(meditation: 5:48 min) This meditation builds on the meditation called Sensational Awareness. Once you’re good at focusing on an area of sensation in the body, this practice adds noticing the emotions as well. It is very similar to Emotional Awareness (I even called it that in the recording), and the difference is that this one uses sensation as the starting point whereas Emotional Awareness focuses solely on emotions. This practice, Sensational Emotions, is a good bridge between the two.
Begin by getting into position, whatever position works best for your body. This position will become your body-mind’s signal that you are starting a practice. I suggest the following:
Sit on a chair (sofa, bed, etc) with your feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands in your lap. Feel your sit bones pressing down. Float the crown of your head up so that it softly lifts your torso into alignment. Let your back body be a bit firm to maintain this posture and your front body be soft and relaxed.
Take a moment and look around you to ground yourself in the space you’re in (be/become aware of where you are).
Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Feel the sensations of breathing for a few breaths. This will help you be/become aware of your body.
Find an area in your body that feels a bit tense or stiff, an area that feels “charged” to you – an area that might have an emotional component to it. If you aren’t sure, simply focus on the first area you notice that has strong sensation.
Now notice the qualities of the area, as if you were a scientist studying it’s properties. You’ll take time to notice qualitative “facts” about it versus thinking about why it’s like this or that. In other words, you’re going to notice it’s properties and not the who, what and why of it. You’re going to notice “It’s as big as my shoulder,” and not “my shoulder hurts because I’ve been exercising too hard.” Notice things like how big it is (where are the edges?)? How dense? How sharp/dull. What texture? If you could see it what color would it be? Etc.
As you’re noticing the area, you may notice emotions that are related to this area. Do the same with them, and simply examine their qualities, too. Notice things like how sharp or dull is the emotion? How dense is it? If it had a color what color would it be? Etc.
Keeping most of your attention on this area, let other thoughts, sensations and emotions float through the background like passing clouds.
If you find that your attention has become absorbed in something else and you’re no longer noticing the sensations in the area, gently bring your attention back to the area you’ve chosen.
When you feel ready or when your timer rings, end the practice by bringing your attention back to your breath for a few breaths and then gently opening your eyes.
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Here are a few things to get you started: 3 videos and a FAQ. After that, I suggest finding a mindfulness teacher, downloading an app or getting a good book. If you want to work with me, see my current coaching schedule or email me, elena at elenamariafoucher.com
What is Mindfulness? (video, 5:17min) Mindfulness expert Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines “What is mindfulness?” and discusses the hard work and rewards of practicing mindfulness. Jan 3, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmEo6RI4Wvs
Mindfulness (good, historical description of modern western mindfulness) http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/technology/article/1256544/mindfulness-meditation-adapted-city-life
Why Mindfulness Is a Superpower: An Animation, Dan Harris, TV Anchor and author describes how practicing mindfulness is one of the single most powerful things you can do for your wellbeing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6T02g5hnT4
What Do We Have All Wrong About Meditation? (video, 4:10), Happify video featuring Dan Harris, dispelling 3 myths: meditation is only for weird people, it’s too hard and I don’t have time to do it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtsdz_jhB7c
What is Mindfulness? (article) – Dr. Danny Penman’s description of mindfulness (how, observing without criticizing, secular, can sit in chairs or practice anywhere, doesn’t take a lot of time, not complicated, increases clarity vs dulling your edge). http://franticworld.com/what-is-mindfulness/
3 Misconceptions About Meditation (article) – Susan Piver, bestselling author and meditation teacher, explains what meditation is by debunking 3 very common meditation myths (stops thinking, makes you peaceful, form of self-help). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-piver/meditation-practice-3-mis_b_594914.htm
The Three Components of Self-Compassion (video, 6:18min) Dr Kristin Neff, leading compassion researcher, defines self-compassion. She describes the importance of acknowledging a problem first and giving ourselves care and compassion before going into fixing mode. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11U0h0DPu7k
TYPES of Meditation
Overview of 23Types (Though the details laid out in this article aren’t all that clear to me, it makes some generalizations that I find helpful. It can provide a good starting point for understanding some of the big differences between some of the different types of meditation.) http://liveanddare.com/types-of-meditation/
Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation (video, 3:43min) Dan Harris, News Correspondent, explains the neuroscience behind meditation, but reminds us that the ancient practice isn’t magic and likely won’t send one floating into the cosmic ooze. He predicts that the exercise will soon become regularly scheduled maintenance, as commonplace as brushing your teeth or eating your veggies. Harris, an ABC News correspondent, was turned on to mediation after a live, on-air panic attack. His latest book is 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, Aug 19, 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAcTIrA2Qhk
Studies on Short-term Meditators and Executive Attention (Performance Indicator)
Measuring Mindfulness (video, 6min), Dr Judson Brewer, neuroscientist, shares his research on what objects of focus create a state of mindfulness and which do not. Describes mindfulness is a flow state, “Flow is a mental state when a person is fully immersed in the present in a feeling of energized focus.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp9JD4APjSs&list=PLbiVpU59JkValOIEIo2Y65mBopHCjKvBo&index=3
Wandering Mind, Not a Happy Mind (article), Steve Bradt, Harvard Gazette, The mind wanders 47% of the time and this typically makes us unhappy. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
The commodification of our attention (article) (our attention as a resource; companies using more and more public space to place advertisements so that we have to pay attention to them and have less and less uncluttered space); New York Times article by MATTHEW B. CRAWFORD Mar 7, 2015 https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/the-cost-of-paying-attention.html?_r=0
Mind the Bump – Mindfulness and how the brain works (video, 3:50min) Smiling Mind’s description of how the brain works (neuroplasticity – the more we worry the better we become at worrying and if we practice being calm, clear and focused we can strengthen these networks too; frontal lobes – when strengthened can manage strong emotions and respond with flexibility; amygdala – monitors stress and anxiety and releases stress hormones; and how mindfulness helps us regulate all of these things, literally changing the structure of the brain. Published on Feb 2, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNCB1MZDgQA
After watching this, your brain will not be the same (video, 14:24min) Dr Lara Boyd’s TEDxVancouver presentation on her research into neuroplasticity: how our daily behaviors shape our brain, why practice is important and that we all learn differently. This presentation helps us understand how practicing meditation literally shapes our brain – like all of the activities that we do – and why regular practice is important in maintaining the physical structures and mental benefits. This is one of the clearest descriptions of neuroplasticity I’ve ever seen.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNHBMFCzznE
Why the brain needs to rest, relax, sleep (& meditate) (article) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/
Mindfulness changes the structure of the brain (several studies, articles)
How Does Meditation Change the Brain? – Instant Egghead #54 (video, 2:23) Ferris Jabr, editor for Scientific American, describes how mindfulness makes connections in brain more robust allowing more synchronized communication between the different parts of the brain. Studies show in expert meditators have a more wrinkly cortex, the outer layer, responsible for it increases the part of the brain responsible sophisticated mental abilities like abstract thought and introspection. Also increases volume and density of hippocampus, crucial for memory. Areas responsible for sustaining attention that usually shrink with age do not decrease in meditators. Improves attention and working memory (store & manipulate information in one’s mind). can sharpen attention, strengthen memory and improve other mental abilities. Scientific American editor Ferris Jabr examines the changes in brain structure behind some of these benefits. Published on Oct 31, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0DMYs4b2Yw
Mindful Meditation and the Brain (video, 6min) Dr. Shauna Spairo, PhD (Greater Good Science Center) Psychologist, researcher, and mindfulness teacher Shauna Shapiro talks about the encouraging research behind meditation and its potential to change the structure of our brains and our level of happiness. (Happiness set points, changing cortical thickness via neuroplasticity, what we practice becomes stronger.) (Meditation makes us happier by changing the interior experience, we rebuild habits that are kinder, less critical.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AqgMo1P05E&list=PLfjLuTKS8Rm0mIwFkRVjtADRIhasWlHFH
Willpower and Decision Fatigue James Clear’s article on how we have a limited amount of will power available in a day, as well as decision making capacity and how both of those two thing affect our ability to be effective and make good decisions. http://jamesclear.com/willpower-decision-fatigue
Habit Creation (Scientific Studies)
How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide (article) Author James Clear’s well researched guide on habit formation with his favorite studies cited. His website is well worth reading for those interested in the current science and ideas behind habit formation. http://www.jamesclear.com/habit-guide
How to make stress your friend (video, 14:28), Kelly McGonigal, Psychologist, Presents research that says how we think about stress changes how it effects our bodies. When asked about how to deal with stressful choices, go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend#
Visual infographic illustrating the main idea from the talk above (How to make stress your friend (video, 14:28), Kelly McGonigal) that if you think about stress in a positive way, you change it’s effect on you.
Meditation 101: A Beginner’s Guide Animation (video, 2:01min) Happify animation featuring Dan Harris, news correspondent with a clear explanation of how to do practice mindfulness meditation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqoxYKtEWEc
Wandering Mind, Not a Happy Mind (article), Steve Bradt, Harvard Gazette, The mind wanders 47% of the time and this typically makes us unhappy. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
How to work with thoughts (& Emotions, Physical Sensations)
Mindfulness Dissolves Thoughts — Attention Is What’s Left Over, with Jon Kabat-Zinn (video, 5:28), Jon Kakat-Zin, the creator of modern mindfulness practice, on how to work with thoughts. That you don’t need to do anything with them other than watch them. This awareness makes them disappear like soap bubbles. Great video!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvLRheIPY90
Understanding Meditation | Changing perspective (video, 1:36min), Andy Puddicomb for Headspace; How to work with thoughts: Watching thoughts go by like watching passing cars / traffic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xAeJKgupPI
Don’t Try to be Mindful (video, 11:29min), Daron Larson addresses a common misunderstanding about mindfulness practice, that if our meditation is not peaceful and free of thoughts, then we must be doing something wrong (Getting Comfortable with the discomfort). Also, that repeatedly being aware of little things in any moment will create awareness overtime (We’re interrupting the narrative, the litany of thoughts that we get lost in and thus stop noticing what’s happening in the present.) – Thanks to Dave Potter of Palouse Mindfulness Online MBSR Course for highlighting this video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze6t3 or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_27l2hMYvE&index=2&list=PLbiVpU59JkVbNfFyAG4SrC8NGnC0-D4jg
Why Meditate? How not trying to change creates change! (article) Nancy Colier, LCSW, Rev., describes how to work with the mind, and explains why you don’t have to stop thinking in order to practice meditation. Posted in Psychology Today, 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201301/why-meditate
All it takes is 10 mindful minutes. (video, 9min, transcript available) – Andy Puddicomb, former Buddhist monk, co-founded Headspace, a project to make meditation more accessible to more people in their everyday lives. Great description of how to work with the mind during mindfulness: don’t need to stop thoughts, instead have a balanced, focused concentration. [If you prefer, the transcript is available on the same page. Click Play and then on “Transcript” at the base of the video, to the right of the title.] http://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes
3 Misconceptions About Meditation (article) – Susan Piver, bestselling author and meditation teacher, debunks 3 big meditation myths (stopping thinking, makes you peaceful, self-help). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-piver/meditation-practice-3-mis_b_594914.html
Why We Find it Hard To Meditate (article): Ed & Deb Shapiro,, Addresing common meditaiton road blocks (too busy, can’t sit still, keep thinking, too many distractions/noisy, not seeing benefits, not doing it right/not good at meditating, this is weird/New Age hype) https://palousemindfulness.com/docs/why-we-find-it-hard.pdf
Being Kind to the Mind (This is a way to understand how to notice thoughts versus getting lost in them.)
The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger (video, 13:45 min), Shauna Shapiro, PhD. on how mindfulness changes our brain and our experience, plus the importance of paying attention to our inner experience with kindness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeblJdB2-Vo
We’re creating a culture of distraction (We are creating and encouraging a culture of distraction where we are increasingly disconnected from the people and events around us and increasingly unable to engage in long-form thinking. People now feel anxious when their brains are unstimulated. We are losing some very important things by doing this. We threaten the key ingredients behind creativity and insight by filling up all our “gap” time with stimulation. And we inhibit real human connection when we prioritize our phones over our the people right in front of us. What can we do about it? Is this path inevitable or can balance be restored?) by Joe Kruss, Partner at Google Ventures in May 2012 http://joekraus.com/were-creating-a-culture-of-distraction
Flow, the secret to happiness (video, 18:51min) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist and the creator or the term “flow state” on flow. One of his subjects described flow as “I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching… [my body] in a state of awe and wonderment.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. A leading researcher in positive psychology, he has devoted his life to studying what makes people truly happy: “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” He is the architect of the notion of “flow” — the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake. [ecstacy, Gk, to stand to the side of something.] https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow#t-323800
A simple way to break a bad habit. Dr. Judson Brewer (video, 9:28min) Describes how being curious about thoughts and feelings can help us deal with them in a better way: less reactive. He supports with his research that mindfulness helps smokers quit 2x more effectively as the gold standard.
You’re Already Awesome. Just Get Out of Your Own Way! (video, 10:20min), Judson Brewer MD, Ph.D. Presentation about how we can watch thoughts and emotions even as strong as addiction. He seems to encourage the use of measuring equipment to help train ourselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jE1j5Om7g0U
Part 3 of 3: The last thing that every beginner needs to know is that you will keep thinking during your mindfulness meditation practice and THAT IS OK! In fact, thinking is an important part of the practice.
Mindfulness meditation + Thinking = Good Mindfulness Practice!
I know you don’t believe me. I know you think you have to stop thinking in order to be mindful. You believe you aren’t practicing mindfulness when you’re thinking. It’s a common myth and one that’s really hard to let go of… I imagine this is because we come to mindfulness thinking that our thoughts are the problem and we want to get rid of them!
Mindfulness doesn’t get rid of our thoughts. Mindfulness helps us work with our thoughts in a way that makes them less of a problem. Mindfulness doesn’t make the problem of thinking go away, mindfulness makes friends with thinking and turns it into something we work with – not against.
What if you’re knee was misaligned and really painful because you’d been walking in a way that hurt it. You probably wouldn’t want to cut it off. Instead, you could work with it, re-train how you walk and eventually re-align your knee. This is how mindfulness works with your thoughts. We don’t try to cut them out, we train ourselves to work with them in a better way.
And you don’t have to believe me! This is the best part. To find out for yourself, practice for a while, and experience for yourself what the present moment includes for you. Notice if you have thoughts and experience if you are able to be aware of yourself thinking. Experience how this begins to change your relationship with your thoughts.
Here are some simple decisions you’ll want to make to start your mindfulness practice…
What practice to start with and the importance of choosing one that’s right for you. An easy practice to start with is Simple Breath. It’s easy and a good foundation to have as breath is the basis of 85% of all meditation practices that I know of. Other practices to try after that are on Meditation Practices.
Picking a time and place.
Tracking or logging your practice is a great idea if it helps you.
Several people have asked me lately what they need to know to start a mindfulness practice, so here are the basics
In Part 1 I share two important concepts to understand when starting: What is mindfulness or presence? and Why is mindfulness important and what are the benefits?
Note that the word mindfulness refers to two things: a state (a la “being mindful”) and also a meditation practice, called mindfulness meditation. The state is what we’re practicing when we do mindfulness meditation.
(video: 2:45) Having a hard time sticking to your New Year’s resolutions?
You want to start running, but you can’t get out of bed? You want to practice meditation everyday after lunch, but you’re just too busy?
The trick is to remember why you want to do it… BEFORE you do it. Laying there in bed, motivate yourself by remembering how good you feel when you exercise. Let tuer good feeling motivate you to get up and go running! Sitting at lunch, remember how calm and collected you feel when you meditate. Let that sense of peace motivate you to take a few minutes before you rush off.
You know you’ll feel better! Remember that feeling before you do things and mer that good feeling be your motivation!
How can you make them more relaxing so that you enjoy them to the fullest?
One thing that you can do it think about the things you like to do to relax & de-stress in everyday life… What kinds of things do you do that help you relax normally? Do you like to exercise? Do you have a cup of tea? Do you read, go for a walk, or play with your cat?
Now think about how you can you set yourself up to do those things over the holidays. How can you do those things wherever you are? Can you bring your running shoes or a few weights or exercise videos? Can you take your favorite tea and share it with other relatives, making it into a nice shared moment of relaxation together? Can you bring a great book or magazines? Can you plan daily walks, perhaps after big meals with the whole family or by yourself in the mornings to get out and enjoy the world waking up?
Whatever will work for you, set yourself up with a few things and create a Relaxation Toolbox to use every day and to pull out whenever things get a bit too hectic. You will appreciate it and so will your friends and family!
Prepare for relaxation and make your holidays bright!
(video 4:12) I listened to the Science of Meditation Summit presentation by meditation teacher Susan Piver who said one of the myths about mindfulness is that it is a form of self-help. “It’s not,” she says, and after listening to her explaination, I totally agree.
Mindfulness as a concept is simply being present, aware of ourselves, and pure mindfulness practice is simply noticing ourselves. What ever we’re doing, thinking, feeling, we simply notice. We don’t try to change anything, we simply notice.
Self-help is another set of meditations, therapies and tools that we use to change what we notice. If, using mindfulness, we notice that we’re angry a lot and inappropriate with how we express it, we might take other steps to create healthier expressions of our anger. Now we’ve added self-help.
I find this distinction really useful for understanding the role of mindfulness and the role of self-help. Mindfulness is for being aware of what is happening. Self-help is for changing what is happening.