As meditation and practicing mindfulness have become increasingly mainstream, more and more people are actively seeking resources for how to incorporate these tools into their lives. But many of the existing material on the subject is centered on the whys of practice, including evidence-based benefits; they don’t truly serve the beginner who’s diving into practice for the first time.
Many students have practical questions and share common concerns—everything from preventing the mind from wandering, to what to do if you need to scratch your nose, to what you have to be, do, and have to “do it right.” There are a few practical guides out there, but even those are lacking in depth.
In this guide, I’ve drawn a practical and straightforward approach to practicing mindfulness, including a variety of options that cater to different personalities and lifestyles.
Also Read: Yoga for Beginners: Basics to Yoga
I. How to Start Practicing mindfulness?
The practice of mindfulness has gone mainstream – but through its newfound popularity, the true meaning of mindfulness has become clouded. The terms “staying in the present” or “being in the moment” are often part of mindfulness practice – but what do they mean? What’s the benefit?
In Practicing Mindfulness, Matthew Sockolov, explains how “being in the present moment is only one aspect of the practice … Mindfulness may be more completely understood as being present with clarity, wisdom, and kindness.” In this article, we will show you how to cultivate awareness and free yourself from fleeting emotions so you can “hit the pause button, calm yourself, and handle stressful situations with confidence and ease.”
Mindfulness is often described as the practice of simply “being in the present moment.” But this is only one aspect of the practice. Resting in the present moment is an important piece—it’s the first step in bringing your attention to whatever is happening here and now, whether it’s a thought, a difficult emotion, a task at work, or the breath—but it’s just the beginning.
When you limit your definition of mindfulness to the practice of just being present, you overlook several other important aspects. As you move through the exercises on this platform, you will see the terms mindfulness practice and meditation used interchangeably at times. The idea of sitting silently in meditation can be scary if you’ve never done it before.
It is helpful to understand that the word meditation refers to anytime you are putting dedicated effort forth to be mindful. This may be in a sitting practice or while you are washing dishes. Remember that mindfulness is practiced not just on a meditation cushion; you can introduce mindfulness into any daily activity.
Mindfulness may be more completely understood as being present with clarity, wisdom, and kindness. If you bring your awareness to the present moment with judgment and anger, is that useful? To build a healthy, beneficial mindfulness practice, it’s necessary to cultivate several different behaviors, attitudes, and skills.
II. Practicing Mindfulness: The Nine Aspects of Mindfulness Practice
You are here because you have decided to begin investigating mindfulness. It is a powerful step and one that should be recognized and appreciated. Take a minute to pat yourself on the back. To begin your journey of understanding how to start practicing mindfulness, let’s look at the different abilities you will be cultivating.
1. BEING FULLY PRESENT.
This is the most well-known and basic piece of mindfulness meditation, but it takes time to cultivate. You may have to coax the mind back to the present moment repeatedly as you start practicing mindfulness. As you continue to train the mind to be present, you’ll find yourself more naturally able to rest in present-time awareness.
2. SEEING CLEARLY.
This aspect of practicing mindfulness may also be understood as a recognition of the experience you are having. When pain arises, you can identify it as pain. When anxiety is present, you recognize it as anxiety. You are cultivating the wisdom to see what you are experiencing in the present moment.
3. LETTING GO OF JUDGMENT.
You may notice your mind labeling something (a feeling, a thought, etc.) as good or bad, right or wrong, positive or negative. In practicing mindfulness, you can let go of such value judgments. When a judgment does arise, you can remind yourself that you do not need to believe it. Accept what is present in the mind, including any feelings of “liking” or “disliking” what you find.
4. BEING EQUANIMOUS.
Equanimity is the quality of remaining balanced, especially when presented with difficult or uncomfortable circumstances. Whether the experience you are having is easy or difficult, the energy and effort you bring to it can remain unchanged. In this way, you build inner resilience, learning to move through difficult situations with balance and stability.
5. ALLOWING EVERYTHING TO BELONG.
Life contains a variety of experiences, and you may find yourself inviting some in while pushing others away. The English monk Ajahn Sumedho often tells his students, “Everything belongs.” With mindfulness, you do not need to exclude any thought, emotion, or experience. Pay attention to whatever arises and make space for the uncomfortable moments.
6. CULTIVATING BEGINNER’S MIND.
When you learn something new, approach it with curiosity and eagerness to understand. As you grow in your understanding of the world around you, you can fall into “autopilot,” believing that you know exactly how things work and what you’re doing. To support a healthy mindfulness practice, work to cultivate a beginner’s mind, observing experiences and situations as if it’s your first time. Remain open to new possibilities and watch out for the times when your mind begins closing.
7. BEING PATIENT.
Most people come to mindfulness and meditation practice with a goal in mind. They want to relieve some anxiety, deal with daily stressors, or learn to work through anger. It’s okay to have an intention, but remember to be patient; clinging to a specific outcome can hinder your progress. Patience requires a little bit of trust in the practice, in your teacher, and yourself. Keep your intention in mind, and remember that growth takes time.
8. MAKING A FRIEND.
Mindfulness is not about beating yourself up. Kindness is an essential part of the practice—and that starts by being kind to yourself. Without kindness, you can be reactive and unable to see clearly. When practicing, respond to your experience with gentleness. Act as if your mind is your friend, not an enemy.
9. HONORING YOURSELF.
You don’t need to clear the mind, be perfectly calm, or be a master of kindness to start practicing mindfulness. Start wherever you are, and honor yourself for being here in the first place. This is a practice—not a race. You’re not being graded, and if you struggle, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or your mind. Be true to yourself and allow space for growth.
III. Practicing Mindfulness and its Benefits
Mindfulness has been studied in clinical settings, using brain imaging technology or extensive psychological testing. Although the field of mindfulness research is relatively new, research teams continue to find physical evidence of the anecdotal claims meditators have made for centuries.
Many studies find changes in behavior and brain activity after just a few weeks of practice, with participants maintaining the positive effects up to a year after undergoing a mindfulness-based training program.
Understanding the research can ground you in why you’re doing this practice in the first place and give you a glimpse at some of the benefits you might experience for yourself.
Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
1. STRESS REDUCTION.
In 2010, a team of researchers analyzed findings from the past decade and determined that mindfulness was effective in relieving anxiety and stress. This was true for study participants whether or not they had previously been diagnosed with anxiety or stress disorders.
2. IMPROVED WORKING MEMORY AND FOCUS.
Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that mindfulness helps people stay focused and more effectively utilize recently learned information. One encouraging finding of the study is that participants reported significantly less mind wandering after just two weeks of mindfulness practice.
3. PHYSICAL BENEFITS.
The physical benefits of mindfulness are well documented. Research in the past decade has found that regular meditation can help improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, help the body heal faster, and ease inflammation. Mindfulness is not just about taking care of your mind!
4. BETTER SLEEP.
According to Harvard Health, research shows that mindfulness can help with falling asleep and staying asleep. Regardless of what time of day you do it, a meditation practice is likely to help with this.
5. CREATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING.
In a 1982 study, researchers discovered that meditation can help people solve problems with more creativity. Cultivating stillness in the mind helps you gain the ability to think in new ways, look at problems from a different perspective, and work more effectively toward a solution. As a by-product, this can also help you deal with stress in the family, at work, and in everyday life.
6. FEWER FEELINGS OF LONELINESS.
Loneliness is correlated to poor health outcomes. In a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, participants experienced less loneliness after just eight weeks of mindfulness practice. This held whether the individuals were alone or surrounded by a group of friends.
In addition, those who practiced mindfulness alone still experienced more feelings of connection and contentment. And in January 2018, after a lengthy investigation of loneliness in the United Kingdom, British prime minister Theresa May even appointed a Minister for Loneliness.
7. IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM.
So many of us struggle with this. Mindfulness practice has repeatedly been shown to boost self-esteem across cultural boundaries. It can help you improve your body image, sense of self-worth, and basic contentment with who you are as a person.
8. MOOD REGULATION.
Although mindfulness is not a substitute for proper clinical care, it does offer a powerful way to help regulate mood disorders and issues. If you’re experiencing periods of depression, anxiety, or mood changes, mindfulness may help you with these issues. Researchers have seen mindfulness help stabilize moods in those with diagnosed mood disorders and those without.
IV. The Essentials of Practicing Mindfulness
You don’t need anything special or “extra” to cultivate mindfulness in your life. Getting started is usually the most difficult part, but over time, it becomes easier as you find what works best for you and your lifestyle. As you practice, pay attention to what feels easy, smooth, and “right,” and what causes friction and resistance.
Use the practices in this article, the suggestions for getting started, and your insight to help build a mindfulness practice. Throughout my years of learning mindfulness, I have heard of many ways to get started, and they’re all slightly different—personalized to the individual. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself get on the road to mindfulness.
All mindfulness requires from you is to show up and put forth a little effort. Below are the essential elements you’ll work on as you build your mindfulness practice.
1. MAKE TIME TO MEDITATE.
With your busy schedule, it may seem impossible to find the time to meditate. In my experience working with individuals from around the world, this is a common challenge— and yet you can find time to practice. The key is making mindfulness a priority. A few things that help are setting aside specific time to practice, waking up a few minutes earlier than usual, or setting a calendar reminder to practice in the afternoon. You don’t have to dive right into 30 minutes a day; start with 5 minutes.
2. CREATING SPACE TO PRACTICE.
You may struggle to find the right place to practice. Remember that this can be done anywhere. Let go of the idea that there are “perfect” places or “bad” places. You can also create a dedicated space for meditating—find an area of your home that is relatively quiet and relaxing.
If your office or workspace is too chaotic, try practicing in your car before going inside. You may also utilize public spaces, like beaches, parks, and quiet roads (if you’re comfortable doing so).
3. SETTING AN INTENTION.
You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have some intention in mind. Why are you interested in finding a more mindful way to live? Whatever your answer, it helps to consistently remind yourself of this deeper intention, connecting with what drives you.
The mind may try to convince you not to follow through, or that you don’t have time to meditate. Fighting with these thoughts often proves futile. Instead, bring the mind back to your deeper intention. Remember what matters to you.
4. BUILDING CONSISTENCY.
The practices in this article present opportunities to investigate mindfulness in many different ways in your life. Try to use at least one every day, always keeping your intention of mindfulness present.
Practicing mindfulness consistently helps you train the mind effectively. When you practice every day, you build the habit fairly quickly. It’s like going to the gym—if you go once a month, you probably won’t notice results very quickly. But if you go twice a week, all those short little periods of exercise build on each other, and you grow stronger. Mindfulness is a cumulative practice; the mental muscle gets fitter as you continue training.
5. FINDING A FRIEND.
Social support can go a long way toward encouraging new habits. Try asking a friend or family member to practice with you once a day. This will give you a sense of accountability to someone other than yourself, and some external motivation always helps. You’ll also have the opportunity to talk about your experience with someone else, which will help you both as you move through practice together.
6. KEEPING A JOURNAL.
Get a journal to use specifically for your mindfulness practice. After you practice for the day, take a few simple notes. How was your practice? Did anything new or interesting come up? How do you feel? The act of writing down your experience with mindfulness can help you understand it more clearly, ingrain your newfound insight into the mind, and give you something to look back on. I still look back at my first meditation journal from time to time, and I love seeing the progress I’ve made over the years.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
— JAMES BARAZ
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