Beginning a Mindfulness Practice

Getting started with mindfulness meditation

Many people believe that mindfulness is about sitting alone with your thoughts. Sounds awful, right? In a 2014 study, researchers found that most people would rather apply electroshocks to themselves than be alone with their thoughts. Another study showed that most people find it hard to focus on the present and that the mind’s wandering can lead to stress and even suffering (Mineo, 2018).

So, why are all of these psychologists and therapists raving about mindfulness

What exactly is mindfulness? Why should I do it? How do I do it?

Mindfulness Explained

Mindfulness is the practice of one controlling and focusing their mind on a specific experience. Experiences are not limited to breath, though this is a popular medium. Other ideas can come from smelling flowers, horseback riding, walking, listening to the sounds of an ocean or river, eating, listening to music, doing a puzzle, and many more. Mindfulness is more about the experience of the brain than the experience of an activity. “The term mindfulness signals a focus on mind rather than behavior… Mindfulness is enhanced attention to, and emotionally detached awareness of current experience, requiring openness to sensation without judgment,” (Bateman, 2012).

That is, the practice of mindfulness involves focusing one’s attention on the present moment, independent of emotions. Observing our experiences and emotions helps us to make sense of them. If you are familiar with the Harry Potter series, you have probably seen the Pensieve device that they use to revisit old memories and gain new perspectives on them. This is a form of mindfulness. Unfortunately, most of us do not have a Pensieve device, so we will have to rely on learning and practicing mindfulness on our own.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Because of the secular nature of mindfulness, it has grown in popularity worldwide. As a result, we know have more information than ever on the benefits of having a mindfulness practice. At its core, mindfulness helps our brain take a break. Many of us have conditioned our minds to ruminate on the past or worry about the future, leaving little-to-no space for our brains to focus on the present moment and cease negative thinking altogether. “Mindfulness teaches you the skill of paying attention to the present by noticing when your mind wanders off. Come back to your breath. It’s a place where we can rest and settle our minds,” (Mineo 2018).

A different Harvard study showed that mindfulness meditation can change the brain’s gray matter and brain regions linked with memory, the sense of self, and regulation of emotions. Additionally, it has been linked to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity by teaching the brain a relaxation response.

Getting Started with Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be any activity that focuses on the present. Numerous beginners decide to start small, with a breath or body meditation.

Set up the environment: Mindfulness practice is easiest when we are most relaxed. Put on relaxing music; close the curtains; shut the door to your room to keep children, animals, or other people away from you. Use a sleeping mask if needed to block out light.

Reduce or eliminate distractions: We are training our minds to focus on the present, which is difficult with constant bombardments of news stories, social media notifications, and email alerts. Turn off or silence your phone’s notifications.

Make yourself comfortable: Posture is important for meditation. It’s difficult to focus when we are experiencing discomfort. Use a cushion or chair to sit up straight without straining. Remember to keep your head above your heart and heart above your pelvis. Place your hands in your lap.

Practicing Mindfulness

Close your eyes or soften your gaze.

Take a deep breath in and relax. Feel the rise and fall of your chest and expansion of your belly like a balloon. Don’t control the breath, just observe its natural flow.

Your mind will likely wander. That’s okay. This is mindfulness practice not mindfulness perfect. Any amount of time that you spend practicing mindfulness is better than none. You cannot do this wrong. It is simply a skill that we all must continue practicing and building upon.

When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. Don’t judge yourself or grow upset. Understand that this is normal and expected, but we are teaching our brains to come back to the present moment.

Mindfulness practice seems to have the most benefits when it is practiced for 20 minutes up to twice a day.

Mindfulness Strategies

Color breathing- Think of a color that you find relaxing. When you breath in, imagine breathing in this color. Think of a color that you associate with stress and anxiety. When you breath out, imagine breathing out this color.

Box breathing- Picture a box or square in your head. A box has four sides- there are four steps to this process, each lasting four counts. Breathe in for four counts. Hold for four counts. Breathe out for four counts. Hold for four counts.

Intention breathing- Think of something that you want to accomplish with your mindfulness practice. When you breathe in, imagine breathing in this intention and the tools you need to accomplish it (i.e. I breathe in the energy needed to do the dishes today). On the out breath, imagine releasing barriers to that process (I rid myself of fatigue and grogginess).

More Information

Mindfulness is a skill. You won’t be perfect at it the first time you try. It can also be difficult to get started or know where to go with it. Our clinicians all have training in mindfulness meditation and can help you achieve more than just your mindfulness goals. Reach out if you’d like to speak with a professional. Information can be found on our Contact Us page.

Videos

The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger
Mindfulness and the Body - Michelle Maldonado
Mindfulness Practice - Michelle Maldonado


References

Bateman, A. (2012). Mindfulness. British Journal of Psychiatry, 201(4), 297. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.111.098871

Mineo, L. (2018). With mindfulness, life’s in the moment. The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfulness-meditation/