Mindfulness meditation can change lives. From an enhanced sense of oneness with the world to the easing of depression and anxiety, through to the physical benefits on physiological stress levels, heart health and healing, there are a thousand and one reasons to practice mindfulness. But if you’re a total beginner, is it really as easy as ‘just sit there for a few minutes and day and be aware of your surroundings’? Nope. Not at all.
Getting started with mindfulness can be tough. There’s always something else to worry about it, something else to do, somewhere else to be. You might sit to meditate once in a blue moon and then wonder why it’s not working, or you might constantly put it off, deciding to start your mindfulness practice ‘tomorrow’, ‘next week’, ‘once this project is done’. The truth is that the only good time to start a mindfulness practice is NOW – and here are some top tips to help you get started and stick at it.
1 – Make Time for Mindfulness
If you’re going to get started, you’re going to have make it happen. That means prioritizing your desire to start a mindfulness practice and not constantly putting it off or letting it slide down your list. Of course you’re busy. But if you ever have time to sit down and watch TV, read a book, have a coffee, daydream or even brush your teeth, then you have time for mindfulness – it’s simply a matter of choosing to undertake this process. Start today. Read a basic guide to what mindfulness actually is – like this one – and then choose to begin.
2 – Start with Mindful Breathing
You can practice mindfulness in numerous ways, including through mindful walking or other physical activities – mindful chores, even. However, for the complete beginner, the easiest way to start is through mindful breathing. This is exactly what it sounds like – simply sit quietly and comfortably for a few moments, and concentrate on your own breathing. Once you are in the habit and you know what to expect from mindfulness, you can move on to other types of meditative practice.
3 – Persevere Daily
To get the maximum benefit from mindfulness, it needs to be a daily practice, even if it’s only five minutes a day. Again, this comes down to prioritizing, and also to making intelligent choices – if you can, pick a time of day when you know you’re going to be reliably able to do this. Meditating at the same time and in the same place each day is not necessary – you can meditate any time, anywhere – but it is helpful when you’re trying to get into a rhythm.
There’s a reason why daily spiritual practices are called practices – not because practice makes perfect, but because we are always learning, on a daily basis.
4 – Get Your ‘Stuff’ Out of Your Head
If you’re anything like me, the moment you sit down with the intention of meditating, that’s exactly when your most panicked, urgent thoughts will crop up. Have you answered that urgent email? Did you forget this? Did you attend to that? Did you remember to get the ingredients you need for dinner?
If you try to start mindfulness with all this swirling in your head, you’re on a hiding to nowhere. So get your ‘stuff’ out of your head. Give yourself a moment or two at the start of every session where you write down or note down on your phone all of the intrusive ‘did you, have you, shouldn’t you?’ thoughts which are crowding your mind. The physical act of doing this will reassure your mind that you’re not going to forget anything important – whatever needs doing, you can attend to it after your mindful moments are up.
5 – Use a Simple Object as a Mindfulness Tool
It’s daunting for beginners to just ‘clear your mind’ – and in any case, that’s not what mindfulness is really about. It’s not about thinking nothing, it’s about being mindful, aware and observant of what you are thinking and what you are doing. Many beginners find it helpful to pick a very simple object to focus on during a mindfulness session. We’re talking really simple here. A ping pong ball. An apple. A biro. A small crystal. Something you can hold in your hands, if you wish, or simply look at, but which is not complex in shape, colour, decorating or backstory. As you meditate, concentrate on the object, allowing yourself to feel it or allowing your eyes to wander over it, being fully aware of it.
6 – Observe, Don’t Judge
At some point during your mindfulness practice – probably every few seconds when you first begin – your mind is going to wander. And that’s OK. That’s expected. It will get better, over time, and your mind will wander less and less. When you find a random thought popping into your head, acknowledge it, park it and return to your focus. Your task is to observe that this thought has arrived, not to get frustrated with yourself because it has arrived.
As you practice, you will eventually notice that you’re mindfulness is improving. How will you know? One day you’ll find yourself successfully parking distracting thoughts immediately rather than following them down a rabbit hole and having to consciously bring yourself back.
7 – Use an App, If It Helps
There are a lot of mindfulness apps around these days. If you’re an app kinda person, you may find these useful or motivating. Check out some mindfulness apps here – they may not be right for you, but every little help when you’re trying to get started with a new habit is a blessing.
Armed with these tips, hopefully you will find it easier than you thought to establish a daily mindfulness practice and to reap the many benefits we know this brings. Don’t give up. After all, the more you struggle with mindfulness, the more you probably need it.