Mindfulness for beginners (a basic guide)

In this guide, we will talk about some basic elements of mindfulness for beginners, so that it will be possible to find ideas to initiate this practice that has the potential to help in people’s mental health. 

Mindfulness for beginners

As discussed in other posts on this blog, mindfulness is a practice and a framework of understanding that has been promoted for several decades. This practice consists of being fully present and aware of where we are at any given time and what we are doing. 

This is in contrast to a lifestyle where all the time we are merely reacting to what is presented to us. We all know that sometimes it is possible to live this way, even perhaps most of the time. Life has too many factors, in which we are sometimes immersed absolutely. 

Have you ever thought about what happens sometimes in your work? How fast time goes by and that feeling that everything is going at a great speed? Have you ever felt this? Perhaps, if you have, it is because your mind and your life are so involved in the situation that you rarely get a chance to pause and think “I’m doing this. 

Mindfulness for beginners is an option for those people who don’t know about this practice, and who would like to gain some comfort in their lives. Mindfulness for beginners emphasizes that we all have the skills to be fully in the present moment, but also admits that this requires practice since it is a voluntary activity. 

Our habits of thinking, imagination, memory, can easily lean more towards the automation of tasks so that our conscious control is not necessary all the time. Can you imagine thinking absolutely all the time, solving some kind of demanding task? It would be very difficult and exhausting, so our mind prefers to save some resources when possible. 

Mindfulness for beginners: how do I know I am being mindful?

You may be relatively familiar with that feeling of being on “autopilot”. You wake up in the morning, stretch your muscles a bit, say hello to your loved ones and head to the kitchen to make breakfast. Maybe you play a video or some music that you like. 

After that, you decide to go take a bath, look at your watch and have enough time to get to work. A few more minutes go by… you take public transportation to your job, with your headphones on and that song you enjoy so much every day. 

A few more hours go by and… it’s almost time to go home! You ask yourself “when did all this time happen?” It’s this feeling we’re talking about, the feeling we get when we realize we’ve been doing a lot of things and are hardly paying attention. 

Mindfulness for beginners teaches us that being mindful is when you bring your attention and awareness to what you are experiencing in the present moment, right now, through each of your senses, or your current state of mind (which includes the thoughts that circulate in your head and the emotions you may be experiencing). 

In this sense, according to the principles of mindfulness for beginners, the objective of this type of practice is to generate a certain “awakening” to all that is happening inside us and that we often overlook because we are on “automatic pilot”. 

Mindfulness for beginners: waking up? 

Let’s try to reflect a little bit below on what this “awakening” to what is happening inside us means. As we mentioned, it is possible that most of the time we are on “automatic pilot” and this, although it certainly has some functionality that we need, can also be accompanied by negative consequences. 

What about those moments when, because we are on “automatic pilot,” we do not identify what makes us sad or some other emotion? Do you think it is possible to experience some negative emotion because of some person or situation, and not realize it? It happens that, under certain circumstances, this is perfectly possible. 

The problem with these kinds of things happening is that given our poor connection or reading of what is happening to us “internally”, it is difficult to determine the causes of our reactions, and therefore we don’t know what to do about any discomfort we may experience. 

Mindfulness for beginners: what about meditation? 

Meditation, in the context of mindfulness for beginners, is basically a concrete tool through which we can get closer to that goal of “being awake”. Through meditation, we can explore everything that is going on internally that we may not have noticed before. 

If we think about it in comparative terms, human faculties actually give us that advantage. We have the ability to access part of our mental processes, explore them, read them, try to understand them, and ultimately try to influence them according to our goals or our needs. 

Given the above, the fact that we can have those moments of awakening is actually a great privilege, and it is very likely that we are the only species on the planet that has this ability to access part of the mental processes themselves. 

We are beings who do a number of activities, and who also realize that they are doing it… This may sound simple, but it really isn’t! Think, for example, of the great wonders of nature, and how the animals who perform them do so without realizing their own work.

Bees, for example, can build huge palaces to do their work. They build cells in their hives with incredible symmetry, with very detailed designs. However, they have no idea what they are doing! It is part of their routine as a species to carry out this whole series of activities, for which they are very skilled, but their information processing skills do not allow them to access information about what they are doing. 

They do it perfectly, yes. But they don’t know. Mindfulness for beginners is about this possibility that we do have. It’s about a mind that can read itself. It sounds like a great opportunity we should take, doesn’t it? 

Mindfulness for beginners: how do I do it? 

In this guide, we will mention two simple practices that you can start using immediately after reading this article. This way, you can start exploring mindfulness and meditation, and you will know if and to what extent it is beneficial for you. 

Focus your attention! 

Mindfulness for beginners, as we said a moment ago, refers to the ability to direct our attention to the mental processes, sensations, and so on that are occurring in us. 

This first practice consists of choosing some object, or stimulus (it can be a song, for example, or a list with a type of music) and bringing all our attention to it in a deliberate way and for a few minutes. 

Then, choose a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Try to find the position that is most comfortable for you. Place the object or whatever you have chosen in your field of vision, it can be in front of you. Once you’ve done that, you can set a timer to let you know when you’re done. 

In terms of time, you can start with a short time, learn and master the technique, and then do it for a longer time. You can start by doing it for three minutes. If you see that it’s too short, maybe you can go longer and do it for 5 minutes. This is at your disposal so that you can adjust to your own pace. 

After that, observe (or listen) what you have chosen, and nothing else. Let that be the only focus of your attention, nothing else in your mind matters at this moment, not even the sensations in your body. You will notice that the first thing that will happen is that your mind and your attention will go elsewhere. 

You may end up remembering the conversation you had a moment ago with your partner or the meeting at your work at noon. You may end up thinking about how absurd it is to sit in front of an object and do nothing… it’s your mind doing its job. The mind is like a machine that produces thoughts, images, memories, new ideas. 

Don’t worry, the above is normal and it’s what happens to all of us, always. Those are our habits coming out since we are not used to focus our attention that way. However, what you have to do, to start changing that habit, is to go back as many times as possible to the object you chose. 

If you are getting distracted, when you realize it, immediately go back to looking at your chosen object. Remember: nothing else matters at that moment. It is your personal moment, in which you train your mind to give you a space of complete “awakening”. You are teaching it that it is not always necessary to be on “automatic pilot,” and that you want to take advantage of it to read what your mind is doing in a mindful way. 

Do this until the timer runs out, and try to include it as part of your routine so that you have a regular space to “stay awake” and train your mind in this way. 

Mindfulness for beginners: reading what is happening right now

On the other hand, there is a different practice that you can also start using immediately since it is very simple and can generate quick benefits. You will learn a lot with this technique! 

This practice consists of no longer focusing your attention on a single object for a period of time but observing EVERYTHING that is happening in you without making any judgments. When we come up with some idea, for example, “I should exercise”, the normal thing is that a judgment appears about it, “I am too lazy”, “why do I want to exercise? 

In short, it’s about your mind doing its job. Remember, the mind’s function is to produce images, thoughts, ideas, memories, etc. It’s simply its task. But we can observe all this that happens without judging and without getting involved in it. 

Think that they are at the bus stop, in the afternoon when you leave your work, and you decide to rest there for a while, without worrying about getting on any of them to return home. You are sitting there, in front of dozens of buses stopping and leaving, over and over again, but you don’t get on any of them. 

You realize that some are going faster and some are going slower, some are full and some are not so full. Some of the buses are red, and some are yellow. We just watch them do their job and nothing else. 

So you have to do with your mind, observe what is going on in that moment and nothing else, without making any judgment and without getting on any of those buses. 

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Conclusion

Mindfulness for beginners is an entry tool that can be used by anyone. It does not require many resources to use and consists of training the mind to be aware of the internal states that occur daily. Our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, everything we overlook. 

You should also try the Marcus Aurelius nighttime routine.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about mindfulness for beginners 

How do I start practising mindfulness?

All you need to do is find a simple guide (like the one in this article), and add it to your daily routine. Try to make it a priority, choose a certain space, free yourself from excessive expectations (just try), and be kind to yourself. 

What are some mindfulness exercises?

Some mindfulness exercises are conscious breathing for one minute, loving-kindness meditation, 6-minute meditation, among others.

What is mindfulness and how does it work?

When you practice mindfulness you concentrate on your own inner states, we observe the thoughts that appear in your mind, the emotions that you experience, and each of the bodily sensations that arise. It is a practice for learning to connect with one’s own inner states.

What exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is practising our ability and learning to be “awake” by reading each of our inner states at a given time. It also involves acceptance and lessening of judgments about our own internal processes. 

Does mindfulness work for anxiety?

Research has shown that mindfulness can help in the management of anxiety symptoms, since many of them help reduce stress and, via breathing exercises, promote relaxation and well-being.

Recommended resources

  1. Jon Kabat Zinn Me Me Me
  2. Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life
  3. Mindfulness: A Beginner’s Guide: How to Conquer Anxiety and Stress through Mindfulness Meditation [Audiobook]
  4. Mindfulness: A Beginner’s Guide to Mindful Techniques and Exercises

References

  1. Mindfulness (Science Direct overview)
  2. MINDFULNESS FOR BEGINNERS.
  3. Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life

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