Mindfulness – Getting Started
Your first steps to mindfulness practice: mindfulness and the everyday, maintaining an open-minded approach, posture and breathing, and some exercises to help you get started.
Mindfulness and the Everyday
Mindfulness in everyday life requires us to break out of the pattern of automatic pilot through a process of stopping and ‘waking up’. When we stop, we remind ourselves to come back to mindful awareness, and back to the present moment. When we recognise that we have drifted away from the present moment, we can try the following:
- Bring our attention to our posture
- Feel our feet on the ground
- Tune into the sensations in the body
- Bring awareness to the movements of the body
- Take a few conscious breaths
- Be aware of what is coming in through our senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching
- Practice a half-smile in recognition of coming back to ourselves!
Tips for Mindfulness Practice
To help get the most from mindfulness practice, it is important to approach it with an open mind. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Whatever you experience, just bring awareness to it
- Maintain an attitude of openness and curiosity
- Meet each experience with acceptance
- Remind yourself that all experiences pass – even the unpleasant ones
- Maintain a discipline of regular practice with an attitude of self-kindness
- Let go of expectations, thoughts, judgements – they are all in the realm of thought – just let them go.
- Remember your intention and why you are persevering with this
A Practice for Posture
Meditation begins and ends in the body. It involves taking the time to pay attention to where we are and what’s going on, and that starts with being aware of our body. That very act can be calming, since our body has internal rhythms that help it relax if we give it a chance.
- Take your SEAT. Whatever you’re sitting on – a chair, a meditation cushion, a park bench – find a spot that gives you a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging back.
- If on a cushion on the floor, cross your LEGS comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor.
- Straighten, but don’t stiffen, your UPPER BODY. The spine has natural curvature. Let it be there. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.
- Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Then let your HANDS drop onto the tops of your legs. With your upper arms at your sides, your hands will land in the right spot.
- Drop your chin a little and let your GAZE fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids lower. If you feel the need, you may lower them completely, but it’s not necessary to close your eyes when meditating.
- Be there for a few moments. RELAX. Now get up and go about your day.
- Sit in a comfortable posture with your spine erect, though not rigid. Let your shoulders relax.
- Let your eyes close gently if it feels comfortable.
- First, simply be aware of how your breath is, whether it is deep or shallow. Allow yourself for a few minutes just to be with it as it is.
- Then gradually bring your attention to the area around your navel and let the belly soften. As you inhale, sense the belly expanding and as you exhale sense the belly contracting. Settle into the rhythm of expansion and contraction.
- It is inevitable that thoughts, or feelings will at times obscure your awareness of the sensation of breath; in these moments, notice what is happening and renew your intention to settle back into the awareness of the breath. The power of intention is your greatest ally at this stage.
- The gentler you are in bringing your mind back, the more you will experience ease. Even if the breath wanders off a thousand times, that is OK; your job is simply to bring your awareness back to the breathing.
Ideally, mindfulness is something that you will learn to integrate into all moments of your daily life. But for now why not start with one or more of the exercises below:
Exercise 1: One Mindful Minute
This simple mindfulness exercise is one that you can do anytime throughout the day.
Take a moment……..check your watch and note the time. For the next 60 seconds
try to focus all your attention on your breathing – just your breathing – just for one minute. Keep your eyes open and breathe normally. Your mind will start to wander, but be ready to catch it and refocus on your breathing.
This mindfulness exercise is far more powerful and challenging than most people think. Remember, you can’t fail at this exercise, you can only experience it.
Use this exercise as many times as you need throughout the day to restore your mind to the present moment and to clarity and peace.
Exercise 2: Conscious Observation
Pick up an object that you have close to you. Anything will do – a book, pen or cup for example. Hold it in your hands and allow your attention to be fully absorbed by the object. Observe it. Don’t assess it, think about it or study it intellectually. Just observe it for what it is.
Through this exercise you’ll feel a sense of heightened “nowness”. Conscious observation can enhance your feeling of “being awake”. Notice how your mind quickly releases thoughts of past or future and how different it feels to be in the moment. Conscious observation is a form of meditation. It’s subtle, but powerful. Try it…
You can also practice conscious observation with your ears rather than your eyes. Many people find that mindful listening is a more powerful mindfulness technique than visual observation.
Exercise 3: Count to Ten
This is more of an exercise in practicing concentration, than it is in mindfulness. Just close your eyes and focus your attention on slowly counting to ten. If your concentration wanders off, be ready to catch it and start back at number one! For most people, it goes something like this…
“One…two…three…Did I finish that report or are there changes needed? Oh, whoops, I’m thinking.”
“One…two…three…four…this isn’t so hard after all… Oh no….that’s a thought! Start again.”
“One…two…three… now I’ve got it. I’m really concentrating now…”
Exercise 4: Mindfulness Cues
In this exercise you use environmental cause to trigger focus of attention on your
breathing. For example, whenever you hear the phone ring, you promptly bring your
attention into the present moment and stay focused on your breath.
Simply choose a cue that works for you – eg. choose to become mindful every time you look in the mirror, wash your hands, or every time you hear a bird.
Mindfulness cues are an excellent mindfulness technique that are designed to snap you out of the unconscious “autopilot” state of mind and bring you back into the present moment.