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  • Writer's pictureAlex Newman

Starting a Mindfulness Practice

Updated: Mar 3

By Alex Newman BA, MHS, RP

Mindfulness is a term that we might be familiar with - perhaps we have encountered it as part of a yoga class, or a spiritual tradition, or a strategy to help with relaxation. Or perhaps we have heard of the benefits of mindfulness, like increased focus and attention, reduced stress, and support with sleep. But what is mindfulness, and how might it be helpful? 

What is Mindfulness? 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of both Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness is technique and a skill.

Those of us who struggle with stress, worry, or feelings of anxiety might think that mindfulness is a strategy that can be used primarily for calming or relaxation. Of course, exercises such as mindfulness of the breath or mindful movement can sometimes quiet the mind or bring momentary peace - but mindfulness is also more than this. 

How Can it Help?

With practice, mindfulness can help us to better understand ourselves, and in turn help us make the kind of lasting life changes that can lead to a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. We can use this knowledge and deeper familiarity to help us to make shifts in habits that are no longer useful to us, and open up new choices or possibilities. And it can also mean that we become aware of the full range of what we are thinking, feeling, and doing - including the positive, negative, and neutral. 

Mindfulness helps us to pay attention to the present moment - and if the present moment is distressing, mindfulness will not take away this distress. However, it may allow us to experience these feelings differently, and to participate in our life even while feeling distress. In time, it can help us to change our relationship with our internal experiences. 

Practical Tips for Starting a Mindfulness Practice

If you are interested in developing the skill of mindfulness, here are some some ideas you might consider in starting out: 

Pick a specific time of day for your practice.

It can be useful to connect your practice to daily activities - perhaps it makes the most sense with your schedule to plan a mindfulness practice first thing in the morning, just after your shower, before or after a meal, or before bed. Pick a time that works best for you! 

Pick a specific place.

If possible, pick a setting or place where you can be alone and where you are less likely to be interrupted. Sometimes it can be helpful to put specific things in this space, like a favourite picture, incense or candles, soothing music, or comfortable blankets or seating. These items can become ‘cues’ in the future to help strengthen your practice.

Use a timer or an alarm.

Using a timer or an alarm (like on your cell phone) can help to set the time of our practice, without having to track how long it’s been. It’s important to practice for the full time you set, so try to pick a reasonable length of time. If this is new for you, you may want to start with 1-2 minutes - and then if you’d like, you can gradually extend the time you spend in your mindfulness practice. Regular practice is more important than the length of time you practice! 

Make a commitment.

Learning and trying something new takes time, and as with any change, it may be a bit challenging at the beginning. To see some of the benefits of mindfulness, it will be helpful to make a commitment to practice daily for a week or so, in order to build up this skill. And all of us can benefit from taking some time for ourselves and our own well-being during our busy days.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that everyday you can come up with reasons not to practice - this is totally expected. Notice these thoughts - and practice anyway! We might even prepare ahead of time by thinking of some of the things that might get in the way, and some strategies for how we can avoid them. We also want to remember to be kind to ourselves - and if we miss a practice, know that we can always try again tomorrow. 

If worry, stress, and feelings of anxiety are getting in the way of the life you’d like to live, it may be helpful to explore whether counselling or psychotherapy could be a good fit for you. You can access a free consultation with a therapist to learn more about possibilities for support - perhaps including mindfulness practices - and how therapy might help you move towards a deeper understanding and to a sense of peace and connection. 

Further Reading:

More information on Jon Kabat-Zinn - and free mindfulness exercises 


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