How long should I practise mindfulness for?
There are no set rules on how long each session should be. The advantage of this is that there are perhaps no rights and wrongs, and so you can individualise practices to meet your own needs. When it comes to practising mindfulness, most experts would suggest that any amount of practice is better than none. And some would argue that the more you do the better the outcome. But right now, there’s no definitive answer.
On the whole, most formally delivered mindfulness-based programmes are run over an eight-week period and recommend an on-going daily practice of around 45 minutes. The practice can be a formal practice such as following a guided meditation or mindfully participating in a yoga class, or it can be informal. Informal practices can be every day activities that you apply mindfulness to, such as taking time to eat mindfully. This involves paying full attention to the experience of eating without any distractions from conversations, using phones, watching TV or reading.
You could start your practice by taking a mindful moment right now. Make yourself comfortable and, slowly and gently, take a few deep breaths. Notice what it feels like to pause and breathe and be fully present with this experience. If you need a little bit more help getting started, follow the guided exercise below.
When can I find time for mindfulness?
For many people, one of the biggest barriers to practising mindfulness is time – there never seems to be enough. But there are lots of opportunities to find a mindful moment, for example when you’re brushing your teeth, washing the dishes, eating or even walking the dog. Even if you only have a very small amount of time, it can be helpful to try and get into a routine with mindfulness – make a realistic commitment and stick to it.
For me, 10 minutes of focused attention is more beneficial than a half-hearted 45 minutes or a promise to practise that never happens because it felt too ambitious or unrealistic in the first place.
Does mindfulness get easier with practice?
At first, you might struggle to get to grips with mindfulness. Life gets busy and taking time to stop and focus your attention on the present moment might not come naturally. Like all things that are good for us – eating more fruit and veg, drinking enough water – if we make a habit of them, they’ll stick!
The key is to start small and link your new behaviour to something that you already do. For example, each time you brush your teeth, make it mindful. It may feel effortful at first, but over time (and with a bit of persistence) it should become second nature.
Learning how to practise mindfulness and embedding it into your way of life can be tricky too. In my own work, I often hear people expressing that it feels silly, pointless or frustrating. This is not unusual when engaging in a new practice that may be very different for people. Think of it like starting a new activity, for example running. When you begin, you may find that you can only run a short distance before you become out of breath or notice a cramp. As you practise more and more, however, this distance increases. You get better at running and it starts to become more natural for you. The same is true of mindfulness. The more you practise, the better you’ll get at it.
In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh: “The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.” On this basis, I would encourage people to persevere and commit to finding the answer to this question themselves.
When will I see the benefits?
Mindfulness asks for an attitude of acceptance and open-mindedness. If we become caught up in our expectations of what we should experience or how we should feel, it detracts from the very nature of being mindful – focusing on our present experience. Rather than practising mindfulness and focusing on all the benefits we expect to gain, it may be more helpful to try it with an attitude of curiosity and interest. This way, you’ll allow yourself to notice how it feels and then later reflect on any benefits that may have arisen.
These benefits may be small, but they build up over time. For example, when feeling stressed at work, pausing to focus on your breath for a few moments may help you reappraise the situation in a calmer manner. If you get angry while stuck in traffic, pausing to notice this emotion and being mindful of it may help. You can then make an active choice about whether to act on this emotion or reconsider the situation and respond in a different way.
If, after reading this article, you’re still unsure about mindfulness, consider the words of Jon Kabat-Zin, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction: “Is there any waking moment of your life that would not be richer and more alive for you if you were more fully awake while it was happening?”