Mindfulness Where to Start
The Short Guide for Beginners
You are not reading this by chance. The interest in mindfulness has certainly increased since the first quarantine we lived last year. More and more people keep asking how to start practicing mindfulness… Do you think that’s a coincidence?
We are connected like the root system in the world is. As a group, humanity suffered a heavy strike in 2020 and we did what we needed to do: find ways to heal. And that’s exactly why so many people around you turned to yoga, meditation, baking, gardening, and knitting.
Today I would love to give you a short guide about how to begin practicing mindfulness, independently of where you are, age, and gender.
What Is Mindfulness?
Even though you are obviously interested in practicing mindfulness, I have to explain what it is because I have read many other blogs about it and readers still don’t fully get it.
Mindfulness is the practice of consciously being present, without judgment or pressure. It’s bringing your attention to the present moment, including all your senses.
Since it’s a practice derived from Buddhist traditions, usually mindfulness is based on, but not limited to, Asian meditation techniques and philosophies.
Many people believe it’s a bunch of hearsay and magic tricks, but the truth is mindfulness has been practice for centuries and even science has proved it’s a positive practice for everybody, especially people with mental affections like PTSD, depressión, anxiety, and substance abuse.
In fact, it’s a practice so flexible and positive that it’s included in many psychotherapy models applied in schools, hospitals, veteran centers, weight management centers, universities, and prisons.
Now, there’s a tiny thing that may bother you about mindfulness.. and that’s its marketing.
In the 60s, 80s, and 2000s we live peaks of the practice because it reached many popular people and morning tv shows.
What bothers you is the commercialization and the natural human rejection of publicity. Not the practice itself.
But what exactly does mindfulness include? What does “being present” mean? Let’s find out.
Mindfulness Models and Frameworks
It is important to understand that mindfulness is more than the sum of its parts.
It doesn’t even have a “peak” or a “low” moment. It’s constantly evolving, and it doesn’t stop.
To understand what this is about, researchers and practitioners of the world have described two models: the two-component model and the five-component model.
The first one is a clinical psychologists consensus about two elements that are involved in the mindfulness’ practice:
- Self-regulation of attention: allowing us to recognize what’s going on in our minds in the present, which is basically bringing awareness to our present moment)
- Adaptive orientation: facing our experiences with a curious attitude, openness, and acceptance beyond the “positive/negative” evaluation of the experience.
On the other hand, the five-component model aims to understand the moment-to-moment manifestations of our conscious experiences. The components are:
- Material form: how we feel on the inside and the outside of our bodies (feel in love? Usually butterflies inside your stomach is the core feeling, while goosebumps are the external one)
- Feelings: do you feel good, normal, or not so good?
- Perceptions: full awareness of the attributes of an object or situation
- Volition: communicating your feelings through verbal and attitudinal behaviors
- Sensory consciousness: what are your senses telling you about an experience?
These two models both refer to how the outside affects the inside and vice versa.
You don’t have to study them to start practicing mindfulness, but you must get to know them so you understand a little better that it’s not something you can “see” as you can see a pie chart or a psychological profile.
It’s a mix of sensations and thoughts that will eventually respond to internal and external situations, but without the veil of our ego, fear, and insecurities.
What It Takes to Practice Mindfulness Correctly?
This is a very popular question in my talks. There is no “correct” way to practice mindfulness, it’s a series of tips and steps that may or not be followed to the letter.
If it makes you feel good about yourself and your life, then it’s the right way for you. If you are not focused, feeling better, or at least noticing a slight improvement in your happiness… then it’s simply not the technique for you.
Fortunately, there are many ways to begin practicing mindfulness. Remember that it’s simply about being present.
A good piece of advice for beginners is to lose all expectations. Approach to the practice with curiosity and with arms wide open. Dare to try, to discover, to find yourself…
In my opinion, all it takes is motivation and commitment. The combination of both will help you to be patient, focus on your daily progress, and keep on learning.
Think of it as incorporating an exercise routine into your life. If you only focus on exercising without remembering why you want to do it, motivation fades and you will slowly stop exercising.
Instead, if you define a goal at the beginning (and no, exercising is not a goal, is what helps you reach a goal like being healthier, feeling better with your body, or simply looking more attractive to your standards), the motivation prevails.
What to Do to Practice Mindfulness?
Here I’ll mention a few ways to begin your mindfulness practice.
I have gathered a few suggestions that anybody can adopt. Even if you are not financially stable at the moment, or if you have little time to spare.
Also, please remember that these practices don’t have the same “results” for everybody. Choose the technique that connects with you the most, explore it, feel it, bend it to your purposes and determine if it works for you or not.
Then incorporate a few others or change it for a new one. The road to enlightenment is a constant evolution, and the more aware you are, the easier it will be to follow that road.
Learn to Stop
I swear that the hardest part for beginners is learning to stop the speed of their thoughts.
I do not expect you to do this successfully the first time, but I do encourage you to notice small improvements.
For example the next time you make a mistake, don’t think of yourself as someone “stupid”, don’t focus on everything you could have done to avoid making that mistake.
Instead, when you notice you call yourself that way, think something like “Hey! What’s that? I am not stupid, I made a mistake, like everyone else… so what can I do now to fix it or move on?”
Once you understand that there are no good or bad things, but only “things” and the evaluation you make of them, you begin moving in life with less fear.
In the mindfulness world there’s a fun analogy: people say crying over the spilled milk it’s useless, we think differently.
Cry over the spilled milk, recognize and embrace the mistake. But learn from it. Why did you spill it? Was it really your mistake? How can you avoid it next? Can you do something to clean it now or later?
Your First Steps Into Meditation
You can choose guided meditations or begin by yourself. If you have issues with the speed of your thoughts or have a hard time trying to stay still, I recommend guided meditations.
There are many online resources to begin with, my recommendation is to start with short meditations (5 to 10 minutes top).
It’s important to choose appropriate schedules for meditating. The people I have worked with within my mindfulness talks usually manifest that they feel better meditating 5 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night.
This is up to you. Mindfulness is a flexible practice.
Remember: if your mind starts to wander around while meditating, treat yourself with kindness and bring your focus back to practice. There’s no point in thinking you get “too distracted” and quit a day after.
Practice your Awareness
Do you have 5 minutes without doing anything at work? Great! Just stare.
Breath in and out slowly, try not to think about anything, simply stare… feel…
This is the perfect time to practice your awareness through your senses. Are you sitting in a chair? How does it feel? Could it be comfier? Can you feel your clothes against your skin? Can you listen to the life around you?
Remember: do not judge, don’t look for explanations, or try to justify anything. Simply be there.
Nurture your Body
I’m not talking about special diets or exercises, at least not for beginners.
Nurturing your body is a way to get in touch with its demands. For example: stretching before and after going to bed helps your body to warm up, and to release some stress and contractions.
Knowing your body will help you see your limits (we all have them, and they are perfectly fine as long as we recognize them and why we have them), so you can switch smoothly between different physical practices.
Short story: once I was helping a client to begin their mindfulness practice and recommended him to begin with short breathing exercises. He complained A LOT about not being able to focus.
So instead of giving him the answer, I poked his mind a little and asked: how do YOU think you could be more focused? And all by himself, he decided to practice for one minute instead of five.
Slowly he started to notice he was gaining more discipline and endurance. He began to understand how sometimes his mind would wander randomly, and gently used the breathing as a tool to focus back.
Learning how to breathe helped him with his introduction to yoga and meditation. Do you see how everything is connected?
How Do I Know If Mindfulness Works For Me?
I love answering this question in my motivational talks! Mostly because I get the chance to connect with the audience by a story I really love too.
When I was a child, my grandfather was in love with lemon trees.
He had around 15 trees all over his house, but I never saw them bloom or give any fruits. I would see him love those plants very much, but I couldn’t understand why, it wasn’t a beautiful plant compared to orchids after all.
And if you have a fruit tree that doesn’t give you any fruit… what’s the purpose, right?
My grandfather had said that, just like many things in life, seeing the profit or the good side of something takes time.
One of the prettiest memories I have is one day getting into his house, like 7 or 8 years after the first time he had sowed the lemon seeds, and being hit by a strong lemon smell because they had finally sprouted.
My grandfather then told me that he could see how the trees were slowly changing, but I couldn’t because I was only focused on the result, not the process.
And mindfulness, my friend, is exactly about the process.
You will know if the practice is working. You will simply feel it inside. And it will be visible for the ones that surround you as well.
Personally speaking, for me it began as a mood swing. I didn’t wake up one day and said “Hmmm, so mindfulness is working, I’ll increase the dose”.
It was more like “I am not sure why… but today, I feel great”. And the next day, and the next week that feeling is still there.
My advice is: if you read all this post if you have been curious about mindfulness lately, even if you just want to try it for a week or two, do it.
I hope these tips can help you to begin with, and if you need any help at all to go deeper into mindfulness with a guide, I am here for you. Always.