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5 steps to kickstart mindfulness

It’s not just you — mindfulness can be a hard practice to start. Here are some tips.

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It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by stress, but keeping coping strategies for tough days can help you through some situations.

Enter mindfulness.

In modern psychology, mindfulness is synonymous with present, focused attention. In other words: observing what’s happening inside and around you at the current moment.

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But there’s another important aspect to mindfulness, explains University of Pittsburg researcher Emily Lindsay. Lindsay has studied mindfulness for 10 years.

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“The way that you pay attention, the attitude, or orientation you bring... is of critical importance.”

Emily Lindsay, to Inverse

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Tuning into your internal experiences with a non-judgmental, welcoming, and curious attitude is the secret sauce to productive mindfulness practice, she explains.

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When it’s done right, research shows that mindfulness can help mitigate our response to stress and promote overall emotional and physical health.

But for many people, mindfulness doesn’t come easy.

In fact, it’s quite a bit like working out: you have to literally retrain your brain in order to approach your experiences in a new way, says Lindsay.

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Here are 5 tips to kickstart mindfulness:

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5. Start small

Meditation can cultivate mindfulness. Guided apps and lessons can help, but one simple technique doesn’t cost you anything.

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Carve out a few minutes each day to pause and pay attention to the sensations in your body, Lindsay says.

Note what you smell, hear, and see in your surroundings.

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You can even do this out loud if it helps: such as if you see a chair, you can say “chair.”

“The idea is to ground you in the present of what’s actually around you right now, [and] what you're feeling inside of you right now.”

Emily Lindsay

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4. Focus on acceptance

Approaching your thoughts with equanimity — calmly — can help you work out what’s going on in your body and mind without judgment.

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“If something's happening that's unpleasant or uncomfortable, instead of sort of pushing it away or trying to avoid it, you're fully embracing it and allowing it to flow through you.”

Emily Lindsay

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3. Make a commitment

Carve out time to meditate daily, even for a short time. Trusting that it will pay off in the long run is an important part of the process, Lindsay says.

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“The goal... of meditation practice is to learn these skills of mindfulness that you can then bring it into and incorporate into your daily life.”

Emily Lindsay

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Meditation can be frustratingly slow — especially if you’re extremely stressed out. But like working out, it takes time to build muscle.

Think of meditation as a training ground for mindfulness skills.

2. Build a foundation

Beyond meditation, there are many different techniques to build mindfulness skills.

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Prolonged, consistent training — often with the help of a mentor or guide — can help to really incorporate mindfulness into daily life, Lindsay says.

“A lot of guidance is really just about words, like, ‘be open to that experience.’ But there are ways of developing these skills through specific techniques.”

Emily Lindsay

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1. Apply it

Test out your mindfulness skills as you go through everyday tasks.

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In high-stress situations, mindfulness will help you maintain a state of acceptance and equanimity.

“You’re noticing, you’re allowing, you’re not fighting anything,” Lindsay says.

“Sort of almost like you’re sitting back and like, you’re on the beach with your sunglasses, just watching everything.”

Emily Lindsay

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