A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness
Lately, it seems like mindfulness is finally getting the hype it deserves. Discussing the many benefits of mindfulness would require a whole post of its own, but research has been consistently showing the widespread benefits of the practice. There are many misconceptions about mindfulness (i.e., that it’s synonymous for meditation, that we have to “quiet” our mind to do it right, that it involves long periods of silence, that only Buddhist Monks practice it, etc.), and most of these misconceptions may actually prevent us from practicing mindfulness. The moral of the story: there’s no wrong way to practice mindfulness and anyone can benefit from integrating it into their daily lives. But how?
First, let’s get on the same page about what mindfulness actually is. Jon Kabat Zinn, a mindfulness guru and author of the book Wherever You Go, There You Are, defines mindfulness as “paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”₁ There are many ways to practice mindfulness that don’t involve seated formal meditation. In fact, mindfulness is most effective when it is woven into our daily lives. The more we can train our brain to be mindful, no matter what we’re doing, the more we experience the richness of life. The only way we can truly integrate mindfulness into our daily life is by creating a routine that includes mindfulness in various forms.
Meditation is the most common mindfulness practice. Getting into the habit of meditating on a daily basis is a great place to start, and hopefully meditative techniques and practices will naturally seep into other areas of your life.
Making Meditation Into a Daily Habit
When to meditate: Think about your current schedule. When are you be able to free up 5-15 minutes of your day to meditate? When are you most likely to need mindfulness throughout your day? When are you least likely to be interrupted? Using the answers to these questions, find a time of day that feels appropriate. Something we do every once in a while isn’t as effective as something we do every single day, so try to keep up the momentum of this new habit by doing it every day. To take that a step further, something we do at the same time every day is easier to make a habit out of than something we do at different times each day. Set alarms or reminders in your phone to help you remember until it becomes ingrained in your routine. If it seems like you couldn’t possibly find the time in your day to meditate, most likely you’re someone who needs meditation the most. It shouldn’t feel like you’re sacrificing much (if anything) to fit meditation into your routine-- usually it just involves a little creativity or strategizing of your time and then, most often, that time seems to magically appear. Once you make daily meditation into a habit, you won’t have that same mental battle to meditate that you may experience initially.
First thing in the morning before your start your morning routine
After everyone else in your home has left to go to work/school and before you leave for work
As soon as you arrive at work, either in your office or your car
During your lunch break at work
At night just before going to sleep
Where to meditate: Create a calm and peaceful environment to inspire the same feelings within yourself. If there are certain symbols, objects, smells, or colors that make you feel calm, try to have those nearby. If you’re meditating in front of the stacks of bills you need to pay, the dirty dishes from dinner, or your phone that has been pinging you all day, you probably won’t be in the right mindset to meditate. Once you have more experience with meditation, it may be an interesting experiment to test your ability to be mindful in the midst of stress or discomfort, but at least in the beginning try to find an environment that makes it feel easy to practice mindfulness. Ensure this environment is completely free of distractions.
How to meditate: Determine how you will formally meditate. It helps to select an “anchor” for your mind-- that could be the body (doing a body scan from head to toe, noticing how each part of your body feels), the breath (counting the breath, connecting with the part of your body where you feel the breath most prominently, noticing the rhythm of the breath), or any other sensory experience (focusing on a song, the flame of a candle, the smell of an essential oil). For many people, it is hard to sit in silence for an extended period of time, so guided meditations may be helpful. You can find guided meditations on YouTube, podcasts, books, or even apps on your smartphone (my personal favorite is Simple Habit).
Expanding into Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the same present moment awareness used during meditation that is expanded into other areas of our lives. Mindfulness can be done anywhere and anytime. When we’re integrating those techniques in other areas of our lives, we may really start to experience the benefits of mindfulness.
Suggestions for Integrating Mindfulness Into Your Daily Routine:
Arriving in a new environment
Driving: After getting into your car, before driving, take a few deep breaths. Avoid turning on the radio, talking on your phone, or creating other distractions while in the car. As you’re driving, make an effort to notice your surroundings (this can be especially hard if you take the same route to work every day). If the weather permits, roll down your windows and take in as much sensory input as you can. If you are stuck in heavy traffic or someone cuts you off, non-judgmentally notice what feelings arise (i.e., anger, frustration, anxiety, competitiveness). Use traffic stops or other necessary stops as a cue to pause and take a few deep breaths. Once you arrive at your destination, turn off the engine and sit for a moment. Three deep breaths, really letting go on the exhalation.
Arriving at work
While drinking coffee or tea: While drinking your preferred morning beverage, occasionally take sips and pause. Take time to bring yourself into your body using your senses: What does it smell like? What does it taste like? Can you feel the warmth of the mug or cup against your hands? Can you feel the warmth of the drink as it touches your lips and flows down your throat into your stomach? What color is the beverage? This will set the tone for the day and allow you to fully enjoy the experience.
Eating: Turn off the TV, put away the computer and phone, put the book down. If you are used to multitasking while eating, mindful eating may initially seem boring. And yet, unless you do this, you are not truly appreciating your food.
Arriving at home
Doing the dishes: Do the dishes mindfully by paying full attention to your washing, to the water and suds. Use your five senses to anchor your attention to the activity.
Brushing your teeth: Try fully concentrating on the action of brushing, on each stroke of each tooth, going from one side of the mouth to the other. You end up doing a better job, and it helps you realize how much we do on autopilot. ₂
Taking a shower: Notice how the water feels on your skin. Observe the smell of the body wash, soap, or shampoo. Feel the sensations of touch as you apply these products to your body. Notice your mind’s natural tendency to wander and whenever you notice that happening, gently guide your attention back to any sensory experience related to showering.
Going for a walk: Walk slowly, each step a practice in awareness. Feel the sensations of pressure on your feet with each step. Pay attention to your breathing, to your surroundings, to the sounds, colors, and textures of objects around you. If you’re walking a route that is very familiar to you, try to find at least one thing you hadn’t noticed about the route before.
While waiting: Whether this involves waiting for your food to cook in the microwave, waiting in a line, after arriving early for an appointment, while waiting for the barista to prepare your coffee, or any other activity you would typically turn to your phone for entertainment. Use that time to notice any feelings that may have come up--impatience, boredom, restlessness, anxiety, frustration. Take a few deep belly breaths. Stop and ask yourself “How am I feeling in this moment?” Allow the answers to present themselves via sensations rather than thoughts.
Before going to bed: Sit on the edge of your bed with your feet on the floor before lying down. Just take 3 to 5 minutes to follow your breath as it goes out, noticing thoughts, and letting them dissolve, returning to the breath. Maybe you do a “mental recap” of the day, reviewing the happenings of the day and how you were feeling, both mentally and physically. Then let the day go, maybe imagining yourself writing your day onto a letter, folding it up, placing it into an envelope, and dropping it into a mailbox. Letting it go and moving on with your evening.
In transitions (transition breathing): Allow yourself a mindful moment before you switch gears so you can approach your work in a more calm and centered way. ₃ Or, you can set an alarm on your phone for the last 5 minutes of every hour to force yourself to pause and take a few mindful moments.
While talking to a loved one: Spend some time listening to understand rather than listening to respond. In fact, let go of the responsibility of having to have a response and simply listen. Notice if you’re having any mental or physical reaction to what they’re saying. Notice if you’re having difficulty paying attention. Then, from that place of mindful awareness, respond if needed.
₁ “What Is Mindfulness?” Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hachette
Books, 2004, p. 4.
₂ Babauta, Leo. “9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better.” Zen Habits,
₃ “71 Mindfulness Exercises for Living in the Present Moment.” Develop Good Habits, 26 Feb.