In this guide, we look at getting started with mindfulness for beginners.
If you’re just getting started with mindfulness as a beginner, you might wonder what the craze is all about. Why is it one of the fastest-growing health practices of the past decade? What will you get out of it?
There are so many amazing benefits of mindfulness meditation for beginners to look forward to. It will make you relaxed, happier, and less anxious. Just take a look at my article on the best meditation exercises for kids and adults to see what it’s all about.
An Explanation Of Mindfulness For Beginners
Mindfulness is the psychological quality of focusing on the present moment without judgment. If you focus on your senses or observe mental phenomena like thoughts and feelings in the present moment, you are practising mindfulness.
It’s am exercise and philosophy that comes from Buddhism.
Mindfulness derives from Sati, a major component of Buddhist tradition, although you do not need to be Buddhist to practice mindfulness. The term itself comes from the Pali term Sati and the Sanskrit word smṛti. It means, “Bare attention”. And that is the heart of mindfulness: paying attention to the present moment. The word in Sanskrit also means to remember, and a large part of mindfulness for beginners is remembering to be mindful (which is why there are so many “mindful reminder” products and apps available today).
Interestingly, there are several different ways of defining mindfulness, and experts do not always agree.
Different experts define the meaning of “mindfulness” differently:
- Jack Kornfield called it “Attention”
- Mahasi Sayadaw calls it “Concentrated attention”
- Herbet V. Gunther calls it “Inspection”
- Erik Pema Kunsang and Buddhadasa Bikku call it “Recollection”
Many people wrongly believe that mindfulness is meditation. This is in fact a fallacy.
There is a difference between mindfulness and meditation. Meditation is a specific practice in which we focus on one part of the present moment for a set duration. Mindfulness is the general quality of being mindful in life (although, confusing things, there is also a specific meditation technique called mindfulness, which is based on Zen, Vipassana, and Tibetan meditation techniques). Generally today, when people say they are “practicing mindfulness” they mean they are being aware of the present moment in general, and when they say they are doing “mindfulness meditation”, it means they are formally meditating.
The Two Types Of Mindfulness (Beginners Should Do Both!)
- Dispositional (trait) mindfulness: Dispositional mindfulness refers to a general conscious awareness and non-judgmental attitude.
- State mindfulness: State mindfulness refers to the actual practice of meditating.
The past few decades have been some of the most exciting in the history of mindfulness.
Mindfulness has developed over recent years through luminaries like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Thích Nhất Hạnh (1926– ), Herbert Benson (1935– ), Jon Kabat-Zinn (1944– ), Richard J. Davidson (1951– ), Jack Kornfield, and Sam Harris. Today mindfulness is used in therapy through methods such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [MBCBT]. It is also used in schools, prisons, hospitals, business, and many other avenues.
It’s really easy for beginners to get started with mindfulness!
One of the best things about mindfulness for beginners is that it doesn’t require anything other than a little effort. You do not need a meditation chair, or mala, or a mindfulness app, or anything else, although many people do enjoy using guided mindfulness meditation videos. You just need to focus your mind on the present moment.
Yes, all you need to do is focus on the present moment.
When you do this for a sustained period, you will begin to feel inner peace and calmness, and you will experience less negative thoughts and emotions.
Beginners can practice mindfulness both through meditation and by generally trying to be more aware.
As Steven F.Hick stated, mindfulness practice is best when used both formally and informally. Formally refers to actual meditation, and informal mindfulness refers to the general trait of checking in with yourself from time to time and focusing on the present moment.
Benefits of mindfulness
It is important to note that although there are scientifically proven benefits of mindfulness, it is best to have no goal in mind when practising.
Yep, when you’re getting started with mindfulness, expect nothing. Benefits will happen, but the more you let go of expectations, the more you will get out of it.
Unlike virtually all other forms of therapy, there is no goal with mindfulness. It’s just about being present. Although some people use mindfulness for stress, anxiety, depression and other issues, there ideally should be no set goal of mindfulness.
That said,, there are significant benefits of mindfulness meditation. Some of those benefits are spiritual, like attaining enlightenment (nibbana), and some are health related.
In Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is the first factor of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and “Right Mindfulness” is the seventh element on the Noble Eightfold Path. There are also different forms of mindfulness in Buddhism:
- Anapanasati: mindfulness of breathing
- Satipaṭṭhāna: mindfulness in everyday life
- Samprajaña, apramāda: “clear comprehension” and “vigilance”, from Theravada Buddhism.
Practising these different types of mindfulness will help us to become enlightened. That’s the Buddhist view. Of course, there are many scientifically proven benefits of mindfulness for use in everyday life too.
Science and Applications of Mindfulness
Scientific research has shown that a direct relationship between trait mindfulness and mental health (trait mindfulness is the quality of being mindful, as opposed to state mindfulness, which is a meditation technique).
There are many benefits of mindfulness in therapy and for psychiatric disorders, as well as for general health.
One of the most popular reasons why people practice mindfulness is that it reduces rumination and worry.
Not only that, but there are physical health benefits of mindfulness too. Mindfulness leads to stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system and regulation of the sympathetic nervous system, along with reduction of the stress hormones cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenalin, reduced activity in the default mode network, improvements in the immune system, and reduced inflammation.
In line with its use in therapeutic settings, different institutes have devised different ways of measuring mindfulness:
- Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)
- Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI)
- Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills (KIMS)
- Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale (CAMS)
- Mindfulness Questionnaire (MQ)
Because of the many benefits of mindfulness, it is now widely used in psychotherapy and general health.
Some of the different forms of mindful therapy include:
- Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
- Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (used mostly for depression)
- Mindfulness Based Pain Management (for living with chronic pain and illness)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (clinical behaviour analysis used in psychotherapy)
- Dialectical Behavioural Therapy: psychosocial treatment created by Marsha M. Linehan for treating Borderline Personality Disorder
- Mode Deactivation Therapy: For teens with behavioural problems.
- Morita Therapy: for accepting and letting go
- Adaption Practice: For self-discipline
- Hakomi Therapy: A somatic psychotherapy
As well as these therapy settings, there has also been significant development in the use of mindfulness in school, such as through the Mindful Kids Miami organization, The Inner Kids Program, MindUP, the Holistic Life Foundation, and the Mindful Life Project.
Meanwhile, big developments are helping in the use of mindfulness for business. Google, Apple, General Mills, the U.S. Army and Procter & Gamble have all started introducing mindfulness in business settings, as so are government organisations.
Clearly, there are big benefits of mindfulness meditation! So how do you do it?
2 Basic Mindfulness Meditation Techniques For Beginners
When you’re just getting started with mindfulness as a beginner you might wonder just what the heck the practice actually is. It is basically living in the present moment.
When we talk about being mindful we mean living in the present moment non-judgmentally. It is about perceiving things as they are. That is the core principle for beginners to understand.
So let’s think about what it means.
Most of the time, we are stuck in our heads, lost in thoughts. And we tend to think of those thoughts are real. We don’t see things for what they are; we see our delusional perception of reality.
Mindfulness is the opposite. When we are being mindful, we are focusing on the thing that we are doing at any given time. For instance, when being mindful of the breath, we are focusing solely on the breath. And if we do think thoughts, we remind ourselves that it is just a thought and not reality. When you’re getting started, simply focus on the present moment.
GreaterGood explains that it is about “Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
So what it means is this: focusing on the present moment and having a clear perception of reality.
There are many ways we can do this, including:
- Exercises like yoga
- Breathing techniques
- Meditation [beginners guide below]
- Conscious eating
To start, let me teach you my beginner’s meditation, which will help you to live in the present moment and to let go of unwanted thoughts.
Beginners Mindfulness Meditation Script 1
Before you start this technique, you will want to read my article on meditating properly for beginners.
Once you’ve read that guide, follow the simple instructions below.
1: Close your eyes. Do not cram your eyes together. Make sure your eyes are very relaxed and that they are at rest. They should be gently closed.
2: Breathe through your nose. You might like to take a few deep breaths just to relax. Then allow your breathing to come naturally and to be gentle and smooth.
3: Focus on your breath coming through your nose. Begin to observe the sensations of your breath moving through your nose. As a beginner, it may be a challenge at first. That’s fine. Don’t get frustrated if your mind wanders. Just gently return your focus to the breath.
4: Count to 108 breaths. 108 is a sacred number. We usually take this number of breaths when we meditate. You might feel rushed to get to the end. That’s normal. Remind yourself that your idea of rushing is just a thought, and any feelings are just feelings. Then continue to focus.
When you’re just getting into it, you might struggle to get to 108 breaths. You might get distracted. That’s normal for a novice. Don’t be frustrated; be glad that you started mindfulness. Next time you will make it to 108 breaths.
Beginners Mindfulness Meditation Script 2
Above I shared an easy mindfulness meditation technique for beginners. Now it’s time for the proper Buddhist technique. Beginners can do this too. Just go slowly. And if you would like to learn more, read my guide to Buddhist meditations.
Here’s the script.
1: Sit comfortably with good posture. You can sit on a special cushion, on the floor, park bench, wherever you like. Just make sure you’re comfortable.
2: Place your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Let your wrists drop so that your hands are placed gently on your lap. You can choose to adopt one of the meditation mudras if you like. What matters is that you are comfortable.
3: Drop your chin and let your gaze drift softly downwards.
4: Your eyes: You can choose to have your eyes open, to let your eyelids drop so your eyes are partially closed (three quarters closed is good,) or to completely close your eyes. But do not focus on your vision.
5: Relax for a few minutes.
6: Focus on your breathing. There are lots of different types of breathing meditations. The best is to simply focus on your breath moving through your nose This will help you to relax.
7: Focus your mind on your breathing. Pay particular attention to how your breath flows between your lips and through your nose.
8: At times, you will notice that your focus wanders. This is inevitable. When this happens, simply relax and gently bring your focus back to your breathing. When thoughts arise, accept them. Do not try obstruct them back and do not judge them. Just observe them and let them come and go.
9: When you feel that you need to move, or you get an itch, take a moment just to sit still. Then consciously decide to move. It’s important that you consciously decide to move as this will train your mind to be inwardly still.
10 : Ending: At the end of your practice, open your eyes and lift your gaze. Sit still and be consciously aware of the sounds around you. Notice any feelings in your body. Notice any thoughts. Take a moment and consciously decide to carry on with your day.
If you want to take your practice further and develop the habit, Mindful recommends getting a buddy to practice with.
How To Continue Learning Mindfulness
If you tried the beginner’s mindfulness meditation scripts above, you’ve already started to relax, and you might wonder how to continue. Do you want to go further? If so, here are the best books for 2020.
Alternatively, you might like to learn from a CD or DVD.
One thing I recommend when you’re starting is to use some reminders.
A famous quote says, “Mindfulness is easy. Remembering is the hard part”.
Remembering is actually at the heart of the practice. The very word itself, translated from its original Pali, means Remembering.
Above we looked at two types of mindfulness meditation for beginners. Those exercises will help you to relax. But you will probably forget to be mindful sooner or later.
Forgetting to be mindful is the beginners biggest problem. You will probably find you lose focus quickly. You get distracted. Thankfully it gets better with practice. But even then: your focus varies day by day.
Have you ever experienced days when you were living in your mind? Days when you weren’t paying attention to what was happening around you? At those times, you might say you were mindless. You were ignoring reality and focusing only on your thoughts. Did you notice how you started to feel negative / sad/ anxious / stressed at those times?
When you are mindless, you are much more likely to experience negative emotions. That’s why the practice is so valuable, because it trains us to live in the present moment. And one of the best ways to do that is with an app like Calm or Headspace.
Using apps and reminders will help you to remember to practice and to stay mindful throughout the day. Make sure you find opportunities in your day to practice. For instance, by being mindful at work.
In this mindfulness beginners guide, you’ve learned two great types of mindfulness. And you’ve learned how being mindful can help you in life. I’d love to hear your comments on my article.
Leave a comment, share, and remember to subscribe .
Mindfulness video by Sauna Sapiro at TedX
Explanation of the practice by University of California, Berkley.
Benefits of the method by the American Psychological Association.