A Beginner’s Guide to Practicing Mindfulness

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated October 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Mindfulness has been a part of various cultural and religious practices for thousands of years, but it has more recently made its way into the mainstream around the world. One key reason for this is that researchers have uncovered links between mindfulness and a host of positive health benefits, both mental and physical. If you’ve been hearing about mindfulness and would like to try it but aren’t sure where to start, read on. We’ll cover a bit about what this practice is, its potential benefits, and how you can start living a more mindful life as a beginner.

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What Is Mindfulness?

According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is defined as “an awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings” which involves an individual “learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them”.

In other words, mindfulness refers to a state of neutral, nonjudgmental awareness, which can apply to our thoughts, our positive and negative emotions, our bodies, and our surroundings. It’s a way of living in the present moment as it is, rather than fixating on the past or future or running completely on “autopilot”.

 While mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years, they are a more recent phenomenon in the United States. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, founded a revolutionary stress reduction clinic in the 1970s. At the clinic, using traditional Buddhist meditation and mindfulness techniques, Kabat-Zinn developed an 8-week course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. The course took off throughout the following years as Americans from coast to coast began to embrace mindfulness which led Kabat-Zinn to write and publish his popular book “Full Catastrophe Living,” detailing how to use mindfulness to combat stress, pain, and illness. Many of Kabat-Zinn’s teachings are utilized in therapy and mindfulness practices today.

Potential Health Benefits Of Mindfulness

A wealth of studies have been conducted on this topic, especially in the last few decades. Many have found clear links between mindfulness and a range of benefits to overall well-being. A few of the many potential health benefits of mindfulness are outlined below.

Reduced Symptoms Of Anxiety And Depression

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a clinical mental health condition like anxiety or depression, it’s typically recommended that you meet with a qualified mental health provider to address them. One of the methodologies you may be interested in is mindfulness-based therapy. Research suggests that it can help improve “anxiety and mood symptoms”. Mindfulness helps to improve mood and gives you the tools to reduce anxiety in the moment.

Improved Sleep

Not enough sleep or poor-quality sleep can have a range of negative health outcomes, from low energy and irritability to depression, high blood pressure, and stroke. Practicing mindfulness may help you get more, better sleep. One study on this topic divided participants into two groups: one that would receive instruction on better sleep hygiene, and one that would undergo mindfulness training. After six weekly meetings, researchers found that the latter group “had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression”. 


A Lower Risk Of Dementia

Dementia is a serious disease that involves loss of memory and intellectual function over time due to brain deterioration. The development of a disease like this has many potential contributing factors. However, research shows that individuals may be able to lower their risk of dementia if they cultivate a consistent mindfulness practice. A 2016 study found that older adults who engaged in mindfulness techniques over the course of two years showed higher cognitive scores than those who engaged in relaxation training, certain types of therapy, or no treatment, which may be associated with a lower risk of cognitive issues like dementia.

A Lower Risk Of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but researchers have found that mindfulness may be able to help. Across various studies, participants who engaged in a consistent mindfulness practice showed benefits like lower blood pressure, higher cardiovascular capacity, and better heart health overall

Mindfulness For Beginners

Virtually anyone can practice mindfulness skills at any moment, from any place without any special equipment. There are even resources out there that give tips about mindfulness for kids, demonstrating the fact that this practice has the potential to benefit the emotional health of people of all ages. While learning how to consistently tune into a sense of neutral awareness can take time, the practice itself can be quite simple. Here are a few techniques you can try if you’re interested in beginning a mindfulness meditation practice.

Try A Breathing Exercise

Mindfulness practices are often related to the breath because it’s a constant that we can connect to at any time to be reminded of the present moment. There are a wide variety of breathing exercises out there to get the air moving, many of which can be acquired for free via videos and apps. Paying attention to your breath and practicing deep breathing are mindfulness basics. To get started, you might try the box breathing technique, for example. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Exhale slowly through your mouth to release all the air from your lungs.
  2. Next, breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to four mentally. 
  3. Hold your breath for four counts.
  4. Exhale for another four counts.
  5. Hold your breath, and exhale, for another four counts.

Because this mindfulness practice is so simple, easy to remember, and doesn’t require any equipment or preparation, it represents an available way for anyone to practice mindfulness throughout their day, whether they’re beginners or experts in practicing mindfulness.

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Do A Body Scan

Completing a mental scan to discover how different parts of your body currently feel is another common mindfulness practice. This meditation practice can also be done from virtually anywhere without equipment or preparation, though it may be helpful to practice while lying down in a comfortable position at first. You can start by drawing your attention to your physical body. You might notice how your clothes feel against your skin, whether you feel warm or cold, where there’s any tension, pain, or soreness, etc. Next, you can take a mental “tour” of your entire body, noticing each part with a calm, nonjudgmental awareness as you go. You could start with your feet, paying attention to any feelings in your toes, ankles, calves, knees, etc. as you progress up your body, or you could start at the top of your head and take note of your forehead, eyes, cheeks, neck, etc. as you progress downwards. You can do this type of exercise over the course of any length of time, whether it’s two minutes or twenty; all that matters is tuning into this type of awareness.

Some body scans are simple guided meditations, with a meditation teacher guiding you through the process. During the guided meditation they may gently bring your attention from one area of your body to another. They may also prompt you to focus on your body if your mind wanders.

Take A Mindful Walk

Another way to practice mindfulness in your daily life is to take a walk outside your own door and practice being aware of your surroundings as you go. For example, you might take care to notice things like:

  • The feeling of your feet on the ground
  • The sounds of birds, people talking, or the wind in the trees
  • The way grass, leaves, or flowers move in the breeze
  • What color the sky is and whether there are clouds or not
  • The way the sunshine feels on your face

Or, if you’re having trouble being present during a walk, you might focus on each sense, one at a time. For example, you could name to yourself one thing you can see, one you can hear, one you can smell, one you can taste, and one you can touch. As your senses engage with objects and elements around you, you can feel what it’s like to be fully present and aware.

How Therapy Can Help

Many people who are looking to improve their sense of mindfulness find working with a qualified therapist to be helpful. Often our inner critic can get in the way of mindfulness practice, a therapist may help you to get past this as they lead you through techniques. Some providers practice modalities that directly relate to this technique, such as mindfulness-based therapy (MBT). Even the most widely practiced form of therapy today—cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—is tied to some mindfulness principles. It revolves around the idea that our thoughts inform our feelings and actions, so by noticing and shifting unhelpful thought patterns, we can produce better, less distressing outcomes for ourselves. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines methods of CBT and MBSR such as mindfulness meditation. 

Your provider may also utilize Jon-Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which utilizes mindfulness to improve patients’ mental health. Jon-Kabat Zinn asserts that mindfulness leads to an awareness of the present moment that makes us better equipped to handle the day to day challenges of life. In mindfulness-based stress reduction, participants practice mindfulness and meditation to decrease stress, which can ultimately improve a number of mental and physical health conditions.

The format in which you prefer to receive therapeutic treatment is generally up to you. If you’d like to meet with a provider in person, you can search for mental health professionals in your local area. If you’d feel more comfortable meeting with someone virtually, you might look into virtual therapy. One study suggests that “therapeutic interventions that included a mindfulness component” were effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms when delivered online, among other potential benefits. Other research has come to similar conclusions, meaning that you can typically choose the therapeutic format that works best for you if you’re interested in reaping the benefits of mindfulness in this way.

With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed provider who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to get support in reaching your goals. Regardless of the format you choose, know that professional help is available if you’re looking to improve your mental health and overall well-being.


As a wealth of research suggests, the frequent practice of mindfulness can have a variety of physical and mental health benefits. Beginners can learn how to practice mindfulness techniques using the tips above, or with the help of a therapist.

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