If you are a beginner, looking for answers on how to practice mindfulness, then this guide is made for you, incorporating no more and no less than what you need to know about the entire concept.
I’ve been practicing mindfulness since 2014. I have gone through many bumps, I have faced a lot of setbacks, and I have had some failures.
Through time and practice, I eventually overcame every single one of them and I am here to share with you everything I have learned throughout my journey so far.
I will be releasing more articles on mindfulness in the future and I will be updating this one once in a while as well so make sure that you SUBSCRIBE to our newsletter to always remain updated.
The purpose of this article is to:
- Let you know what mindfulness is and how to start practicing it right away the right way
- Address the many struggles that most beginners, including me, tend to experience when first starting to practice mindfulness, as well as how to overcome them
- Reveal to you the two best mindfulness techniques for beginners
- Answer some frequently asked questions on mindfulness
- Give you some very simple but extremely effective and useful tips
- Dissolve frequent misconceptions about mindfulness
This article is mainly addressed to people who:
- are looking for simple techniques to start practicing mindfulness
- haven’t understood exactly what mindfulness is
- are having difficulties practicing mindfulness
- have tried practicing mindfulness in the past without success, have quit and want to get back on the horse
- just want to find more information about mindfulness
- are facing challenges with establishing a consistent mindfulness practice
- don’t know how to practice mindfulness
“Let’s find out more!” you say?
Well, you got it!
What is Mindfulness?
While researching about mindfulness, you will come across tons of different definitions.
However, I want to let you know from the very beginning of this post that trying to understand mindfulness intellectually without experiencing it, is like trying to find out what the colors of the rainbow look like while being color blind.
It doesn’t really matter how many articles or books on mindfulness you read and how many of its definitions you learn by heart, if you don’t learn to practice the actual thing, you will never truly get it.
Nevertheless, since you are here right now and words are all we have, I would really love to give you a hint of what mindfulness really is, in the simplest possible way, the same way that I would have liked someone to explain it to me when I was a beginner.
So, for me, mindfulness is a mental attitude whereas you are being fully immersed and aware of the present moment as well as whatever is taking place during that moment in the most objective, accepting, and non-judgmental way possible.
A similar, equally true, and one of my favorite depictions of mindfulness is that of Sylvia Boorstein below:
Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.
Everything you will ever need to know about mindfulness lies in those two definitions above.
Trying to make more sense of mindfulness before actually practicing it, is pointless.
The only way to truly understand what mindfulness is and how it works is to start practicing it.
That’s why I am closing this section right now and moving on to the actual practices right away.
The Two Best Mindfulness Techniques for Beginners
For me, the two best mindfulness techniques for someone who is just beginning are:
- Mindfulness of Breathing
- What I call “The Cat Meditation”, or as others call it the “Do Nothing” or “Open Awareness Meditation”
- They are very simple to learn and master
- They are extremely effective
- Their benefits are vast and long-lasting
- Results will come relatively fast, especially with the Cat Meditation
- They both have the potential to completely transform your life.
Some tips before we go into the practices:
Tip 1: To practice mindfulness, you don’t have to sit a specific way(cross-legged, lotus, half-lotus, etc). For the time being, just make sure that you put all your mental efforts into learning how to practice as well as making your practice a part of your daily life and don’t waste your time and energy worrying about “sitting the right way” just yet…
I am currently almost four years into my practice and I have almost never sat in a lotus position. I am always meditating with my back against the back of a comfortable chair and mindfulness seems to be working just perfectly for me up to this point.
Just make sure that you keep your back straight and all your muscles relaxed, especially your shoulder and facial ones(eyebrows, jaw, eyelids, etc).
Tip 2: Try to avoid meditating lying down in order to minimize the risk of dozing off.
Mindfulness is not about relaxing so much that you can’t keep yourself awake.
During practice, your body should be in a neutral, relaxed position but your mind should be completely awake, alert, and aware of the present moment.
This mental state is what induces all the benefits of practicing mindfulness.
When you fall asleep you are neither awake nor alert and aware.
That’s why falling asleep during your practice might impede or even prevent the manifestation of those benefits.
However, don’t beat yourself up if you fall asleep a couple of times during your practice…
That happens even to the best of us 😛
Okay… Let’s take a look at the practices!
1 – Mindfulness of Breathing
The Mindfulness of Breathing technique is one of the most basic, simple, yet powerful mindfulness techniques.
The entire practice can be broken down into this three-step process below:
- bringing your attention to your breathing(inhalations, exhalations, or both)
- recognizing when your attention deviates from your breathing(which it inevitably will)
- re-directing your attention to your breathing
Whether you are practicing for just one minute or for one hour, all you have to do is keep repeating those three steps just described until the end of your practice. Every single practice of yours is going to be looking something like this: 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3…
So, now that you know, let’s go for one round!
- Find a quiet place where you will be alone and will not be bothered by anyone for about five minutes
- Sit in a comfortable position
- Close your eyes, relax all your muscles, especially your shoulder and facial ones(those are the parts of your body where you are most likely constantly carrying the most tension)
- Bring your attention to your breath (your breath is most distinct at your nostrils, throat, lungs, and belly, so you might want to bring your attention on one of those four parts)
- Keep your attention on your breathing for as long as you can
- After a few breaths, your attention will naturally wander away from your breathing
- When you become aware that your attention has wandered away, just refocus your attention back to your breathing, without judging yourself in any way
This is it… This is the entire practice!
Seems easy right?
Just try it once and let me know later on 😛
Tip: The whole point of this practice is NOT to stay focused on your breath for as long as possible, but rather to gently bring your attention back to your breath, without any kind of judgment when you realize that it(your attention) has wandered away.
Mindfulness is like an actual muscle…
Bringing your attention back to your breathing is like a push-up for your mind, and just like every additional push-up makes your body stronger, so every additional time you bring your attention back to your breathing makes your mindfulness practice more potent and stable.
2 – The Cat Meditation(Do Nothing/Open Awareness)
I have lived with several mindfulness masters – all of them cats…~Eckhart Tolle
It was a very hot August day afternoon, more than a year ago. My parents and my sister were on vacation. Due to having to go to work I was left at home, completely alone…
It was AWESOME!
Being completely alone has always been perceived by me as a great chance to hang out with and take care of myself.
That afternoon, I was relaxing on my balcony, eating a light snack, preparing for a completely undisturbed mindfulness session… Oh, the bliss!
Across the street, I noticed one of our neighborhood’s stray cats… It was just lying there, under the sun, barely moving once in while to change its position… It seemed absolutely at peace!
I kept on intensely observing the cat, asking myself the same question over and over again…
“How the fuck can this cat be so peaceful?”.
After a few minutes of being completely obsessed with this cat, the answer became apparent…
“This cat is so peaceful because it is just a cat… It cares neither about the past nor about the future… It does not need to do something special to be a cat, make an effort to become better at being a cat, or try to mimic the behavior, appearance, or the way of thinking of another cat which is more popular, famous, or rich… It just is a cat! It does not care about all these crap! It just is, as it is, where it is, doing cat stuff.”
I immediately went inside, sat on my couch and did exactly as the cat was doing… Nothing… Just being me!
Amazingly, it was one of the most peaceful, profound, and transformative mindfulness sessions of my life.
So, let’s have a session right now, shall we?
Basically, this practice consists of three steps as well:
- Do Nothing
- Judge No-Thing
- Try to change Nothing
So, here is how to practice:
- Find a quiet place where you will be alone and will not be bothered by anyone for about five minutes
- Sit in a comfortable position
- Close your eyes and relax all your muscles, especially your shoulder and facial ones(those are the parts of your body where you are most likely constantly carrying the most tension)
- Let your mind do whatever it wants. Let it run towards any direction it desires. That’s what minds are supposed to do, so just let your mind be a mind.
- You don’t have to focus on anything.
- Just open your awareness to everything that is happening during every single moment such as the sounds around you, your breath, your heartbeat, your thoughts and feelings, the temperature of your body, the taste in your mouth, your urge to stop meditating, itches, pains, boredom, etc
- Don’t judge anything, don’t try to change anything… Just sit where you are, as you are, and be aware of everything that takes place inside and around you.
- For example, if you are feeling hot, just observe it and accept it without doing anything more… If you hear a dog barking at a distance, just acknowledge the sound… If a negative thought pops up, let go of your need to change it and just let it be where it is.
Before you go any further, make sure that you give those two practices a try right now for at least 5 minutes each.
This way, you’ll comprehend better everything that you’re about to read below.
Some of the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
Okay, now that you found out about the practices and you have tried them for like 5 minutes each, I am quite sure that you are wondering “I am not feeling any huge difference or maybe any difference at all, so now what?”
Now you keep practicing… As much and as often as you can!
- Because the benefits of practicing mindfulness need some more time and practice to start taking place
- Because they are so vast that you cannot afford not to keep practicing it.
A hint of the benefits that you are going to be experiencing eventually if you keep up your practice for long enough are:
- Decreased overthinking, anxiety, and stress
- Increased memory capacity
- Sharper focus
- Better impulse control
- Improved immune system
- Longer lifespan
- Increased pain tolerance(both physical and emotional)
- Reduced blood pressure
- Better heart rate
- Increased self-confidence, self-love, self-acceptance, compassion, empathy, social skills
- Heightened intuition
- Elevated peace of mind, clarity, bliss, and happiness
- Enhanced problem-solving and decision-making capabilities
- Improved out-of-the-box thinking
Those benefits mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of them will come faster than others. To start experiencing any of them make sure that you keep practicing consistently for AT LEAST 2 months straight. And when I am saying consistently I mean for AT LEAST 5 times a week.
If you’d like, you can discover more about The Benefits of Practicing Meditation right here!
A Bunch of Useful Tips
When I first started practicing mindfulness I came along many challenges and difficulties.
If you have already started practicing, I am sure that you understand what I am talking about… If you haven’t started practicing yet, I am sure that when you start practicing, you will understand too.
Here are some tips and recommendations that will definitely make your life way easier while marching on the path to mindfulness.
1/ Stop Expecting Immediate Results
A huge mistake that most people do, including me, when they first start practicing mindfulness is that they expect immediate results.
Hell, some of them, again including me, expect that just a couple of sessions are going to elevate them to new heights of peace of mind and enlightenment.
Little do we know…
This is how my average mindfulness practice kept going for at least the first couple of months after commencing:
- breath 1 – “Okay now it’s time for experiencing some peace/happiness”
- breath 2 – “I don’t seem to become any calmer/happier”
- breath 3 – “OMG this does not work for me”
- breath 4 – “This is freaking hopeless I am not getting calmer/happier”
- breath 5 – “F$%K, S&1t, C5@P, I hate my mind, myself, and this practice… I quit!”
The problem with having such attitude is not only that it makes you more frustrated, impatient, and likely to quit your practice altogether but also that it makes any results highly unlikely to start taking place.
Yeap! Being desperate for results will actually make any kind of results take place even slower.
Now that I think about it, you should stop expecting results altogether.
Results will definitely come way faster when you STOP LOOKING FOR RESULTS, so let go of all your expectations at once.
Just keep practicing mindfulness for the sake of practicing it.
That’s the whole point of practicing mindfulness after all; being okay with the present moment without needing to change it in any way.
Every benefit that you are going to be experiencing is just a byproduct of this state so achieving this state should be your only concern.
Don’t worry, results will definitely come eventually…
After a while, you will look back and realize how much this practice has changed yourself for the better.
2/ Make Your Mindfulness Practice a Daily Habit
One of the most common challenges that people tend to be facing with their practice, is their inability to actually sit and practice.
I totally get it!
You are bored to practice because watching your breath or doing nothing at all is fucking boring… Who wants to be doing something that boring for 20-30 minutes a day?
I also get that you are constantly making excuses such as “I don’t have time” or “I have more important things to do” or “It’s okay, I will practice tomorrow” for the 732nd day in a row, in order to avoid meditating (I am watching you)…
If this sounds like you, then I am about to make your life a whole lot easier.
As human beings, we are creatures of habit.
A habit is a fixed action that has taken place with such frequency that has become automatic and effortless.
That is exactly what you want to do with your mindfulness practice and here is how you’ll do it:
- Forget what everyone says about having to practice mindfulness for 30+ minutes daily.
- Reduce the duration of your practice down to 5 minutes with only one condition… You’ll have to practice it daily.
You might think that five minutes of practice a day won’t do much difference but you are wrong.
First of all, five minutes of practice is far more beneficial than no practice at all.
Also, during those four years of practicing mindfulness, I have found out that consistency with your practice is far more beneficial than the duration of your practice.
That means that it is better to be practicing mindfulness daily for just five minutes than practicing it once a week for one hour.
So, if you are facing problems with maintaining a consistent practice, give this approach a try for yourself for at least 2 months.
After a while, you are going to realize that sitting for a mindfulness session comes to you automatically and effortlessly.
Then you can start increasing the duration of your practice in order to start reaping more and more of the practice’s benefits.
3/ Quit Worrying… You Are Practicing the Right Way
Another thing that I used to struggle with when I was a beginner was the doubts about the correctness and quality of my practice.
For a few months after I started practicing, I didn’t really know if the way that I was practicing was the “right way” to practice and if this way would eventually bear any fruits for me.
Since you are here, I guess that you might be feeling the same way but let me put your mind at ease.
First of all, the fact that you are willingly sitting to make an effort and meditate automatically bears a handful of benefits.
The only failed mindfulness practice is the one that you didn’t do, so as long as you keep practicing, you are an utter success.
Another thing that you should consider avoiding is rating your sessions…
Many people tend to keep rating their sessions as successful or unsuccessful based on the amount of calmness or happiness that they attain during or after finishing them.
This tendency is pointless, un-motivational and counter-productive.
Any effort to be mindful, no matter how distracted and fruitless it may seem at the time, is definitely not going to waste.
Mindfulness is composed of 2 parts:
- willingly paying attention to the present moment
- without any kind of judgment
As long as you are consciously trying to embed those 2 parts into your sessions, you are doing it right.
There is no such thing as a good or bad mindfulness practice.
Lastly, stop comparing your sessions.
Maybe after yesterday’s practice, you felt refreshed and calm while after today’s one shitty and agitated.
That doesn’t mean that yesterday’s practice was better than today’s.
No mindfulness session of yours can be exactly the same as a previous or a future one the same way that you can never touch the exact same water in a river twice.
4/ Don’t Mind About any Discomforts
Often times, practitioners claim to be coming across a variety of discomforts during or immediately after finishing their mindfulness sessions or even at random times during their daily lives.
Some of those discomforts might be:
- ringing in the ears
- increased stress, anxiety, sadness, restlessness
- seeing random colors
- experiencing intense emotions
- tearing up
- physical pains
I have experienced a number of those discomforts myself throughout the years of my practice but let me tell you that experiencing any of them is completely normal.
I know that you are wondering:
“Why should I start practicing mindfulness if there is a possibility to make me feel uncomfortable?”
Well, mindfulness is not actually the cause of any discomforts…
Any discomforts that you might be experiencing have already been there, most likely for a long time, but you were too busy being caught up in your thinking to pay attention to them.
Your conscious mind is like the surface of a lake… When it is turbulent, you can’t see what lies below it.
As you keep cultivating more mindfulness, the surface becomes calmer and clearer and you become more and more able to see what lies beneath it… That’s why any unattended discomforts become more apparent.
My recommendation is to just keep practicing and power through those challenging states… Don’t judge them… Just let them be until they are no more.
They will eventually disappear, just as they did for me.
5/ Eliminate All Distractions
Turn off the TV, dim the lights, seclude yourself, put your phone in flight mode, shut down your PC/laptop/tablet/smartphone before you even consider to start practicing.
If you leave your TV on, you might hear something that captures your attention… You interrupt your practice and open your eyes just for a glimpse… Five hours later you find yourself vegging in front of the TV… Practice ruined!
Your own mind is enough of a distraction… Believe me that you don’t need any more of them.
6/ Don’t Try to Stop Your Thoughts
Many people have gotten the impression that meditation can somehow “help you lessen or even completely stop your thoughts”.
Okay, I will be honest with you…
First of all, there are no known means that can entirely stop your thinking(except for death).
Secondly, your thoughts are those who control and maintain all your body’s processes, so if you somehow succeed in stopping all your thinking, you will die.
Lastly, attempting to stop your thoughts can only have adverse results, meaning that you’ll end up with even more thoughts or that your already existing thoughts will become louder and more persistent… As Carl Jung skillfully observed, “What you resist, persists.”
I’ve been there and I’ve done that.
I have been trying to stop my thoughts for a while and it truly does not work.
While it is true that one of the “side effects“ of being mindful is experiencing increased amounts of calmness and peace, this does not happen because your thoughts have vanished.
Mindfulness is like observing the moment-to-moment reality that you are experiencing but from a third person’s perspective.
While truly mindful you are no longer the one who is experiencing reality but the one who observes the one who is experiencing reality.
It’s like watching a football game without supporting either team. You don’t care about the outcome… You don’t get stressed about the results… You don’t care about who scores and you don’t care if the score changes at all. You are just enjoying yourself being at the game.
That’s exactly what mindfulness is; just being where you are and as you are, attending and observing every single second with acceptance, without any kind of judgment, not caring if it changes or not.
I believe that you can understand yourself that while in such state, calmness and peace have no choice but to manifest naturally.
What Mindfulness is NOT
On the path to understanding what mindfulness truly is, understanding what mindfulness is not, is of equal importance.
That’s why, in this section, I am going to be addressing and dissolving some very common misconceptions about mindfulness.
1/ Mindfulness is NOT Just About the Now
Besides paying attention to the present moment, mindfulness is composed of another usually overlooked, but equally important element, which is not judging the present moment.
Bringing your attention to the present moment sure has a lot to offer you but if you are constantly judging every moment that you pay attention to, you are not mindful at all.
-“Okay, I know what is happening now… I am anxious… AND IT SUCKS… I want to be more peaceful”
-“Wow, I have so many negative thoughts in my mind… I need to make them vanish”
This is NOT mindfulness.
Make sure that you put at least the same amount of effort into bringing your attention to the present moment as you put into being non-judgmental of it.
2/ Mindfulness is NOT About Stopping Your Negative Thoughts
Stopping your negative thoughts is not what mindfulness is about… At all!
In fact, trying to stop your negative thoughts can only result in experiencing even more of them.
Think of your negative thoughts as a fire. Trying to stop your negative thoughts is like throwing wood into the fire and the more wood you throw into the fire, the larger and fiercer this fire will get.
Nevertheless, through observation and acceptance, mindfulness helps us cultivate a healthier relationship with our negative thoughts.
This way, with time and practice, we grow less and less affected by them; we stop caring if they are there or not, so, at the end of the day, it doesn’t even bother us anymore if they go away or stay where they are and for as long as they like.
Your thoughts are not the ones that actually change, but your attitude towards them is.
3/ Mindfulness is NOT About Silencing or Emptying the Mind
Our minds have been designed to be anything but empty.
The only mind that can think of no thoughts is a dead one.
There are no known practices to keep your mind vacant and even if they were, mindfulness is definitely not one of them.
Through observation and non-judgment, mindfulness just helps us understand our thoughts better and shows us the path to live in harmony with them rather than trying to suppress them or push them away.
4/ Mindfulness is NOT About Becoming Relaxed/Happy/Peaceful
Mindfulness is not really about achieving any particular positive state.
Positive states such as happiness, relaxation, peacefulness, etc, are just pleasant “side-effects” of mindfulness, manifesting as a result of non-judgment and being present.
Chuang Tzu once said that happiness is the absence of striving for happiness. In my opinion, this applies to all kinds of positive states.
Stop going after any kind of positive state while practicing. Let go of the expectation that mindfulness is practiced in order to make you feel good.
The more you are striving to achieve feel-good states the less you will be experiencing them.
Your only goal should be to be present and non-judgmental… The positive states will eventually manifest naturally.
5/ Mindfulness Should Not be Forsaken When Times Are Good
For a while after starting practicing mindfulness, I used to practice only when I was in a bad mood, or when life felt difficult, or when I had literally nothing else to do.
When everything was going as planned, or when I had company to hang out with and have fun, or when life felt easier in general, I was like “Fuck it, why should I practice now since everything is ok?”
However, mindfulness does not truly work that way…
You shouldn’t think of mindfulness as a way to instantly alleviate your suffering when you want to rid yourself of it.
Instead, think of mindfulness as an investment.
The more you stick with your practice, the more you become able to enjoy and cherish the good times while proactively preparing yourself to be more tolerant when the bad times come.
Mindfulness is a life-long skill and to reap the most benefits of it, you should keep cultivating it consistently regardless of your state of being.
6/ Mindfulness is NOT Visualization
A few weeks ago, I was in a forum, chatting with a guy who told me that he couldn’t make mindfulness work for him.
I asked him about his practice and he told me that he would sit down trying to create mental images of calm forests, creeks, and birds flying through the sky in order to relax.
First of all, as said earlier, mindfulness is not a goal-oriented practice so “trying” to relax is far from being mindful.
Secondly, mindfulness is not about imagining any kind of sceneries and/or pictures… That is visualization…
7/ You Don’t Have to Sit a Specific Way to Be Mindful
Well, there are several postures in which you could practice mindfulness, but it’s totally up to you if you choose to actually sit in one of them or not.
Truth is that mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and in any posture.
For about one and a half years I kept practicing daily on the bus to work, most of the time standing.
Mindfulness is all about training the mind to be present and non-judgmental and it has little or maybe nothing to do with training the body.
In my opinion, as a beginner, all your efforts should be focused on making your mindfulness practice a daily habit.
This should be your very first and foremost priority…
Until you achieve this, you shouldn’t even bother with small details such as trying to sit in a specific position to practice.
You will start paying attention to such details when you become more proficient.
8/ Mindfulness is NOT Part of Any Religion or Dogma
In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is utilized to develop self-knowledge and wisdom that gradually leads to what is described as enlightenment or the complete freedom from all suffering.
However, despite coming about as a part of Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness can also be practiced by itself.
You don’t have to believe in Buddha or become a Buddhist monk living in a monastery, secluding yourself from the world in order to benefit from this practice.
Mindfulness is a purely mental process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, without judging them and that is all there is to that.
Everyone can do it and everyone can benefit from it.
Before I end this, I want to point out once more that mindfulness is not a concept that can be understood intellectually merely by reading about it, but rather a state that has to be felt and experienced through consistent and persistent practice.
There is no other way around.
Mindfulness is just like football or basically any other regular activity.
You can learn everything about the rules of the game, its tactics, and best practices by watching it and reading about it but if you don’t actually become a part of the activity, a player of the game, you will never know how it is actually played and you will definitely never master it.
Mindfulness is a skill that has the potential to keep benefiting you throughout your entire life.
I ensure you that you will never regret investing your time and effort in it.
I can’t really imagine how my life would be right now if I had never come across this practice.
The more I progress with my practice, the more I thank myself that I took the decision to start it and stick with it no matter what.
Don’t take my word for it… See for yourself…
All you have to do is start practicing it right where you are.
If you have any questions about the practice, if you need any clarifications, if there is a challenge that you are facing with your practice which I haven’t addressed in this article, make sure that you leave a comment below and I will gladly help you out more!
You may even contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to.
Please share this post with family and friends and help them get started with their mindfulness practice while helping Mindful Mind grow and evolve as it does the same for you!
To being more mindful!