Start your mindfulness journey part 2: how do I practice mindfulness?

Photo by Elina Fairytale: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-practicing-yoga-3822906/

Welcome to part 2 of the practical, quick-start guide, for those who are looking to explore mindfulness, but are having difficulties getting started with their mindfulness practice.

The first part broke down more of what mindfulness means.

This second part will go over several methods of practicing mindfulness, including specific examples beyond yoga and meditation that can help you get started in your own mindfulness journey.

How do I practice mindfulness?

Thoughts and mindfulness do not mix. This is because our thoughts will inevitably take us away from the present moment and into the past or future instead of allowing us to remain fully here and now in the present moment. You can easily test the veracity of this for yourself right now: start observing your thoughts and see how long it takes before your thoughts jump from what you can sense here and now in the present, to what is no longer in present (such as something that happened in the past or something that you are imagining may happen in the future). Did you make it past one minute, or even ten seconds?

Thoughts also inevitably lead us to label or judge what is happening in the present moment, and to create mental stories and obsessive thought loops, which block our ability to accept whatever is happening to us and to be fully present.

Therefore, one of the main goals of practicing mindfulness is to create periods of stillness in the mind where we are free from discursive (constant) thoughts.

Like any good practice, practicing mindfulness is not a “one-and-done” or “check the box” activity. To practice mindfulness involves exercising our capacity to be fully present, which means strengthening our capacity for the components of mindfulness mentioned in the first section of this guide, and also others.

This is where yoga and meditation come into play. Yoga and meditation are two of the most traditional and popular exercises for practicing mindfulness.

Meditation, because it can involve limiting distractions (often closing the eyes and not moving), is like lifting a heavy weight: an excellent way to train our mindfulness muscles. Yoga, because it can involve deep stretches or long challenging poses is like cardio: an excellent way to train our mindfulness stamina.

While this guide is not focused on yoga or meditation, it is still useful to have a basic reference of some of the different types:

Meditation

  • Mindfulness meditation — the most popular form of meditation that focuses on not judging or labeling thoughts, but simply letting them come and go and returning the mind’s focus to the breath; typically done seated while cross-legged or in Virasana (hero’s pose) on the floor, or in a chair
  • Zen Buddhism meditation — a technique that focuses on 30-minute stretches of meditative focus, where one focuses with eyes half-open on one spot in the lower visual field and repeatedly counts up to 10 breaths, one-at-a-time. The purpose of zen Buddhism is to ultimately lead one to a satori (a flash of insight that accompanies instant enlightenment)
  • Body-scanning meditation — involves focusing all of one’s attention on different body parts, one-at-a-time, in order to progressively identify and release the tension and stress held across the body as a whole
  • Transcendental meditation — a form of meditation which purports to be “absolutely effortless” and involve “no concentration, control of the mind, contemplation, or monitoring of thoughts”
  • Chanting meditation — chanting affirmations, incantations, or words to oneself, which can help guide the subconscious to “manifest” what is being chanted; words can also be easier to maintain one’s focus on than breath

Yoga

  • Vinyasa yoga — the most popular and fitness-oriented style of yoga, which focuses on flowing through full-body poses
  • Bikram, or “hot” yoga — popular with those who want to test their ability to remain calm, present, and mindful while hot and sweating, which is a real challenge
  • Kundalini yoga — a type of yoga that focuses on engaging the seven energy chakras
  • Yin yoga — a calm, slow yoga that emphasizes stretching and holding poses for much longer
A visual locator for the seven chakras in the body, all of which are supposed to channel different types of energies, such as the throat chakra, which channels your communication-focused energies

There are also innumerable resources to help get into yoga and/or meditation, from apps like Headspace or Calm, to mindfulness teachers like Breathe and Flow, to group classes like Peloton, CorePower, to your local yoga studio.

Flow, from the Breathe and Flow yoga duo demonstrating a bridge pose during a YouTube yoga session.

If picking up meditation is difficult for you or you are looking to deepen your practice, you may want to try exploring pranayama (breathwork) techniques. Pranayama breathwork exercises are particular methods of controlling the breath and are very effective and easy to learn ways of quieting the noisy mind, which can make meditation easier. At first, I also struggled to get into meditation, even after trying several different apps. Picking up a few pranayama breathwork exercises was invaluable in enabling me to manage to sit for longer periods of time, and I continue to use them in my daily practice.

People practicing a pranayama exercise. Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

If yoga and meditation are not the right entry into building your mindfulness muscle or stamina right now — that’s okay! There are many alternatives to meditation or yoga that can help you get used to clearing your mind of thoughts and being fully present.

For instance, walking meditation or Tai Chi are great alternatives, as is focusing intently on a rhythmic activity like washing the dishes or cleaning the house. Yoga and meditation use breathing as the focal point which helps the mind stay present and not get distracted by thoughts; this is why rhythmic activities can work, too, by enabling us to focus on the rhythmic movement to stay present and to think less. Just as in meditation or yoga, while doing any alternative, try to let thoughts go when they arise and bring your mind back to fully concentrating on the activity. It can also help to focus on the sensations that your body is receiving, especially via your senses of touch, taste, smell, and sound.

People practicing the Chinese movement meditation, Tai Chi.

Even body movement meditation is not the only route into mindfulness. In fact, if yoga, meditation, or body movement meditation just won’t stick for you, this can actually be the perfect way to begin your mindfulness practice. “Don’t make it into a problem,” as Eckhart Tolle would say.

Instead of focusing on the fact that you can’t get yoga or meditation to stick, practice mindfulness by consciously working to refrain from judging yourself or beat yourself up about it, and move on to try a yoga or meditation alternative, like one of the following:

Explore affirmations — affirmations are simple and empowering sayings or motivational quotes, such as “I am good enough,” or “nothing that happens to me can diminish me.” The goal of using affirmations is to tap into the power of consciously setting an intention or increasing our mental resilience, which brings our subconscious to bear in manifesting (bringing to fruition) that intention or desire. Using daily affirmations can be a surprisingly effective way to orient our awareness towards internalizing tenets of mindfulness and becoming more present.

Try journaling if you are a “words” person, or start doodling if you are a “shapes” person — imbuing our pressing thoughts or emotions with a physical form helps us practice mindfulness by reducing the tendency for thoughts and emotions to overwhelm us, when they reign only in our minds. Rendering our thoughts in a physical form can help us to rest assured that those thoughts or feelings are more accounted for and acknowledged, which can empower us to either consciously let those thoughts go, or refocus our minds on more productive tasks that can break an obsessive thought loop, like thinking up actionable next steps. Obsessive thought loops are where we get stuck only obsessing on the “what” or “why” of a problem, but not the “so what” or “what next,” which involves actually accepting the problem as part of life and/or thinking through ways to resolve it.

Begin or end your day by creating a moment to visualize letting go of stress — take five minutes after waking up or before going to bed to call to mind whatever you are currently resisting, or trying to control in life. Imagine the stress caused by your resistance or desire for control in physical form, like a heavy weight, a large stone, or a loaded backpack. Imagine what it might feel like to set down the heavy load by letting go of that resistance or that desire for control. Envision yourself setting down that visualized stress and breathing a sigh of relief. Revel in the feeling of ease that letting go brings, and continue on, trying to bring that feeling of ease back to mind whenever the stress returns.

Take a break throughout the day when stressed, breathe, and reconnect with your body — try to recognize when you are having particularly stressful, obsessive, or anxious thoughts or feelings at any point during the day. When you realize it, pat yourself on the back for having a developed enough awareness to identify the stress. Stop what you are doing and take 3 deep breaths from the bottom of your stomach. Before going back to whatever you were doing just prior, engage your body in order to interrupt the dominance of your stress-obsessed mind in that moment and enable you to reset with a slightly clearer mind space. Go for a 5-minute walk, or stand up and then sit back down 3 times, or else try the tapping solution.

Share your thoughts and feelings with someone else — when we have persistent negative, obsessive, or anxious thoughts, it can be very useful to open up and talk to someone. In a similar vein to journaling or doodling, exposing our thoughts to the light of reality can help us acknowledge them and to be more amenable to letting them go, or short circuit obsessive thought loops. Talking to others can help us realize just how far away from reality — and the present moment — our mental loops can take us, which can be useful in deflating our stresses and revealing to us how much energy is consumed in maintaining our mental stories, in contrast to how easy it is to let them go and just focus on the here and now. Sharing our thoughts can be done with anyone that we know — or even don’t know — from a family member, friend, acquaintance, internet acquaintance, to a therapist, or even a crisis text line. It’s conducive to our mindfulness practice just to try sharing what is going on in our heads as honestly as we can.

Stay tuned for more learnings on mindfulness, and how to discover more happiness, love, peace, energy, and meaning in life through the power of mindfulness.

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A curious mind and a passionate personal development coach, specializing in life, career, and business coaching for people in the technology and business fields

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Gabe Kwakyi

Gabe Kwakyi

A curious mind and a passionate personal development coach, specializing in life, career, and business coaching for people in the technology and business fields

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