How to Start a Mindful Awareness Practice
If you’ve stumbled across this blog post, I’m guessing you might have some interest in learning how to “start a mindful awareness practice.” Mindfulness (aka mindful awareness) has been making headlines as it has gained attention for the researched benefits it can bring to overall health and well-being, but we’ll save those details for another post.
In this post, we want to bring you a short “tutorial” on one way to bring mindful awareness to your life in the form of a formal practice. I have found it helpful to take a class with others, but if that is not available to you, and you have the desire, this narrative will hopefully be helpful for you to begin.
Before I give you the specifics, I want to offer some principles for mindfulness:
- Practicing mindfulness is simple, but not always easy.
- You can practice mindful awareness even if you think your mind is “too busy.”
- Mindful Awareness is not about clearing the mind. It’s about noticing what’s there.
- Being curious about the process will increase the likelihood that you stick with it and notice benefits.
- Reading a book or taking a class on mindful awareness, is not the same as “practicing it.
- Formal mindful awareness practice includes dedication to “sit” for a period of time.
- Having a formal sitting practice can eventually transfer to being more mindfully aware in your daily life (but you have to practice!).
If we can all agree on those precepts, starting a practice is going to be relatively painless. So, let’s begin with logistics and position.
Finding a comfortable place to practice, preferably in a seated position (or lying if that is necessary), that is relatively free from distractions, is key. Once you choose a space (yes, this could even be your car!), sit either on the floor, perhaps on a cushion, mat or pillow, or in a chair with a supportive back.
In either sitting option, you want to maintain an upright, but not uptight posture. Think of a straight back, head and heart lifting upward. Hands resting in your lap and closing the eyes or gazing downward is a typical posture. Use a timer or guided app with a timer (there are many available for free) for your practice, starting with perhaps only 3-5 minutes and increasing by a minute or two every few days or week.
Working up to 15-30 minutes of practice regularly will provide the greatest benefit–but even practicing only 5 minutes regularly will still typically provide changes. You can even do short practices several times a day.
So, what does this 3-5 minutes look like? Let’s go through some basic steps of a mindfulness practice progression. You may work through these steps a week at a time, or every few days.
Step 1: Anchors
Anchors are a term for what we use to “hold our mind” in place when it tends to wander off, and it will. Three common anchors in mindful awareness are: Sound, Sensation, and Breath.
In this first step, I suggest starting with sound.
Set a timer, close the eyes, and listen to the sounds you hear around you. This may sound simple, but as you may find–not always easy.
When your mind starts to wander, just notice it has wandered and bring it back to the anchor of sounds.
Next, practice with breath as an anchor.
Using the sensation of the breath moving in and out of the body is helpful in “anchoring” the mind. You may even focus on where you feel the breath the most in your body: belly, chest, even air at the tip of the nose, etc. by placing a hand there and feeling the movement.
Again, when the mind wanders, bring it back. In the bringing back, be sure to do it kindly, meaning to yourself. There is no need to get frustrated with yourself for a wandering mind, it’s what human minds due, so be kind to yourself.
Finally, take some time to notice sensations in the body.
You may want to start at the feet and work your way up, or just choose one area, possibly the hands, to focus your attention. Here you can notice any tingling, warmth, coolness, tightness, whatever sensations are present in the moment. If this all seems strange in the beginning, just remember the importance of curiosity.
Below are two short audio practices to get you started on these anchors.
Try this out for the next week and check back here for Part 2 in How to Start a Mindful Awareness Practice.