Mindfulness for Beginners
Tips and Resources for Beginning a Mindfulness Practice
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a word you’ve likely heard, whether it has been in a yoga class, in a magazine, or from a friend. It has become much more popular in recent years in the West as teachers, therapists, and businesses are incorporating it into their work. We will do our best to break it down and explain mindfulness for beginners, offering meditations, exercises, thoughts, and more.
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
This is probably the most well-known piece of mindfulness practice. With mindfulness, we are present with whatever is going on in our experience. In meditation practice, this is commonly practiced with the breath, the body, and the mental reactions to experience.
If we are not present, we cannot practice mindfulness. If the mind is wandering to the past or future, we can notice it is doing so. In a strange paradox, we can be present and mindful when the mind is wandering to the past or future. This is because mindfulness is really a quality of awareness, not of the thinking mind.
Once we’re present, we simply observe. Whatever is present in our experience, we look at it with our awareness. As we tune into our present-time experience, we really try to observe what is arising. Whether this is the breath, a sound, or anything else coming up, we bring our awareness to the experience and familiarize ourselves with it.
Sometimes, we are called to simply observe. Other times, part of a healthy practice means intervening. For example, we may notice while sitting in meditation that our knee hurts. With mindfulness, we tune in and get to know what it actually feels like. However, there may come a point where we recognize that we need to take action and mindfully move. As we move we can continue with mindfulness, seeing how it feels to adjust the body.
The final piece of mindfulness practice that is often missed is the quality of recognizing and remembering. Thanissaro Bhikkhu points out that the Pali word sati which we translate into English as “mindfulness,” actually means something closer to “remembering.”
In mindfulness practice, we recognize when something is happening that causes freedom or ease, and we recognize when something is happening that is causing us suffering. If we find ourselves resisting a thought or tightening around an experience, we can recognize that we are creating pain for ourselves. If we sit in a way that feels healthy and kind to the body, we recognize that sitting like this leads to ease in the body.
This is a crucial piece of mindfulness practice. If we’re just present with whatever is going on, we wouldn’t necessarily change how we respond or grow. By remembering what serves us we can cultivate wholesome qualities like compassion, gentleness, and wisdom and let go of unwholesome qualities like resentment, fear, and conceit.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Be More at Ease
Research has found that mindfulness practice can reduce anxiety, anger, depression, and violence. With regular practice, meditation can bring us a sense of ease and peace.
Studies have found that mindfulness can increase quality of sleep, help with insomnia treatments, and help people feel more rested.
Mindfulness practice can help us become more empathetic, toward both other people in our lives and toward ourselves.
Boost Focus and Memory
Practicing mindfulness meditation has been found to increase working memory,, help individuals focus, and boost productivity.
Deal with Pain
Regular meditation practice can help us approach pain in a new way, and studies have found that mindfulness can reduce pain.
How to Meditate
So how do we actually practice mindfulness meditation? There are a bunch of different ways. We’ll offer some guided meditations and mindfulness exercises below, but first let’s investigate how we can get started with a meditation practice. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Find a Posture
You don’t need to sit in a full lotus position to meditate. Find a posture that feels right to you. It may be sitting on a cushion, sitting in a chair, standing, or lying down. It may be helpful to keep the back straight in order to relieve pressure on the spine.
Tune into the Body
The body is a great place to start. Tune into the body to see what you can feel. Try doing a body scan, moving through the body from head to toe to see what you can feel.
Feel the Breath
Working with the breath is a common meditation practice. The breath is always with us, and you can return to it any time, simply being present with how it feels to be breathing.
Be Kind to Yourself
The mind’s job is to think and process information. When the mind wanders or gets lost, be kind to yourself! Notice that the mind is doing it’s own thing, and simply bring your awareness back to your practice. Rejoice in recognizing that your mind has wandered rather than beating yourself up.
Listen to Guidance
Guided meditations are a great way to begin meditating. You can learn with guidance so you understand more clearly what you are doing during meditation practice. We have a few free guided mindfulness meditations below, and you can find meditations on our mobile app for free.
Mindfulness practice is not just about formal sitting meditation. Although practicing formal meditation can help us develop insight into experience, we also can benefit greatly from cultivating mindfulness in our daily lives. After all, we spend most of our days off the meditation cushion and interacting with the world!
During your day, pay attention to the experience of walking. Feel the feet on the ground, the muscles in the legs moving, and the body moving through space.
Set a reminder on your phone or computer to pause and be mindful. When your reminder goes off, make some effort to return to the present moment.
You can pause anytime, anywhere and tune into the breath. Let the body breathe itself and just rest with the rise and fall of each inhale and exhale.
Pause and Listen
Stop during your day to listen to the sounds around you. What can you hear? Practice just being with the noises that are present in this moment.
Guided Mindfulness Meditations
Below are four guided meditations for practicing mindfulness in different ways. Feel free to listen to them, and check out our podcast Buddhist Guided Meditations for more free meditations on mindfulness, compassion, and more!
Questions and Answers about Mindfulness
What is the right way to practice?
You may find yourself wondering what is right and wrong in your practice. Remember that the mind is going to think, that mindfulness is a practice that takes time to cultivate, and that it’s a learning process. There isn’t one single right way. Many mindfulness teachers from different traditions offer different ways to practice, so find what works for you!
How long should I meditate for?
Perhaps you have heard that a friend meditates for 30 or 45 minutes a day and think that this is what you should be doing. Instead, investigate for yourself what is useful. If you’re a true beginner to mindfulness, start with five minutes of practice. Don’t overwhelm yourself with what you think you “should” be doing, and instead tune into what is working for you.
How often should I meditate?
If you can, try to build some consistency with your practice. Set the intention to sit regularly, whether it is every day or a few times a week. As you sit more regularly, you will build a habit and continuity of insight.
Do I need a teacher?
Having a meditation teacher can be extremely beneficial, but it’s not necessary to begin practicing. You may find a mindfulness teacher to work with or teachings online via a podcast, YouTube, or elsewhere.
When will I notice benefits?
Mindfulness practice is not always fruitful immediately. Practice may help us build concentration and settle the mind in the moment, but it takes some time for the practice to impact our lives. If you can sit regularly for a few weeks, you may notice moments of mindfulness arising more frequently throughout your days. Patience is an important part of the path. Notice when you are growing inpatient or craving to feel something other than you are.
How do I know what to do?
If you’re sitting in practice and confused about what you should be doing exactly, you can only return to the breath. Listening to guided meditations is a great way to go, as a teacher will guide you through the practice with instruction.
Here are a few resources for investigating mindfulness a bit further. We have some of our own pages and resources, along with external resources we love and recommend.