Mindfulness for Beginners

What is Mindfulness?

In the simplest of terms, mindfulness means being aware of the present moment and encompasses a state of mind and way of living that goes beyond meditation.

Some things are best defined by their opposites. We so often experience mindlessness, where our bodies occupy the present moment and our mind is somewhere else entirely, sometimes without us even knowing it. Do you ever catch yourself in the middle of a stream of thought and you don’t even know where you started? Or have you ever had difficulty remembering something you just did? Did I lock the door? What was the name of that person I just met seconds ago? Our minds are generally distracted and that’s true even for the most trained of minds. Distraction is a part of our every day lives. The best way to maintain our focus in the moment is to be aware of our mind’s nature.

What are the 3 Tenets of Mindfulness?

1- Be present

Mindfulness means being present in the moment, which may sound generic and vague, possibly meaning anything. But, try to think of a moment in your life where you were completely in the moment. We have lots of memories from the past and dreams from the future, but we also have something in between. Memories and dreams are the reconstructed reflections of the present moment. So, while being present sounds simple, it can be more nuanced than that and essential to the practice of mindfulness.

2- Observe

Mindfulness also means observing what’s happening in the present moment, including your thoughts, feelings, and your reactions to the things that are around you. Take this exact moment, for example. What are you doing right now? Notice the position of your body. How do you feel? What are you thinking right now? Answering those questions can give you a sense of the awareness mindfulness aims to cultivate.

3- Accept Without Judgment

“It isn't supposed to be like this. I shouldn’t feel this way. Why do these things always happen to me?” Do these sentences sound familiar to you? Our minds are not non-judgmental and accepting by default. We resist and react to things that create inner conflict or unfamiliar change. Not everything is easy to accept as it is, especially when it’s not aligned with who we think we are. Mindfulness comes into play here as a way of training our minds to accept what’s past, present, and still to come. It doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t wake up one day arrive at the destination of mindfulness. It fluctuates and evolves. In some moments we may be all in and in others our thoughts may wander away from us.

Mindfulness closes the arbitrary gap between “good” and “bad”. “Good” and “bad” are just labels we use to categorize and make meaning our of our experiences. Mindfulness practices help us remove those labels and accept things as they are: nothing more, nothing less.

And, of course, mindfulness doesn’t come naturally all the time. There may be things that distract us or things that feel harder to accept. A very important aspect of mindfulness is the intention to be mindful itself. Our minds get distracted all the time. Mindfulness is about coming back to the present moment again and again.

Benefits of Mindfulness

1- Reduced Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, & Stress

Research shows that mindfulness can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and stress. We often feel anxious, stressful, or depressed when our emotional, psychological, or physiological needs go unmet and unsatisfied. Mindfulness allows us to identify and attend to our needs, releasing that tension we may feel.

3- Better Academic & Professional Performance

Mindfulness also contributes to enhancing academic performance and has been associated with better school performance in middle school with increased attendance and fewer suspensions. Mindfulness has also frequently been used in industrial organizations to enhance performance. Employees who participated in a self-training mindfulness intervention demonstrated better emotional regulation, greater job satisfaction, and experienced less emotional exhaustion.

4- Better Relationships & Communication Skills

Mindfulness cultivates empathy and compassion toward others by helping us identify and attend to our own needs first. Scientific evidence also suggests that mindfulness can have a positive impact on supportive communication skills. Often, communication can be impeded by reactivity and judgment and mindfulness practices create space for a kind of self-awareness that allows us to be more responsive and clear, dwelling in the present moment.

5- Pain Management

Practicing meditation and mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean we’re constantly at peace, breathing in and out only when we are safe and calm. Mindfulness can be especially helpful in navigating more challenging feelings and difficult situations as well. In moments of pain, mindfulness can help us to scan our body, noticing where it hurts and how the discomfort presents within our bodies. Being able to identify discomfort and be in touch with our bodies allows us to better cope and attend to both physical and emotional pain.

6- Overall Life Satisfaction & Gratitude

Engaging in mindfulness makes the beauty of life more visible and fosters a sense of gratitude. Mindfulness practices have also been associated with better life satisfaction. When we become more mindful about the different aspects of our lives, the beauty hidden behind dark clouds shines through and we begin to appreciate the joy in our daily lives. We become more patient with ourselves, others, and life itself. It gets easier to accept people and experiences complete with all flaws. Being mindful broadens our perspective and gives us a more holistic point of view and in time we find ourselves grateful for what we already have within our reach.  Additionally, studies show that a regular meditation practice can benefit our overall well-being and psychological health as it can help to moderate stress in health-related situations and result in better health outcomes.

7- Self-Awareness & Self-Compassion

Mindfulness can ease the feeling of loneliness and offer an opportunity to feel okay being alone with ourselves. Solitude can be challenging, especially when we refuse to confront certain aspects of ourselves, some experience, or a particular feeling. Practicing mindfulness allows us to stay present with ourselves more comfortably through those more difficult situations. It’s almost impossible to love and accept every bit of ourselves. All of us struggle with self-love from time to time. Mindfulness also encourages self-compassion, which is a great way to practice self-love, accepting ourselves as we truly are.

How Do You Start Practicing Mindfulness?

What Do You Need to Practice Mindfulness?

Sorry for keeping this short, but the truth is you only need yourself. You’re ready to start your mindfulness journey whenever you intend to begin, no level of expertise is required.

Try Guided Meditations

Guided meditations can be perfect for you if you’re new to the practice and have no idea where to start. Mindfulness meditation is a mental practice and one of the most common types of mindfulness activities. There are thousands of guided meditations with several options for your different moods, emotions, and needs. We often crave guidance from someone else we trust when we intend to start something new. We want to know what we should expect, what we need to start, and how to take those first steps. Meditation guides are there to answer our questions, holding our hands in the dark and making sure that we find our way. Sometimes we don’t know what we want or what we need until we see it in front of us. When that happens, you can search through the Meditopia app, choosing content that fits your mood. The process will become clearer, making more sense after you look through the wide repertoire of pieces thoughtfully curated by people who know what they’re doing and who genuinely want the best for you.

Start with Baby Steps

Try starting with a short mindfulness activity, maybe even just a few minutes. You can observe your breathing for a while just to see how mindfulness feels for you. Then, you can increase the time you spend with mindfulness activities day by day. The key is consistency and sustainability. Make sure this process gives you joy and if you’re noticing that it starts to feel like an obligation, use that feeling as a signal to pause and rest for a bit. The goal is that it’s useful to you, enjoyable, and sustainable.

Engage in Mindfulness Activities in Your Daily Life

Include different mindfulness activities in your daily life as you progress and deepen your practice. Maybe that means you try mindfulness exercises while cooking, walking, having a conversation, or even in the bedroom. You’ll notice how easily the positive impact mindfulness can have spreads throughout your life.

What Are Some Mindfulness Exercises?

Meditation

Meditation is the first thing that comes to mind for most of us when we think of mindfulness activities. As you heard above, meditation can be a great space for learning at the beginning of your mindfulness journey.

Yoga

Yoga is an ancient discipline that includes specific movements and poses that have both physical and mental benefits. You can strengthen the connection between your mind and body through asanas or yoga poses. Sometimes it’s easier to notice how our mind works when we’re doing different poses and transitions because our struggle and how we respond can be a bit more visible. If you find staying still and focusing on your mind challenging during meditation, you can try yoga.

Body Scanning

Another mindful activity is body scanning. Like your breath, your body fluctuates and transforms all the time. It hosts a whole spectrum of sensations and feelings. Body scanning  is a very simple but effective exercise. Essentially, you mentally scan down your body from top to bottom or vice versa, checking in with each part of yourself as you go. You can start by bringing your focus to your toes, your ankles, legs, knees, sit bones, and so on. This practices allows us to deepen that mind-body connection, which can open up space for us to identify and attend to our own needs. If you get distracted while giving this a try, continue where you left off or start from the beginning.

Focusing on Sensations

Our body houses numerous sensations. We may hear birds chirping, see colors, smell a flower, pet a dog’s soft fur, taste a good wine... Observing those sensations as they happen is also a mindfulness activity. Sometimes focusing on our body or our breath might be uncomfortable, which is entirely normal. If that’s the case, you can bring your attention to the sources of those sensations your body is registering instead.

Raisin Exercise

The Raisin Exercise is an efficient way of implementing mindfulness throughout everyday activities. The basic premise is an awareness of what information our senses are bringing to us through the process of eating a raisin or any food of your choice. The general steps look like this:

  • Hold. Take the raisin (or any food of your choosing) in your hand.
  • See. Look at the raisin very carefully as if it’s something very interesting and you’re seeing it for the first time in your life. Notice its color and shape.
  • Touch. Feel its texture, its weight. Is it wrinkly or juicy?
  • Smell. How would you describe its smell? Does it have a particular smell?
  • Taste. Chew the raisin slowly. How does it taste?
  • Swallow. Follow as it goes to your stomach.

This exercise again brings our focus to the present moment with acute attention on what our body is noticing. Not only can this help with focus and attention, it can also make the experience of eating more enjoyable, allowing us to savor and appreciate our food.

Mindfulness-Inspired Activities

Breathing Exercises

Focusing on your breath is a great way to practice mindfulness. You can just to stay and follow your breath as it flows at its natural pace. As you pay attention to your breath, you can begin to notice how you’re breathing. Maybe it’s long and deep or perhaps shallow and short. Our breath is a great tool for grounding ourselves in the here and now.

You can try different relaxing breathing techniques, such as square breathing, lion's breath, or 4-7-8 breathing. You’ll likely experience the relaxing effect of those techniques in just a few breaths. You can also use these exercises as a way to navigate anxiety, ease into sleep, or anytime throughout your day in order to bring your mind back to the present moment.

Gratitude Exercises

Try to list three things that happened today that you’re grateful for. They can be anything: a short walk, a hot cup of coffee, or an intimate moment with your partner. As you repeat this exercise, the beauty already present in your life will become even more visible and you’ll get to enjoy moments as you live them.  

You can keep a gratitude journal to write the things you are grateful for or you can simply think of those things and visualize or imagine them. You can share the things you’re grateful for with others or you can draw or illustrate those things instead of writing them down. You can also do a gratitude meditation where you bring your focus to the things you’re grateful for in your life. Recalling the nice parts of your life can invite lightness into your heart.

Journaling

Journaling is a space where we can put what’s on our mind on paper without censoring ourselves. It’s a special and private activity where we open our hearts up to ourselves, seeing where we’re truly at with more clarity. It gets easier to follow our train of thought when we’re writing because the act of writing itself helps us slow down and see our feelings and thoughts more objectively. Keeping a journal creates time and space to reflect on previous events, feelings, and emotions.

Engage in a Creative Activity

Engaging in a creative activity can be a mindfulness practice as well since you attend to the activity itself for the sake of it. Maybe it’s dancing, painting, ceramics, coloring or even doing a puzzle. These are great ways to inject calm into what is so often our fast-paced lives.  

Try to do a creative activity of your choice, without any end goal, just for the sake of enjoying it. When you’re done, compare how you felt at the beginning versus how you felt at the end of the activity.

Connecting With Nature

Outdoor activities and spending time in nature can be very relaxing and restful. If you’ve been indoors for a while, your mood often changes just by getting some fresh air and moving your body outside. Therefore, spending some time in nature will likely improve your mood. What’s interesting is that practicing mindfulness in nature can also strengthen the positive effect nature can have on us. The increased connectedness with ourselves and with nature can give us insight into how we’re feeling and contribute to an overall sense of calm.

Mindfulness FAQs

What If I’m Meditating the Wrong Way?

Fortunately, it’s impossible to meditate the wrong way. Mindfulness is a very personal and unique experience, shifting and evolving as you move through different stages of your life. Think of your meditation experience as playdough. As you mold it, the dough takes on different shapes and sizes. The only thing you need to do with playdough is play and make shapes, right? You cannot make something wrong, instead you just make something different each time and that’s the beauty of it. Each meditation session of yours is an opportunity to hear and encounter new parts of yourself. Sadly, we’re often afraid of making mistakes in our lives, but you can use meditation as a space to put your fears to rest, enjoying every part of your journey, from challenging, bittersweet, to euphoric and more.

I Can’t Empty or Quiet My Mind. Does Mindfulness Stop All Thought?

A common misconception is that mindfulness requires us to stop all of our thoughts, clearing our minds entirely. But that’s just not realistic as our minds are constantly at work. There’s nothing wrong with your active mind. Basically, mindfulness just asks us to notice and observe those thoughts that bubble up during a mindfulness activity. Often, our wandering or racing thoughts distract us, and we follow them down a rabbit hole without even noticing. Deepening our mindfulness practice enables us to notice and interrupt the endless flow of thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that they stop entirely. Rather, mindfulness is just a kind of self-awareness wherein we can identify what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, and our own wants and needs in the present moment.

Does Mindfulness Only Focus on the Positive?

Unfortunately, not everything in life turns out the way we want it to and, in fact, we experience this kind of discrepancy between our wants and our reality almost daily. Sometimes it can be upsetting when a situation doesn’t go as planned and, contrary to what many may think, mindfulness meditation doesn’t insist that you be happy with everything that comes your way in life. In fact, keen self-awareness makes it easier to realize and ultimately accept the parts of yourself and your life that are challenging, uncomfortable, or upsetting. Mindfulness gives us the courage to investigate the sources of resistance and discomfort within us and when you accept, say, that you have difficulties in times of change or that something is unpleasant, your ability to navigate the situation with compassion and care gradually increases. It’s possible to have an accepting and balanced approach to life, giving yourself a break from crushing expectations and allowing yourself room for joy despite life’s challenges.

Do You Need to Be Calm & Happy All the Time to Practice Mindfulness?

On the contrary, people who practice mindfulness know that anger, frustration, or anxiety are normal and part of ourselves. At first, it’s not always easy to embrace all those feelings, especially if we label them as “negative” or “harmful” emotions. Mindful people are not peaceful and happy all the time because as human beings, we all feel the whole spectrum of emotions, including those that are a bit more challenging to navigate. As you practice mindfulness, you allow yourself space to have and process those more difficult emotions. The difference for those that practice mindfulness is that they become more aware of what and how they react to varying situations or stimuli. You can often express your feelings better before losing your temper when you understand where those feelings are coming from in the first place. A mindfulness practice can help you to be more in control of your thoughts and behaviors in those situations, reducing the likelihood that you’ll follow through with any  negative, automatic thoughts. Instead, mindfulness enables you to stay calm, reflect on the situation and your feelings more objectively before you respond.

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