Mindfulness for BeginnersJan 12, 2021
Mindfulness for Beginners
Mindfulness is a funny thing. It’s being able to think, feel and be aware … while knowing you’re doing all that… without getting stuck in any particular part of that process.
When I started a formal mindfulness practice about 10 years ago, I just dove right into joining a 45 minute lunchtime meditation at a local spiritual center in San Jose. I attended twice, and they were identical: my brain went absolutely insane for about 15 minutes, then I fell asleep, my head rolling back against the wall I’d (fortunately) placed myself against in my attempt to melt into the back row of the group.
For years, I battled this. For 15 minutes a day in sporadic one to three day streaks, I’d struggle against myself, desperate to calm down, then upon the arrival of this so-called “calming down” … I’d fall asleep. The rest of my life was spent drowning in the tasks I frantically created to distract myself, the constant internal chatter, and the blessed few moments of relief a book, walk outdoors or a yoga practice would create.
It took a lot of practice. I read a lot of books. And I spent a lot of time outside alone. But I realized over time that a mindfulness practice is actually pretty simple:
Mindfulness is being present to what is going on RIGHT NOW, in the moment, without writing stories in our heads about why, how or if it should be different.
So it’s an ongoing, daily, thing. It’s noticing that you’re doing the dishes while ruminating about that thing your spouse just did ... then choosing to come home to your body by noticing the rush of water on your hands and the sight of suds swishing around on a pan, letting that be your entire reality for a split second or a full minute. You’ll go back to thinking and ruminating and taking adventures in your head, but the practice isn’t the “being” present. It’s the coming back.
So what about meditation?
Meditation is simply a tool for learning how to “come back” when you’re wandering around in your own mental sludge.
If you’re an absolute beginner, don’t start with 45 minutes of group meditation like I did (unless you're a masochist like me.) The easiest place to start is with a couple of breaths.
Just inhale and exhale once, right now, and - instead of getting lost in your thoughts - notice the sensation of air moving in and out, notice your breath moving your ribs or shirt, or notice whatever sounds are around you. Then inhale and exhale again. Do it a few more times and - when you inevitably wander off into “What the mother loving eff is going on in politics!?” … just start back with an inhale.
Checking in like this on a regular basis teaches your brain to come back to reality and the present moment. You get to experience life more fully, your emotions and reactions move through faster without creating chaos, and you get to LIVE your life instead of chasing “shoulds.”
When you’re lifting, this is invaluable because the fastest way to fail a lift … is to get lost in thought or tell yourself you should be doing more. When you’re just doing life, this buys you flexibility and creativity because you choose actions and experience emotions based on reality in the moment...rather than the stories your brain makes up to justify the action.
There are a whole slew of books and podcasts on meditation and mindfulness, ranging from the super spiritual to the easily accessible to the uber scientific. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the BIGNESS of meditation and mindfulness, so just start where you’re comfortable and with a message that resonates.
Here are some recommendations :
Mindfulness as a Spiritual Practice
Easily Accessible Mindfulness:
10% Happier by Dan Harris (check out the podcast too!)
Deep, Pragmatic Dive:
Waking Up by Sam Harris (also a great podcast, but be warned they can be LONG and heavy)
Wherever you start, remember that experiences or feelings you’ve been avoiding or distracting from can feel overwhelming at first… so go slowly. Start with three breaths in the NOW. Then watch yourself get stronger in the gym, gentler in your personal interactions and experiencing a new vibrancy in life.
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