Beginner's guide to mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a simple practice than can help with feelings of stress and anxiety. We explain the benefits and how to get started.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about being present and fully engaged with whatever you’re doing at that moment, free from distraction or judgment. It can help you to control your thoughts, rather than letting your thoughts consume you.

Mindfulness practices can be particularly helpful when facing challenging or difficult situations. They can help us not to overreact to stressful times, allowing us to acknowledge our feelings without being overwhelmed by them.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

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People who practice mindfulness often report higher levels of happiness, patience, acceptance and compassion. They also tend to be less frustrated, stressed and sad.

Mindfulness has been shown to increase compassion, positivity and overall wellbeing, while also reducing aggression.

Mindfulness techniques can help you to identify signs of stress or anxiety, so you are better equipped to deal with these emotions. When you are having a difficult time, turning to your mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques can make all the difference.

People who practice mindfulness are less likely to allow their worries to escalate, and less likely to fret over the past. They are less preoccupied with concerns and better able to form deep connections with others.

What is mindfulness meditation?

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Meditation can be a great place to start learning mindfulness, though mindfulness should be a constant way of living rather than a temporary state of mind.

Mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and paying attention to your thoughts, the sounds and the sensations of breathing, bringing your attention back whenever your mind starts to wander.

Mindfulness meditation walkthrough

If you are interested in trying mindfulness meditation, this simple meditation practice is a great place to start:

  • Sit comfortably. Find somewhere quiet that’s away from distractions, whether indoors or outdoors. Choose a spot that gives you a stable, solid, comfortable seat. If you’re sitting on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If you’re on a chair, rest the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Straighten your upper body - but don’t stiffen, follow your spine’s natural curvature.
  • Notice what your arms are doing. Position your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Rest the palms of your hands on your legs, wherever it feels most natural.
  • Soften your gaze. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downwards. It’s not necessary to close your eyes, but you can if this feels more natural.
  • Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing. Take notice of the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your stomach, or your chest.
  • Notice when your mind wanders from your breathing. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. You may notice other sensations in the body, things happening around you, or just get lost in a thought, daydreaming about the past or present. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block out your thinking. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return your attention to the breath. 
  • Be kind to yourself when your feel your mind starting to wander. You may find your mind wandering constantly – that’s normal. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, simply notice what it is you were thinking about or what was distracting you, then take a moment and pause. What other body sensations are you feeling? Acknowledge whatever it is you were thinking of without letting it carry you away. Take a moment to come back to the present and resume your meditation.
  • When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze. Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.1

After meditation

At the end of your meditation, try to recognise how your mind feels and then make an effort to carry that feeling into the rest of your day. Try and perform your next task with the same level of awareness you experienced during meditation.

Mindfulness every day

If you want to continue to add more mindfulness moments into your daily life, try these simple actions:

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1. As soon as you wake up in the morning, rather than rushing to get up, pause long enough for three whole breaths to pass quite naturally.

It will only take a few seconds, but it will set the tone for the day ahead.

2. When you brush your teeth, make it an exercise in mindfulness.

Rather than simply thinking about everything you may have to do that day, direct your attention to the physical sensations, such as the smells and taste. In time it can feel like a mini meditation.

3. Be mindful of your breathing when starting a new activity.

Before a meeting try taking two minutes of silence and be attentive to your breathing, try taking a few mindful breaths before entering a room, or focus on your breath before starting your exercise routine.

4. Take a moment before going to bed to appreciate something good that has happened in the day.

It may sound a little clichéd, but it feels really nice and immediately brings the mind into the present, even if you are thinking about something from the past.

Try guided meditations

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You can practice mindfulness meditation on your own, anytime and anywhere, but listening to guided meditations can also be helpful, especially when getting started.

Guided mindfulness meditation practice can help you concentrate on relaxing and meditating without having to worry about your technique.

There are a number of guided meditations on the Headspace App, and psychologist Tara Brach has a great variety of talks and guided meditations to help support you through difficult times.

You’ll also find handy guides on how to get started with Mindfulness from Mindful and from the NHS.

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