Mindfulness Exercises for Beginners

These mindfulness exercises are designed to gently bring you into the present moment. If there’s one exercise in particular that you’re resisting, that’s probably the one you should start with; we often resist the things we need most to promote our growth.

When I first started learning about mindfulness, I took it on like I would any project—I overwhelmed myself with research and tried to put a plan in place that would take me step-by-step from novice to master in a time frame that seemed reasonable to me. After all, I told myself, you have a great capacity for discipline.

This is true, but I also have a great tendency to immerse myself in new things to the point of burnout, usually before any real benefit or progress is realized (a clever form of self-sabotage). Developing a stronger presence of mind however, as intimidating it seemed, wasn’t something I wanted to begin only to abandon later.

Beginning with smaller actions that required only a few minutes seemed like a good starting point. If I couldn’t find five minutes to devote to one of the following exercises, I had bigger problems than I thought. I worked with that five-minute limit until one day, it felt too short. These exercises have become my go-to when I start to notice stress or tension setting in and provide a solid foundation for mindfulness practice.

Turn Off the Noise. The next time you’re driving your car, turn off the radio. If you take public transportation, unplug from your iPod. Set your cell phone to vibrate and put it out of reach. Notice when your thoughts start to wander or if you’re tuning into other people’s conversations and bring your attention back to the road in front of you. This may feel uncomfortable at first. That’s okay. Stick with it. Start with five minutes at a time and challenge yourself to work up to the length of your trip.

Tune into Your Senses. Start by taking five deep breaths, making the length of the exhale match the inhale. Choose one of your senses to focus on and try to notice as many things about what you’re taking in as you can (if you’ve chosen sound, you may want to keep your eyes closed). If you were drinking a glass of water before you started, you might pick it up again. Is the glass cold or warm to the touch? When you run your fingers over the surface, is it smooth or are there imperfections? What does it feel like if you touch it to your cheek?

Use Your Other Hand. Throughout the day we perform hundreds of routine tasks without thinking about them at all. Things like combing your hair, brushing your teeth or moving the computer mouse. Choose one of these or come up with your own, but the next opportunity you have to perform the task, try it with your non-dominant hand. The unfamiliarity of the movement will force you to pay attention to what you’re doing. Be careful not to judge for yourself not completing the task perfectly.