What if you’re not interested in the “what” and the “why” and just want to know how to practice mindfulness meditation? The cool thing is, you don’t need to know anything else to practice mindfulness.
The what and the why are valuable and worth learning about, but mindfulness practice is a deeply personal experience and something you can only truly understand having practiced for yourself.
Well, I’ve got good news. If you want to know how to practice mindfulness in simple, clear, and straightforward language with no extra fluff- this is the only guide you need.
And if you want to learn more and really delve deeper into the practice? I’ll provide a whole suite of guides, resources, and guided meditations which you can utilize, all for free, at the end of this post as well.
How to Practice Mindfulness of Breath
Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something, so the instructions below will be on the most basic and fundamental of mindfulness practices: mindful breathing.
In the practice of mindfulness, you're very lightly and loosely concentrating on something while being mindful of everything which arises within your field of awareness (think: being clearly aware in an open and all-inclusive way).
Of course, that sounds nice, but the practice rarely looks so pretty in the beginning. It really looks like this:
Focused on the breath → 3 seconds later, lose concentration → "wake up" 2 minutes later ("what the heck happened?", return to the breath → 3 seconds later, lose concentration → wake up 1 minute later, return to the breath
Just know this is perfectly normal and that, with time, your mind will begin to quiet and become quite clear.
How to practice mindfulness: Mindful breathing
Mindful breathing can be done as a form of sitting meditation or just standing in your home, office, or outside in nature and for even a few seconds.
There are really no restrictions to the practice, but it's most often done as a form of sitting meditation for at least a few minutes at a time. That's how I suggest you do your first few mindfulness practice sessions.
Start by finding a quiet place, somewhere with the least possible distractions. Nowhere will be perfect, just find a decent spot.
Next, find a comfortable sitting position. To keep it simple, for now just sit on the floor in a cross-legged position or in a chair. Straighten your back and neck, place your hand in your lap, and look down 3-4 feet in front of you.
Now, either close your eyes or let your eyelids naturally fall so that they remain about 1/2 open. Keep in mind that eyes closed can make you more likely to fall asleep while meditating (a common problem), while eyes half-open may feel odd at first and distract you. For now, either is fine.
Then, follow these 4 simple steps to practice mindful breathing:
1. Become aware of your breath
Simply turn your attention to your breathing. Follow each in-breath and out-breath from beginning to end. Place a firm but soft focus on the breath.
Do not attempt to control your breath, simply observe it silently. Your silent observation will slowly begin to calm your breathing naturally. This may be easier said than done in the beginning but make your best effort.
2. Count each in-breath and out-breath
Inhale…one. Exhale….two. Count to 10 like this. If a thought distracts you, start the 10 count over from 1. When you get to 10, start over and attempt to count to 10 again. If you never do, don't worry,
Do this for as many weeks or months as it takes until you can count to 10 with little to no effort. Then count each inhale + exhale as one. Then, when that becomes easy, stop counting and simply follow your breath. Don’t rush this step, progress slowly.
3. Acknowledge thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise
Understand in advance that various thoughts, feelings, and sensations will arise while being mindful and make you lose your concentration on the breath.
In the beginning, you'll likely be interrupted constantly and feel like you're doing something wrong. You're not and it really is that difficult for everyone, in the beginning, to stay concentrated on the breath.
4. Return to being mindful of the breath
This will be difficult at first, you’ll lose focus on your breath constantly. Stay focused, after a while your mind will begin to grow quieter.
That's it! That's all there is to it. The practice of mindfulness, in this case specifically mindful breathing, is simple and straightforward.
Just keep in mind that while the practice won't necessarily feel easy in the beginning, it will get better typically in a very short period of time (in a few weeks you should start noticing a calmer and quieter mind).
A Few Important Tips
Here are a few tips for getting off on the right foot:
- In the beginning, it's about making meditation a daily habit. That means don't worry about how long you're practicing for. Practice mindful breathing for 1-3 minutes for the first 1, 2, even 3 weeks. Really, in the beginning, nothing more is necessary and even with that you'll notice a big difference in how you feel. After a while, you'll feel gradually able to sit down for longer and longer periods.
- Practice x2 a day. To further develop your mindfulness meditation practice into a strong daily practice, sit twice a day (preferably morning + afternoon or night). Remember, you're meditating for just 1-3 minutes so there should be no reason you can't do it.
- Your mind will feel like a jungle. Don't sweat it. I said this earlier, but I feel it's important enough to mention again. People often feel like they're doing something wrong, or like something's wrong with them. Nothing is wrong at all. It's perfectly natural to feel like you're jumping out of your skin, unable to focus on one point for more than even 3 seconds. This will quickly begin to change if you stick to a consistent daily practice.
- Be gentle with yourself throughout the process. Don't go into mindfulness meditation thinking that it's easy. It often isn't. In the beginning, you're likely to not be able to notice clearly what is arising. You'll just know you've lost your mindfulness. At best, you'll know you were thinking about "something" but not know exactly what. But there is the possibility that some uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can arise while meditating. Be kind to yourself and know that whatever happens is totally natural and not a sign of any personal shortcoming.
Whether you're interested in learning to develop a daily meditation practice or bringing the practice of mindfulness into your everyday life, I've got you covered:
Creating a home meditation practice:
- How to Meditate for Beginners
- ZfEL Ep. 8: How to Create a Home Meditation Practice
- 5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habit
- 5 Tools to Help You Start Your Home Meditation Practice
- How to Create a Zen Space: Finding Peace by Creating a Personal Space That Nourishes Your Mind and Bod
Bringing mindfulness into your everyday life:
- ZfEL Ep. 6: How to Make Mindfulness a Way of Life: 7 Keys to Living a More Mindful Life
- How to Create a Mindful Morning Routine
- ZfEL Ep. 4: How to Design a Nightly Ritual that Nourishes and Brings Rest to the Mind and Body (Plus Mindfulness of Body Guided Meditation)
- 7 Ways to Live More Mindfully in the Busy, Fast-Paced, and Plugged In Modern World
- 5 Powerful Ways Mindful Eating Will Transform Your Relationship With Foo
Free guided meditations:
If you're really interested in learning how to practice mindfulness, text instruction isn't complete without an accompanying guided meditation. Luckily, I've got you covered there too:
Keep in mind that the above list is constantly growing. Each week I future a new guided meditation on the Zen for Everyday Life podcast. You can listen to the podcast on the blog here or on iTunes here.
No matter what brought you to the practice of mindfulness, I hope you discover the beauty of the practice and that it helps do for you what it did for me so many years ago.