Summary: I think the standardized 8-week MBSR course format is better designed than most introductory meditation practices, and have found David Weinberg in particular to be an excellent mindfulness instructor. Since something like 30 to 100 people have asked me to recommend a way to learn/practice mindfulness, I’m batch-answering with this post.
If you’re already interested in mindfulness meditation, my top recommendation is to take a standardized 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. The MBSR approach to mindfulness is secular/non-mystical, which I like, and seems to be taught in a simple and straightforward way as to make it easy-to-learn rather than easy-to-be-impressed-by. (No one asks you to believe a contradiction or channel the energy of the universe, for example.) I like the 8-week course in particular because, in the one I took, we met on every Tuesday evening for three hours with 15 other people and a teacher to talk about what was difficult and what was confusing about the mindfulness homework we did. I found that very orienting.
There is a separate question of whether you should be interested in mindfulness. Now, it does look fairly promising to me as a treatment for psychological distress (like pain and anxiety, rather than physical ailments like hypertension) — and has at least a “small effect” in randomized controlled trials (see, e.g., this 2009 meta-analysis by E Bohlmeijer, R Prenger, E Taal, and P Cuijpers) — but evidence of this sort is far from overwhelming. And I think, if I was going to guess whether you personally would benefit from it, I think you being interested in it would probably count more towards my credence than the aforementioned studies. I think many individuals have at least some awareness of what psychological states would benefit them, and so if mindfulness sounds interesting to you, I’d say just try it, because trying things is good.
The particular course I took, and am recommending, was recommended to me in conversation with a professor of psychiatry and psychology (MD/PhD) at Berkeley. The course instructor, David Weinberg, founded a non-profit called StressCare in 1996 to teach mindfulness in the Berkeley area, and has been teaching there ever since. He answered all the questions I asked in a straightforward way, and I also benefitted from hearing the questions of other course attendees, the answers to which would ring in my ears later when I encountered similar difficulties. Basically, I’m a huge fan of this guy’s class:
It also just so happens that he’s teaching the Tuesday evening slot in their next 8-week course rotation (I regularly email them to find out when he’s teaching, since they don’t indicate that on their registration form):
I will probably link to this post on future occasions when folks ask me about mindfulness, so apologies to anyone who reads it too late and is unable to register for a course with David specifically. Also, I’ll be curious to hear if you register, what your experience is, and if you take course with a different instructor, how you found them!