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  • Emma Stafford-Coyte

Mindfulness: How to get started

Updated: Sep 20, 2023


What is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

So, mindfulness is really just paying attention to ourselves and our surroundings for the purpose of cultivating greater space between our reactions and our responses; hence, increasing our self-knowledge.

Like most things in the wellness space, it’s simple at face value but more challenging to incorporate into our lives long enough to see the proven benefits.

I have clients who coming to me wanting to learn mindfulness. They believe it is a mysterious panacea to all of life’s problems. On the other hand, I have clients that think it is a waste of time and just won’t work with their busy minds.

Newsflash! Most people who introduce mindfulness into their daily routine become frustrated with the practice, are overwhelmed by racing thoughts, and are very attached to their thoughts.

Mindfulness is not magic. Practicing mindfulness for a week will not immediately cure you from whatever it is you are struggling with.

That said, a regular mindfulness practice is incredibly beneficial. Through neuroscience research, we are learning that we can train our brains to be mindful and can actually build new neural networks. Read: we can change our brains!

Some things you should know

  1. Your mind will wander. This is normal, expected, and ok. You may find yourself thinking about what you could be getting done in that moment, thinking of what lies ahead in your day, or thinking about things that have already happened. This is an important part of the mindfulness practice. Each time you notice that your mind has wandered, you can consciously bring it back to the present moment. The more you do this, the more often you will be living in awareness.

  2. The goal is not an absence of thought. Mindfulness is not a perpetual state of peace and calm. It is a practice of paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally.

  3. You will judge yourself. I know you’re thinking…wait..I thought you said pay attention non-judgmentally? I did, but we are human. Part of the practice is to also notice judgments, their impact, and then let them go, coming back to the present moment.

  4. It is simple but not easy. That is why I emphasize the word practice. The more we do something the easier it gets.

How do I get started?

Every moment is an opportunity to be mindful. Just taking a second to pause, notice what is arising within and around you is mindfulness. It contrasts from how we usually live - running from thing to thing on autopilot.

So how do we do this? Intentionally create space for yourself - space to breath, to think, to feel, to build awareness.

  1. Set time aside to practice. If you’re just starting out, try beginning with 5 minutes a day and slowly increase the time frame.

  2. Notice your breath. The breath can be a helpful starting point or anchor to yourself. A place to return to when you notice your mind has wandered. Begin to notice your exhales and inhales, wherever that sensation is most apparent (e.g. nostrils, chest, belly)

  3. Notice your body. Pay attention to your body sensations (smell, touch, sound, sights (if eyes are open). As you practice becomes more developed, you can also go deeper into yourself and notice feelings, thoughts, and impulses.

  4. Notice when your mind has wandered. And bring yourself back to the present moment

  5. Be kind to yourself. Your mind will wander. You may judge yourself. In those moments when you notice it happening, say something kind to yourself and come back to the present moment.

You can practice mindfulness on your own or through guided practice. Some ideas to start with: breathing exercises (e.g. alternate nostril breathing), sitting or walking meditation, body scan, setting an intention for each day, or practicing daily gratitude.

When will I start seeing a difference?

A regular mindfulness practice has been proven to help:

  • Manage stress and anxiety

  • Emotion regulation

  • Improve decision-making

  • Enhance focus

  • Increase productivity

Manage your expectations. While some people immediately report feeling the positive effects of a mindfulness practice, it will likely take a good amount of time to start seeing the positive effects.

Research indicates that you may start to see results as early as 8 weeks. The key thing to take away is that it is essential to have a regular and frequent practice to reap the benefits of mindfulness.

So start exploring and practicing! Ideally commit to a short daily practice and adapt it to your lifestyle and preferences as you go. The eventual benefits may be subtle so keep paying attention - are you becoming less reactive? Are you more aware of your body? Are you able to stabilize more easily after becoming upset? Are you finding it easier to focus? These are some signs that the practice is working.

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