to critique and difficult to define. Escalante took the approach of a critic grabbing portions of the research to support her argument, and Choi et al. proved how critics are only partially correct because mindfulness is a challenging practice to conceptualize because of its evolutionary properties.


References

Choi, E., Farb, N., Pogrebtsova, E., Gruman, J., & Grossmann, I. (2021). What do people mean when they talk about mindfulness? Clinical Psychology Review, 89, 102085–102085. LINK


Escalante, Alison (2021, December 21). New Research Finds Most People Are Not Using Mindfulness Correctly. Forbes.com. LINK


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