KEY POINTS:

1. Mindfulness can be formal - like sitting still and meditating for a period of time, or informal - like practicing being present and non-judgmental of whatever you are doing moment to moment.

2. You don't need a lot to reap the benefits. Even 10-minutes a day for five days in a row produces measurable changes in attentional performance.

3. Creating the intention and building the habit is the most important aspect of starting a mindfulness practice.

By Dr. Ellen Choi

It’s one thing to know one should be mindful, and another thing to actually be mindful. To yield the many touted benefits of mindfulness, like improving your performance, focus, wellbeing, and relationships, the experience of mindfulness can’t remain conceptual. Like exercise and nutrition, mindfulness is most impactful if we actually do it.

There is an old Indian parable about two men on a ship. One is a learned and highly educated sailor and the other, a deck hand with only life’s experience as his knowledge base. As the men sail on, the educated man flaunts his intellect by calling out the names of the islands and commenting on the winds showcasing the many years he spent learning about meteorology, geography, geology and the likes. Suddenly, the ship is hit by misfortune and a punctured hull indicates that in a matter of time the ship will surely sink. It is only then that the educated man becomes quiet realizing that he has never taken the time to learn how to swim. The deck hand, having spent his life swimming in the sea despite having never studied it, smiles with the assurance of his survival. The moral of the story? No amount of talk or theorizing beats action itself. It’s not enough to know what swimming is, you have to be able to swim to save yourself from drowning.
 
So, what exactly does it mean to practice mindfulness? Very broadly, there are formal practices - like sitting still and meditating for a period of time, and there are informal practices, like practicing being present and non-judgmental of whatever you are doing moment to moment. This could mean that as you’re walking down the street, you are simply feeling the sensations of walking instead of thinking about your upcoming meeting.

Another common question that gets asked is how much practice is enough? This is a great question because much of the early research evidence is based on expert practitioners, like Tibetan monks, who have spent thousands of hours meditating.

To receive some of the deeper benefits like emotion regulation and willpower, more practice over longer periods of time is ideal. This may mean you set aside 60 minutes to meditate every day or 30 minutes twice a day.

What we know today, however, is that even a little bit of practice can start to generate benefits. Even 10-minutes a day for five days in a row produces measurable changes in attentional performance. If you don’t have 10-minutes, do 2-minutes. Creating the intention and building the habit is the most important aspect of starting a mindfulness practice. Furthermore, while formal practice is likely to be most impactful, informal practice can also yield benefits. This means just showering each day while being present and non-judgmental of your experience can be one way you practice mindfulness in your everyday life.

Today's Power Up: Download an app

1. WHEN YOU FEEL COMMITTED TO PRACTICING FOR SEVERAL MINUTES AT A TIME, THERE ARE LOTS OF MEDITATION APPS THAT CAN GUIDE YOU THROUGH A FORMAL PRACTICE (CALM; HEADSPACE; TAKE A BREAK; SIMPLE HABIT; BUDDHIFY; INSIGHT TIMER; OMVANA; SMILING MIND; WILDFLOWERS TO NAME A FEW).

2. FIND ONE YOU LIKE AND LET THE APP GUIDE YOU THROUGH SOME FORMAL MEDITATIONS. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND HEADSPACE.COM AND CALM.COM TO GET YOU STARTED.

Dive Deeper

CHECK OUT THIS TED TALK BY ANDY PUDDICOMBE THAT EXPLAINS THE POWER OF SHORT BOUTS OF MINDFULNESS.