Well-Being//

4 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness, Even if You’re a Total Beginner

These science-backed tricks will help you be more present.

Courtesy of Hunky / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Hunky / Shutterstock

A common misconception about mindfulness is that you need years of practice and skill in order to reap its benefits. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Beginners tend to benefit most from brief (think: less than 10 minutes) mindfulness exercises, Nicholas Watier, Ph.D., a professor in experimental psychology at Brandon University who researches mindfulness, tells Thrive.

With this in mind, how can you practice mindfulness in specific, accessible ways — no matter your experience level? We’ve compiled a few simple exercises to jump-start — or continue — your mindfulness journey (minus the intimidation factor):

Go on a “personal scavenger hunt”

Channel your inner child with this genius mindfulness trick: tracking down unnoticed treasures. A recent New York Times article suggests a tactic from Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing: Look for something nobody asked you to find. 

This exercise is your personal scavenger hunt. Rather than looking at your phone during down time throughout the day, task yourself instead with finding something new in your environment. Take stock of the people around you. Look for as many red items as possible, for example. Challenge yourself to notice something about your surroundings that you’ve never seen before. 

Engage in metaphor-free observation

Think about how you perceive the world around you. Does the lighting in your office feel as though it’s as bright as the sun? Does the air conditioning feel as cold as a wintery day? We tend to link concepts in our minds, comparing one thing we know to another. But by putting one identity on top of another, we are missing a crucial moment to observe something for exactly what it is, Walker explains in The Art of Noticing. This is the underlying concept of “metaphor-free observation,” an exercise first used by the poet Marie Howe, according to Walker.

In order to try it, write down 10 metaphor-free observations about the world around you this week. It seems simple, but this practice highlights the way we are conditioned to automatically see things through the lens of other things. Instead, this trick will help you slow down and see things as they truly are.

Breathe

Breathing is one of the most automatic things we do — but what happens when we actually pay attention to it?

For his mindfulness study, Watier asked participants to get familiar with the instinctive act of breathing. He details a step-by-step set of instructions for Thrive, accessible to even total beginners:

“First, make yourself comfortable in a chair. Begin by noticing how you are sitting in the chair. Notice the places where you are touching the chair. Notice the places where you are touching the floor. Notice where the air is touching your skin and what that feels like. Now gently draw your attention to your breath. Notice — without trying to change it — where your breath is coming from. Notice where your breath enters your body when you inhale, and how it travels through your body before you exhale. Notice how your body moves with each inhalation, and each exhalation. Allow any thoughts or feelings that occur to naturally rise and fall, without trying to hold onto them or get rid of them. Just continue bringing your awareness to your experience in this moment. Continue to notice your breath as you allow whatever comes to come, and whatever goes to go, and whatever stays to stay. Then once again bring your awareness to the room, to the way you are sitting in the chair, where the air is touching your skin, and to your breath.”

Note your emotions

This mindfulness exercise will help you better tune into your feelings. Instead of suppressing them, as you may be in the habit of doing on an especially busy or stressful day, Watier suggests you try listening to them. He asked his own study participants to begin by choosing a poem (he uses Rumi’s “The Guest House”), then focusing their attention inward. You can do the same by following his instructions: 

“First, make yourself comfortable in a chair. Take a few moments to notice your breathing. Close your eyes, and focus on your breath, noticing how breath travels into your body, through your body, and back out of your body, noticing any tension in your body, and gently letting it go. Spend a few moments just focusing your attention on your breath. Then read your poem and notice any reactions to the poem that arise.”

You can try this practice with Rumi’s poem or with any other one you like. What matters more than the poem you choose is how you will improve your ability to tap into your emotion and truly listen to your mind.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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