Three Tips for Starting a Mindfulness Practice

The other day, I was walking through the hall with a colleague who asked me “so, I hear that you teach this meditation stuff?”

I replied, “Yeah, it’s a little surprising to think about it sometimes but I’ve been meditating in for about twenty years now. I learned to meditate back in High School and have been practicing in one way or another since then.”

She said to me, “Yeah, I know its supposed to be good for you but I just find it so hard to keep it up!”

This is a VERY common sentiment that I’ve heard so many new meditators express over the years. I gave her my perspective on this and thought that it would be helpful for others who are trying to get started on a meditation practice but finding it hard to get started.

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Tip 1: Find a Group!

This one is tough for many of us but I think it really is the best way to get a meditation practice established. There truly is strength in numbers and, if you can find a local group, I’m strongly of the opinion that attending a local meditation group regularly is the best way to get started with meditation.

Back when I was learning to meditate, finding a group was basically the only way available to learn. In my early days of meditation, I did what I could to find local groups and ended up getting exposure to many different forms of meditation.

Whether it’s an informal sitting group, a yoga studio or a zen center, if you can find a group that you can attend regularly, I highly recommend it.

I sat with Unitarians, practicing basic mindfulness meditation; I sat with small insight meditation groups and then eventually found my way to Soto Zen where I would attend weekly services and retreats.

When you’re meditating in a group, you are much less likely to give up mid-session (don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen people stand up and walk out during a 30min meditation but it’s rare). At home, you might get distracted or frustrated and leave the cushion but there’s something about the support of the group that helps to motivate you to stay on your seat.

If you can find a group you like, you’ll also find a nice community. Even if you happen to just have a group of meditation practitioners without a teacher, it’s still incredibly nice to be able to share the experience with others. Theres a commeraderie there that helps motivate you to keep up the practice.

Tip 2: Use Technology!

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time when meditation and mindfulness are – as they say – “trending” topics. There are so many websites and apps out there from simple ones that help you focus on your breath for a while to large ones that offer in-app “masterclasses” on different mindfulness topics. Now is a really great time to be interested in meditation. I encourage you to try a few different apps and see which one you like. I really like Calm but have tried Headspace and others.

These apps are a great way to start a mindfulness practice on your own. Guided meditation is a good place to start, especially when you’re on your own. Starting with more traditional meditation practices can be harder to do without a teacher or a group. Most of today’s major apps start out with some sort of guided meditation and that can be a great way to get started.

I’ve recently found an app called #selfcare that features a little breathing exercise that helps me take little mindfulness breaks throughout my day which brings me to the last tip…

Tip 3: Start Stupid Small

Alright so you can’t join a group for whatever reason but you still want to get a bit more present moment awareness in your life, now what? I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: start stupid small. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people give up on a practice because they set the bar entirely too high for a beginner. I’ve seen it for exercise routines, diets and yes, meditation practice. One of my favorite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes is this one:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

If you can’t sit for 30 minutes then sit for ten. If you can’t do that, find five minutes in your day. Can’t do that? Watch your breath for a minute. Anything you do to bring yourself back to the present moment is helping you build that mental pathway and so anything you can do to start is goodness. There is a saying that neurons that fire together wire together and so even short periods of mindfulness practice help you build that habit and will eventually help you stay present for longer periods of time and reap the benefits of mindfulness.

Have you tried any of these tips?

What has worked (or not worked) for you in the past?

Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.

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