“Wherever you are is the entry point” – Kabir
Starting a mindfulness practice is different for everyone.
Some people start by creating time in their day for a formal sitting meditation practice.
Others decide they are sick and tired of scarfing down their food at lunch and try instead to be a bit more mindful while eating.
Others simply look up and around and start to notice the world around them as they walk to work.
Whatever the entry point, starting a mindfulness practice can feel a lot like coming home from a long journey. Like waking up to a world you have been living in — but not really inhabiting.
Mindfulness can best be described as the practice of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment. It is both a lifelong practice and a daily habit. It must be experienced, not studied.
In order to really understands its benefits, each of us must experience mindfulness firsthand for ourselves.
In my experience, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness, such as meditation, and informal practices, or habits, that extend mindfulness into everyday life.
Here are five simple ways to start a mindfulness practice:
1) Mindful Moment Breathing
Not all breaths are created equal. A simple but effective exercise for calming the nervous system is a timed breath where the exhale is longer than the inhale.
You can do this at your desk at work or on your couch at home.
- Begin breathing through your nose. Inhale for a count of two.
- Hold the breath in for a count of one.
- Exhale slowly for a count of four.
- Finish by holding the breath out for a count of one.
Keep your breathing even and smooth.
As you breathe, silently recognize: “This is an in-breath; this is an out-breath.”
Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.
Do this deep breathing exercise for about five minutes. You will notice how you feel more calm and relaxed.
2) Mindful Eating
Eating is something we routinely do every day. However, we are often rushed and hurried between activities when we eat.
Take lunch, for example. How often have we all scarfed down a sandwich in front of our computer while preparing for the next meeting — barely registering what we are taking into our body?
If you are having a particularly stressful day, it might seem that multi-tasking by eating and working is the way to go. However, the exact opposite — focusing on one action — is the best way to bring calm and focus into your day.
Start small. Like all new habits, it’s best to set realistic expectations. Choose one meal or snack each day and commit to focusing on mindful eating for about 20 minutes.
Set this time aside to eat without digital distractions. Take a short digital detox.
- Start by appreciating the appearance of the food you are consuming. Sometimes we forget about the beauty of the food we are about to eat. Take the time to notice its appearance, colors, and textures.
- Remember to chew. Make sure you chew your food enough so that it is broken down before you swallow.
- Focus on each mouthful. Think about the flavor and even the sound of the food in your mouth.
Taking time to focus on this one activity only, without digital distractions, can increase your energy for the rest of the day.
3) Practice Gratitude
Life is composed of tiny joys and victories that lead us to exactly where we want to be.
One of the most powerful tools for enriching your life is keeping your gratitude tank full. Simply writing down 10 things you are grateful for puts you in a mindset of abundance and bliss.
Take time to reflect on, or to write down in a journal, all of the small things that happened to you today that you appreciated and felt gratitude toward.
The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “My co-worker complimented me on my presentation at work”) or relatively large (e.g., “I have a new job I love”).
What we focus on grows. So take note of the simple joys and victories and notice how more of these types of moments flourish in your life.
Having a mindfulness practice means being open to and aware of what is already working.
I like how Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains it: “Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives.”
4) Cultivate the Beginner’s Mind
Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It is a key practice of mindful living.
It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject (even when studying at an advanced level), just as a beginner in that subject would.
This attitude can help propel us over the beginner’s “hump” that so often blocks us from learning something new.
Beginner’s Mind is about being open to the unknown and emptying the mind of preconceived ideas. Be curious. Focus on the question, not the answer.
When we are curious, we create a learning mindset. This allows us to look at something new as an opportunity to learn, rather than to create expectations about the outcomes.
Yes, I know, you have heard this one before. But consider it again. Consider adding a formal meditation practice into your day, even for just 10 minutes.
Meditation is a way to train and strengthen your mind, much like training and strengthening your muscles when you go to the gym.
Research shows that you can gain benefits from only 20 minutes of meditation a day. However, everyone is different. Ten minutes may work for some, while others may need an hour.
Your ability to recognize what the mind is engaging with — and choose how you respond to it — is a skill that can be helpful in all aspects of life, from the workplace to family relationships.
What is holding you back from giving meditation a try (or trying it again, if you have given up on it)? Here are seven simple steps to start your sitting meditation practice today.
Get Started Today
You may find that as you start to bring mindfulness practices into your life, you feel less overwhelmed and more able to deal with difficult emotions and problems. You will move slower, but get more of the important stuff done.
Practicing mindfulness is not a quick fix. Yet, for many, it will be nothing less than life-changing.
Try it out and see for yourself.
I hope these ideas help you kickstart your mindfulness practice today.
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