The problem of commodifying mindfulness
Recently I watched a short video on Facebook by the Humans of New York from the November 27th post. It was another beautiful and emotional story. This particular post caught my eye because the first words the woman being interviewed said was, “Wellness is being commodified…” Her facial expressions as she spoke especially caught my eye (I usually watch Facebook videos without sound and read the video captions). She looked disgusted and disappointed. I continued to watch the video intrigued, and I was appalled by what happened to her and the response she received by someone she trusted enough to share her story. In essence the woman being interviewed (she was not named in the video) was verbally harassed and disrespected at work and when she explained to someone her situation she was told, “Just take a few deep breaths. Maybe you should get the Mindful app, the meditation app.” YIKES!! Seriously?!? No! This is not what mindfulness is about.
Other Facebook posts have caught my attention the past few months about wellness with similar misrepresentations and misconceptions such as, Goat Yoga (yes, it’s a thing) and doing yoga with dogs or cats. Just a few days ago I even saw a post about Beer Yoga. Yes, Beer Yoga!! So, I agree with the Human of New York, wellness and mindfulness has become commodified and this is a problem, because it misrepresents what mindfulness, meditation, and yoga practices are and it’s disrespectful for those of us who live by these practices.
The dangers of commodifying mindfulness
The hype and mainstreaming of mindfulness practices is great. More people are becoming aware of these practices, starting to incorporate them in their daily lives, and reaping the benefits of mindful practices. However, with the mainstreaming of these practices some of the basic tenets of the practice is not being taught or learned, and as a result there are major misconceptions and even misuses of these practices.
Mindfulness is not a passive practice
The story from Humans of New York is a perfect example of how the commodification of wellness and mindfulness practices have warped the true values and tenets of such practices. One major misconceptions is that mindfulness is about being passive. This is further from the truth. Mindfulness practices bring awareness to your life. Most of us have experienced moments in our lives when life was just happening to us, and we were running on automatic. Well, mindfulness practice helps us to recognize when we’re on automatic or not present in the moment and gives us the tools to be embodied in the moment.
Mindfulness does not give people permission to treat anyone like crap
Many people also misinterpret the value of allowing in mindfulness practice. Allowing does NOT mean to allow people to treat you like garbage, it means to give yourself permission to feel emotions and sensations in the present moment. Mindfulness during times of difficulty, and especially when dealing with a person who causes you pain, gives you the tools to respond to disrespectful people’s actions rather than have a knee jerk reaction, which tends to be a poor response to a critical situation. So, if someone comes to you about a difficult situation your immediate response shouldn’t be, “So, have you tried meditating?” Because honestly, meditating doesn’t solve the real injustice And sometimes these injustices are bigger than one person or a small group of people, it is a systemic problem that cannot be resolved by one person meditating his or her way through the situation.
Mindfulness is not about escaping
Other mindfulness trends, such as yoga with farm animals and alcohol, are also misplaced. Let’s be honest drinking alcohol while doing yoga is not an official yoga practice...it’s just “creative” drinking at best Yoga, when practiced mindfully, is about reconnecting with your physical body. It is is about being present in your body and with your breathe. Alcohol, on the other hand, has the opposite effect of mindfulness. It actually pulls you away from being present and fully embodied in your own body.
Mindfulness is not about escaping reality. It is about embracing the moment right now. In our everyday hectic lives we don’t always fully embody and experience the present moment. We’re thinking about the next meeting, the next assignment we have to grade, the next lesson, but mindfulness practices, such as yoga gently pull our attention back to the present moment and what’s happening right now. For those who’ve practiced yoga know that doing any yoga pose, especially the more complex ones, takes great focus and attention. The minute your mind starts to wander about what’s next you lose the pose and you’re not fully benefiting from the practice.
Maybe beer yoga is harmless, and I’m making a big deal out of people trying to have fun. Maybe I should see these creative forms of yoga and mindfulness practices as an opportunity for people to enter into a more traditional yoga or mindfulness practice. However, mindfulness should not be viewed as a trendy, cool activity for people to do on a Saturday afternoon. It’s actually a serious practice that real people dedicate their lives to.
Mindfulness doesn’t lead to quick fixes
The commodification of mindfulness practices can lead to dangerous misconceptions about the practice, as described earlier, but it also can lead to people believing that mindfulness practices can lead to magical fixes to complex problems. This is further from the truth. Practicing mindfulness is not easy. It can actually be difficult to pause, to be silent, and to reconnect with your breathe, your body and all your buzzing thoughts. By nonchalantly suggesting that meditation can resolve any issue or incorporating trendy elements that may actually pull you away from truly being present can diminish the work and dedication of those who practice mindfulness and have made it their life’s work to bring the more traditional tenets of mindfulness to more people.
I’m not suggesting that there is not place for creativity, fusions, or new forms of mindful practices to emerge, but perhaps it time to reflect on what it truly means to incorporate mindful practices into our daily live and reconnect with the tenets of its ancient beginnings.