With an increased focus on wellbeing and overall health, mindfulness has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. Zara Castagna explains what it means, what it can do for you, and most importantly how to get started.
In basic terms, mindfulness is the ability of being completely present in the moment. It is an ability most people naturally have but can access more easily when practised regularly. This practise has a lot of benefits and can, for instance, help you to be more focussed, less stressed or anxious. Here are a few tips on how to get started.
DO look for some guidance. It is completely normal that you don’t know where to begin, and starting out can be confusing. But because of its popularity there are a ton of resources out there to get you started. You can of course buy a book or go to a class, but if you don’t want to spend any money just do some research on the internet. There are a lot of guided meditations freely available on YouTube, even though not all of them are of great quality. You probably also heard of one or the other meditation app - while most of them work with paid subscriptions they can be a versatile resource and offer other wellbeing related topics. Moreover, you can set a notification which will remind you to dedicate time.
DON’T try to block out thoughts completely. A lot of people think that meditating means that the mind goes blank, but that is not the goal. For most people it is near impossible to stop thinking because that is just what our brain does. The point is to not get carried away by your thoughts and loose awareness, so if a thought comes in just acknowledge it, let it pass or simply sit with it. If you didn’t really notice it and your thoughts have already wandered off, try to come back to the present moment. This is a normal part of the practise, especially for a beginner.
DO try different kinds. The most common practise of mindfulness is perhaps found in meditation, but not every meditation is the same and you might want to try out methods to see which one suits you best. In the beginning, the easiest might be a guided mediation, where an instructor guides you through the process and helps you stay focussed. In guided meditations you are often asked to focus on one specific part of your body. If that doesn’t work for you, you can try using a mantra i.e. repeating a phrase over and over again, which can then have a calming effect. You can also just simply focus on your breath, and I suggest counting numbers. If you don’t enjoy sitting still you can try walking meditation. All variations are beneficial.
DON’T assume that you have to close your eyes. Most depictions of meditating people show them peacefully sitting somewhere with their eyes closed. While a lot of people find this helpful it might not be the same for you. If you don’t like closing your eyes or even get dizzy, try to keep them open. Opening the eyes can also be helpful when you are tired as it should keep you from drowsing off.
DO start slow. Mindfulness is a practise and with so many parts you will not master it in a day or even years. Your practise needs to be built up slowly and steadily. The good thing is that there really is no right amount of time; even 2 minutes can be beneficial. What is most important is that you feel comfortable doing it. Once you’ve practised for a while and can endure several minutes, you may slowly start to increase your time, again in small steps. Over time you will build up your practise like this and you’ll start feeling the benefits.
DON’T feel pressured. Some days becoming aware of the present moment will work better than others but that is not a reason to feel discouraged. With so many things happening in our lives it is completely normal that sometimes you cannot disconnect form the stress of daily life. If that happens, don’t force yourself to go on and don’t get upset, skipping your practise for some time is not the end of the world, you can always come back for it when you feel ready again. This isn’t a race and there certainly is no price to win, it is a simple process that can help with different aspects of your life.
DO integrate it into your daily life. Mindfulness is especially beneficial when practised regularly. You might want to think of it as a daily activity you automatically do, much like brushing your teeth. If you struggle to remember it or forget to make time, it is a good idea to set a specific time to which you stick to and slowly that will just become part of your routine. A lot of people like to practise first thing in the morning, especially if they tend to get very busy during the day. Mindfulness can really be done at any time and anywhere, all you need is yourself.
DON’T reduce it to meditation. Mindfulness does not necessarily mean meditation only. Many ordinary activities can be done more mindfully and thus help us to be more aware of the present. Among these other possibilities are, for example, mindful colouring or eating. If you want to practise the former you can get colouring books especially designed for this. While focussing on the shapes and colours your mind has hardly any chance to trail off. Mindful eating is pretty simple as well. It includes eating without distractions and paying close attention to the taste and texture of your food. If you prefer to be more active, mindful movement might be right for you, this is any kind of movement you perform with awareness, maybe connecting the movement with breath to stay focussed. This description might remind you of practises such as yoga or pilates, and while they can certainly be part of this mindful moving is by no means reduced to these two.
DO get comfortable. Finding a comfortable spot is important so you don’t get distracted. I usually just sit cross-legged on the floor, but if that is too uncomfortable you can also use a chair, a cushion or even lie down, although some people fall asleep when doing that. No matter which position you choose, try to think of it as a mix between being alert but also relaxed. You should ideally keep a straight back without tensing up. If your back hurts sit on a chair or lean against a wall to ease the discomfort.
DON’T wait for a particular moment to start. The good thing about meditation and mindfulness is that anyone can do it. You don’t need any equipment and it can literally be done anywhere. So there are really no excuses to put it off any longer, the perfect moment you’re waiting for will never arrive anyway, so you might as well start now.
DO find a quiet space. In addition to a comfortable seat, a quiet space is also beneficial to your practise. The quietness will make it easier to focus and to feel calm as you go along. Distractions might disrupt your practise and you won’t get the full benefits. If you are living with other people you might want to inform them about your practise so that they can keep it in mind and respect your quiet time. Maybe you want do designate a specific meditation space in your home to which you can go back day after day to practise, this might also help with consistency.
DON’T expect immediate results. The benefits of mindfulness have been proven but it is not a quick fix or magic cure for all of your troubles. It might take some time to actually notice the benefits in your daily life but that doesn’t mean that they won’t come, there is no end-goal here and for many practising mindfulness becomes a lifelong process.