Free Yoga and Meditation 

Frequently Asked Questions


About Mindfulness

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention to what's going on around us and inside of us. Mindfulness can be defined as intentionally paying attention to our experience in the present moment with an open and accepting attitude. The ability to be mindful is within all of us. We can practice being mindful anytime, anywhere. We can also engage in formal mindfulness practices or mindfulness meditations in order to intentionally develop and strengthen this innate capacity of ours. Thus, in many ways, mindfulness can be thought of as a psychological skill that we can practice.

WHAT IS FORMAL MINDFULNESS PRACTICE?

A formal mindfulness practice means that one intentionally practices being mindful as one’s primary activity for a dedicated or set period of time. Some mindfulness practices involve staying still and can be done in a variety of position such as sitting on the floor, sitting in a chair, standing, or lying down. Two common mindfulness practices are the mindfulness of breathing meditation, which involves paying attention to one’s breath in the present moment, and the body scan meditation which involves noticing sensations that arise in different parts of the body from moment to moment. Mindfulness practices can also be done while moving the body in some way. For example, one can practice a walking meditation, which involves intentionally paying attention to the present moment experience of walking with an open and accepting attitude. Another common movement-based mindfulness practice is mindful yoga, which involves being mindful while one does yoga postures and movements. The purpose of all mindfulness practices, whether sitting, standing, lying, or movement-based, is to intentionally practice being mindful so that we can strengthen our ability to be mindful and more effectively apply mindfulness to our lives to improve our health and well-being.

WHERE DID MINDFULNESS COME FROM?

Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism and was written about over 2500 years ago. The Buddha taught that mindfulness was a psychological skill of great importance in the path to enlightenment. Recently, mindfulness has received considerable attention in western mainstream culture and has been applied in a variety of ways to improve people’s lives. One of the most well known mindfulness programs is the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Jon Kabat-Zinn has truly been a pioneer in bringing mindfulness to the healthcare field. MBSR is an evidenced-based program for various psychological and medical conditions. The MBSR approach is based in the healthcare model. The practices of mindfulness are available to anyone and mindfulness does not require one to have a certain religious or spiritual orientation.

WHY ARE THE BREATH AND BODY CENTRAL TO MINDFULNESS PRACTICE?

Mindfulness practice often involves paying attention to the breath and the body because the breath and the body are stable and are always in the present moment. Our mind may take off into the past or the future, but our bodies and our breathing are always in the here and now. We can never leave behind our bodies and our breathing. They are always with us and can be used as “anchors” or focal points that bring our attention to the present moment.

DOES MINDFULNESS PRACTICE INVOLVE RUNNING AWAY FROM REALITY?

No, mindfulness practice involves the opposite. They involve running straight into reality. Mindfulness involves being fully aware of yourself and willingly approaching rather than avoiding all aspects of your experience—including things that are unpleasant or painful.

WILL MINDFULNESS PRACTICE MAKE ME FEEL BETTER RIGHT AWAY?

At times, mindfulness practice may make you feel better right away, but other times it may not. Mindfulness practices are not meant to be “quick fixes.” It is important to do the practices without requiring anything special to happen immediately. Meditation and yoga are mindfulness practices that lead to gradual and long-term change. Through regular practice—in good times and bad—you can develop the skills to meet even the most difficult challenges of life with awareness and acceptance. Each moment you practice meditation and yoga, you are preparing to face life challenges with mindfulness. Each time you commit to practice in the face of doubt or resistance you are empowering yourself to cope skillfully with challenges in your life. Just as medicine only works when you take it, so meditation and yoga can only help you if you practice them.

SHOULD MINDFULNESS PRACTICE MAKE ME FEEL RELAXED?

Sometimes mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga may make you feel relaxed, but other times they will not. In fact, sometimes you may feel restless or anxious during a practice—and this is normal and okay. Mindfulness practices involves working differently with things like restlessness and anxiety and learning to develop a healthy relationship with unpleasant feelings, by noticing them and accepting them, instead of trying to use meditation and yoga to get rid of stress or anxiety. Relaxation is not the purpose or goal of meditation and yoga. However, sometimes you may indeed feel relaxed during or after a practice. Relaxation can be thought of as a bonus. If it arises, it arises. There is nothing wrong with relaxation and it can be quite nice and pleasant. What is important is to be aware if you are becoming attached to relaxation and only doing the practices in order to eliminate stress and chase after that relaxed feeling that you may crave. This defeats the purpose of doing mindfulness practice to develop awareness and acceptance. Mindfulness practices are ultimately about developing a healthy relationship with stress and responding to it effectively, rather than trying to get rid of stress. 

DOES MINDFULNESS PRACTICE INVOLVE CLEARING MY MIND AND GETTING RID OF THOUGHTS?

No, mindfulness practice does not involve “getting rid of” thoughts. The goal of meditation and yoga is not to stop or suppress thoughts. Thoughts are not viewed as the enemy. Thoughts are viewed as just thoughts—things to be noticed as they arise without struggling to control or get rid of them. In fact, it is completely normal to have your mind be busy with thoughts while doing a meditation or yoga practice. The goal during meditation and yoga is to just notice thoughts as they arise without getting caught up in them. The act of stepping back and just noticing thoughts is a very important skill that can help us cope effectively with difficult thoughts when they arise. Instead of getting wrapped up in thoughts, we can step back and watch them from a distance so that we can respond effectively.



About the Benefits of Mindfulness

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS?

Mindfulness includes 2 main components: awareness and acceptance. Not only are we practicing paying attention to the present moment, but we are also practicing bringing an open and accepting attitude towards our experience. Therefore practicing mindfulness promotes both greater awareness and greater acceptance of our present moment experience. Awareness and acceptance are essential in allowing us to make wise choices from moment to moment in our lives. We tend to be on autopilot mode in which we pay attention to our experience in a closed and narrow way and act without full awareness. Often we are not fully attuned to our inner experience. We may be not fully aware of our own thoughts, emotions, and sensations and how these affect our behaviors and choices from moment to moment. Greater awareness of thoughts, emotions, and body sensations allows us to respond consciously to inner experience. Mindful awareness creates a pause in the automatic, habitual behaviors that rule many of our lives. By practicing mindfulness, we develop our ability to break out of autopilot mode and become more aware of our experience in the present moment. Furthermore, our attention can often be fixed or stuck on certain aspects of our experience like a laser beam that is stuck on one thing. Practicing mindfulness improves our ability to expand our field of attention so that it is more like curious searchlight that we can move around freely and adjust to illuminate different aspects of our experience. A flexible and intentional attention allows us to be aware of our full experience and make wise choices based on what we are experiencing at any given moment.

In addition to enhanced awareness, greater acceptance of one’s present moment experience is another aspect of mindfulness. Bringing an open and accepting attitude towards our experience in the present moment means being willing to observe and experience thoughts, emotions, and sensations without automatically attempting to do anything with them right way. Acceptance means seeing things as they are without immediately acting to change, escape, or avoid our experience—whether it is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral at any given moment. When pain arises in our lives in one shape or another, we often have the tendency to immediately run away from this pain or do something to get rid of it. For example, we often automatically react to difficult or unwanted emotions by distracting ourselves with food, drugs, television, or perhaps by keeping ourselves super busy.

Sometimes our experience can be overwhelming and frightening, and it seems as though we will drown, suffocate, or never feel better again. Caught up in this sense of fear and aversion for pain, we may make every effort possible to avoid, control, or escape pain in our lives. The fact remains that pain in life is inevitable. Sometimes pain comes and goes and other times it comes and stays for a while. Sometimes our pain is intense while other times it is minor. There simply is no way to completely avoid or control pain in our lives. In many cases, difficult thoughts, emotions, and body sensations will arise whether we want them or not. If avoidance is our only strategy to cope with pain, we limit ourselves and the ways we can respond to pain. In some sense we have less freedom, because every time pain arises we are programmed to react a certain way instead of responding and making a conscious choice that supports a healthy and meaningful life. Instead of being blindly driven by our fear and aversion for pain, we can practice bringing an attitude of acceptance to our experience so that we can observe our pain, see it for what it is, and then respond in a flexible and balanced way.

A good analogy for acceptance is riding a wave on a surfboard. Sometimes we are surfing on calm waters and life is good. Sometimes the waves grow a little bigger and we may experience challenging thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Other times the waves are very large and powerful and it seems as though the pain we feel inside will swallow us up. By practicing the act of bringing an open and accepting towards our experience, we can learn and develop our ability to ride out or “surf” painful thoughts, emotions, and sensations. We neither drown in the waves, nor do we jump off the surfboard and run away. We ride the waves of what we are experiencing inside and stay afloat. In the end, we cannot stop the waves of life, but we can learn how to surf.

Mindfulness practice is not meant to be a quick fix to make us instantly feel better. Sometimes during or after practicing mindfulness we may indeed feel better, but other times we may not. Mindfulness practice is a long-term or life long journey. Regular practice can lead to gradual and significant changes in our lives. It is important to practice mindfulness when we are feeling good and when we are not feeling so good. It is especially important to practice mindfulness when we are feeling good, so that we can strengthen our mindfulness in these moments and then bring our mindfulness to other times of our lives when we are not feeling good. When things become extremely dark and stormy in our lives, it can very difficult to find that place of mindfulness. Therefore, the purpose of practicing mindfulness is to practice the ability to get in touch with a place of open and accepting awareness so that we can bring this mindful awareness to our experience during difficult and challenging moments of our lives. When we practice being mindful—in good times and bad times—we are preparing ourselves to bring mindfulness to difficult moments in our lives. How can we expect to both remember and be able to find that place of mindful awareness during dark and stormy times if we have never found it or practiced getting in touch with it? Each moment we practice mindfulness, we are preparing to face life’s greatest demands with awareness and acceptance.


About Mindful Chair Yoga

 

Click here to check out Mindful Chair Yoga DVDs!

ABOUT MINDFUL CHAIR YOGA

Mindful Chair Yoga involves gentle seated stretches done with a meditative awareness called mindfulness, which can be defined as intentionally paying attention to our experience in the present moment with an open and accepting attitude. Mindful chair yoga is a form of mindful yoga that is accessible and convenient for many individuals. All you need is a chair! Most chairs will work for mindful chair yoga. You don't need to run out and buy a special chair. Having said this, here are some recommendations: 1) use a chair with a relatively flat seat (meaning the bottom seat is not overly tilted backwards or forwards) 2) use a chair that does not have too much cushioning on the seat or else you may sag down too much, 3) be careful on chairs with wheels because they can be unstable. Use your best judgment. Overall, mindful chair yoga does not require any special supplies and loose fitting athletic or yoga clothes. Chair-based yoga practices may be especially useful for those with physical or health conditions that make other forms of yoga unhelpful or inaccessible. Chair-based yoga is also practical and can be done at work or in other settings where standing and lying yoga is not practical because of limited space, lack of supplies, or because one does not have loose fitting clothes at a given time.

There are currently many chair yoga programs available, however, none of these programs approach gentle chair postures and movements as a way to cultivate mindfulness. In fact, many chair yoga programs primarily focus on the physical benefits of chair yoga and not necessarily the psychological benefits. Mindful chair yoga is unique from other chair yoga programs because it focuses on the psychological benefits of chair yoga, instead of only the physical benefits. Mindful chair yoga specifically emphasizes mindfulness, a psychological skill that has been shown to reduce stress and enhance people’s mental well-being.

Mindful Chair Yoga is very similar to the Healthy Mind Yoga practices on this website, which are also mindfulness-based practices. While one does postures and stretches in Mindful Chair Yoga, one intentionally notices and acknowledges the waves of body sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise from moment to moment. One is interested in one’s complete present moment inner experience during the practice. One is interested in how yoga postures and movement affect not just body sensations, but also thoughts and emotions. During the practice of Mindful Chair Yoga, you will be guided to pay close attention to your inner experience from moment to moment with an open, curious, and accepting attitude. By paying attention to your inner experience in this way, you learn how to develop of healthy relationship with your inner experience—a relationship that involves awareness and acceptance.

In addition to seated postures and movements, Mindful Chair Yoga practices include mindfulness meditation practices that involve staying still. Doing yoga postures and stretching is a great way to relieve body tension and prepare oneself to settle into a mindfulness meditation that involves sitting still. This is why mindfulness meditations are usually practiced at the end of a Mindful Chair Yoga practice, after one has done postures and stretches. Mindful Chair Yoga practices typically contain 3 main elements: 1) a brief mindful centering to start the practice (2-5 minutes), 2) a series of seated postures and stretches (5-30 minutes), and 3) a closing mindfulness meditation (5-15 minutes). Mindful chair yoga is ultimately beneficial for both your body and mind. Gentle stretches help reduce body tension and practicing mindfulness helps you develop greater awareness and acceptance. When you are more aware and accepting of your body and mind, you can learn how to make wise and healthy choices in your life instead of reacting to stress in habitual and unhealthy ways.

WHAT KIND OF CHAIR DO I NEED FOR MINDFUL CHAIR YOGA?

Most chairs will work for mindful chair yoga. You don't need to run out and buy a special chair. Having said this, here are some recommendations: 1) use a chair with a relatively flat seat (meaning the bottom seat is not overly tilted backwards or forwards) 2) use a chair that does not have too much cushioning on the seat or else you may sag down too much, 3) be careful on chairs with wheels because they can be unstable. Use your best judgment. 

About Healthy Mind Yoga

Click here to check out Healthy Mind Yoga DVDs!

ABOUT HEALTHY MIND YOGA

Healthy Mind Yoga is a mindful yoga practice that is typically done on a yoga or exercise mat. Healthy Mind Yoga includes a variety of yoga postures including those done standing, sitting, in a table position on hands and knees, or lying on one’s back or belly. As a mindfulness–based practice, Healthy Mind Yoga involves postures and movements done with a meditative awareness called mindfulness, which can be defined as intentionally paying attention to our experience in the present moment with an open and accepting attitude.

While one does postures and stretches, one intentionally notices and acknowledges the waves of body sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise from moment to moment. One is interested in one’s inner experience during the practice, and is curious about how yoga postures and movements affect not just body sensations, but also thoughts and emotions. During the practice of Healthy Mind Yoga, you will be guided to pay close attention to your inner experience from moment to moment with an open, curious, and accepting attitude. By paying attention to your inner experience in this way, you learn how to develop of healthy relationship with your inner experience—a relationship that involves awareness and acceptance.

In addition to mindful postures and movements, Healthy Mind Yoga practices include mindfulness meditation practices that involve staying still. Doing yoga postures and stretching is a great way to relieve body tension and prepare oneself to settle into a mindfulness meditation that involves sitting still. This is why mindfulness meditations are usually practiced at the end of a Healthy Mind Yoga practice, after one has done postures and stretches. In this way, mindful yoga and mindfulness meditation are integrated harmoniously. A typical Healthy Mind Yoga practice contains four main elements: 1) a brief mindful centering to begin the practice (2 to 5 minutes), 2) a series of postures and movements (anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes), 3) a period of relaxation in resting pose (3-10 min), and 4) a closing mindfulness meditation (5 to 20 minutes). As noted, Healthy Mind Yoga is a practice that is ultimately intended to help one develop a healthy relationship with one’s inner experience. When you are more aware and accepting of your body and mind, you can learn how to make wise and healthy choices in your life instead of reacting to stress in habitual and unhealthy ways.

 

HOW IS HEALTHY MIND YOGA DIFFERENT THAN OTHER FORMS OF YOGA?

There are many different styles of yoga. Most styles of yoga contain 3 common primary components: 1) specific body postures and stretches 2) conscious, deep breathing while stretching and 3) meditative awareness while stretching. Yoga involves the coming together or union of breath, body and awareness. Some styles of yoga emphasize one of these components more than the others. For instance, many western styles of yoga tend to present yoga as a form of exercise and focus primarily on the postures and stretching. Mindful yoga places the greatest emphasis on the mindfulness awareness of yoga. Mindful yoga involves postures and movements done with a meditative awareness called mindfulness, which can be defined as intentionally paying attention to our experience in the present moment with an open and accepting attitude. While one does postures and stretches, one intentionally notices and acknowledges the waves of body sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise from moment to moment. One is interested in one’s complete present moment inner experience during the practice. One is interested in how yoga postures and movement affect not just body sensations, but also thoughts and emotions. During the practice of mindful yoga, you will be guided to pay close attention to your inner experience from moment to moment with an open, curious, and accepting attitude. By paying attention to your inner experience in this way, you learn how to develop of healthy relationship with your inner experience—a relationship that involves awareness and acceptance. This website include two main types of mindful yoga practices. The first is called Healthy Mind Yoga, a mindful yoga practice which involves a variety of yoga postures including those done standing, sitting, in a table position on hands and knees, or lying on one’s back or belly. The second is called Mindful Chair Yoga, which is a chair-based mindful yoga practice.

IS HEALTHY MIND YOGA JUST ANOTHER FORM OF EXERCISE?

Healthy Mind Yoga can certainly be a good workout but it is not only a form of exercise for your body. Healthy Mind Yoga is a type of mindful yoga that is a “moving meditation” and is good for your mind. In addition to postures and stretching that may resemble plain exercise, Healthy Mind Yoga also involves deep, conscious breathing and meditative awareness.

IS IT NORMAL TO FEEL STIFF IN THE MORNING WHILE DOING YOGA?

Yes, morning stiffness is common and is often the result of dehydrated connective tissue. If you practice in the morning, try drinking a full glass of water before practicing.

DO I NEED TO BE FLEXIBLE TO DO HEALTHY MIND YOGA?

No, you do not need to be flexible to do Healthy Mind Yoga. There are a variety of Healthy Mind Yoga practices on this website aimed to meet the needs and preferences of everyone.

DO I NEED SPECIAL SUPPLIES TO DO HEALTHY MIND YOGA?

 The Healthy Mind Yoga practices on this website require some sort of yoga mat, exercise mat, towel, or rug. While Healthy Mind Yoga can be done on hard surfaces, certain postures may be uncomfortable especially those in which you are on your knees. You do not necessarily need a yoga mat, although yoga mats can be helpful. A regular exercise mat or a towel may work. Be careful with blankets because it can be easy to slip. Doing yoga on a thin rug without any mat or towel may work as well. Healthy Mind Yoga can be done outside as well! You can place a yoga mat on a hardwood surface like a deck or even on pavement, a sidewalk, or a dirt surface. Yoga mats on grass often does not work because the mat wrinkles and bends on the grass. If you are comfortable, try just doing yoga on the grass itself. Or try a towel on the grass.

There are other supplies or props available for doing yoga. These include yoga blocks, yoga straps, bolsters, and blankets. These supplies are not necessary by any means. If you find these props helpful then go ahead and use them. It is up to you.

The mindful yoga practices on this website close with a mindfulness meditation practice. If you are sitting on the floor to meditate, it is highly recommended to place a cushion or pillow under your butt. There is more information about meditation postures in the questions under mindfulness meditation.

DO I NEED TO WEAR SPECIAL CLOTHES TO DO HEALTHY MIND YOGA?

Loose and flexible clothing are often preferable for mindful yoga, especially mindful yoga practices that involves a range of postures and movements—standing, lying etc.—that may be difficult in tight clothes. However, find what works for you. You don’t need to buy expensive or special yoga clothes. Just wear clothes that are comfortable for you. Mindful Chair Yoga, however, does not necessarily require loose or flexible clothes. This practice can be done in regular clothes or work attire. Therefore, Mindful Chair Yoga may be a good mindful yoga practice to do at work or in situations when you do not have loose or flexible clothes for mindful standing yoga.

DO I NEED TO BE BAREFOOT TO DO YOGA?

No, you do not need to do yoga barefoot. You can do yoga with shoes or with socks in some cases. Doing yoga with shoes can be helpful if you are doing yoga on a slippery rug or if you are doing yoga outside on grass or any other surface such as pavement or dirt. Or if you simply prefer doing yoga with shoes, then go ahead and do so. There is nothing wrong with this. Doing yoga barefoot is simply a tradition. Being barefoot also usually makes it easier for your feet to grip the surface you are on. Wearing socks is okay but may make standing postures difficult because your feet may not grip as well to the ground. If you are doing yoga that just involves lying or sitting postures, then wearing socks is fine.


 

About Planning When To Practice

HOW MUCH MINDFULNESS MEDITATION VERSUS YOGA SHOULD I DO?

This is up to you. There is no set formula for how much mindfulness meditation versus mindful yoga you should. As noted in the question above, mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga are often practiced together in sequence, with mindful yoga being done first as a way to prepare the body and mind for a meditation that involves sitting still. However, mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga can be practiced separately as well. Whatever you prefer. It is suggested that you try to incorporate both mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga in your overall mindfulness practice schedule, instead of only doing just mindfulness meditation or just mindful yoga. This may look a lot differently for different people however. You may do mostly mindfulness meditation and just a little bit of mindful yoga or perhaps the opposite. Or you may do about the same of both. Here are some examples of ways to practice both mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga: 1) do mindful yoga only on weekends and you do a 20-minute mindfulness meditation everyday during the weekdays 2) do 30 minutes of mindful yoga everyday followed by a 15 minute mindfulness meditation 3) do a 15 minute mindfulness meditation every other morning and do 1 hour of mindful yoga on the other days. There are lots of different ways to make a schedule for practicing mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga. Find what works for you.

WHICH PRACTICES SHOULD I DO?

There a variety of both mindfulness meditations and mindful yoga practices. Do the practices that work for you. Explore a variety of practices at first and then take an active role in choosing practices that work best for you and can be most easily integrated into your day-to-day routine. Different practices work better or appeal more to different people. Having said this, it is possible to get stuck on doing only certain practices. While it is okay to have go-to practices, be willing to explore and mix things up at times along the way.

It is recommended to create a practice schedule, but it is okay to modify it and be flexible as you go. Some days you may plan to do one practice and then end up doing a different practice. This is completely okay. You may have different needs and preferences on a given day and it is important to honor that. For example, on a given day you may have planned to do a 10-minute mindfulness of breathing practice. However, you may change your mind and decide to do the mountain meditation because that feels right for you at that moment. One option is to take a minute and pause before practicing in order to tune in and listen to what your mind and body are saying to you. Take a moment to reflect and think about what practice would be best for you today. Perhaps it is a 10-minute meditation, perhaps it is 30 minutes of mindful yoga, or perhaps it is both.

WHEN DO I PRACTICE?

It is often helpful to develop a routine or regular pattern for practicing mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga. For example, you may do your practice at around the same time everyday. Good times to practice can be first thing in the morning, late afternoon, or late evening before bed. Find what works for you and stick with that routine as best you can—making changes and exceptions as needed when things come up.

It is also very helpful to develop the habit of practicing mindfulness meditation no matter how you are feeling. Whether you are anxious, calm, sleepy, bored, or excited, just do the practice. Keep in mind that meditation and yoga are not practices meant to immediately “fix” you when you are feelings stressed or upset. It is especially important to do the practice when you are feeling good, rather than only deciding to practice when you feel stressed or upset. You perhaps might not feel like you “need” to practice when you feel good. Nevertheless, practicing when you feel good helps you build up mindfulness skills so you can apply them in situations and times when you are stressed or upset.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I PRACTICE?

It is important to develop a regular practice, however that may look like for you. It is best to make an effort to integrate mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga into your daily or weekly routine. Find the times and days that work best for you and stick to that routine as best you can. Consider writing down a schedule or plan. Make your schedule reasonable and so it can fit in with the rest of you life. If you can practice daily than that is great. If you can practice 3 days a week, then that is great too. Do what works for you and is realistic. Keep in mind that you can vary the amount of time you practice on certain days. For instance, you can practice 15 minutes on weekdays and then 45 minutes on weekends when you might have more time. Be creative and take an active role in making a mindfulness practice schedule that works best for you and the amount of time you have.  

DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO PRACTICE WITH A GUIDED RECORDING?

No, you do not always need to use guided recordings or videos. Lots of people practice meditation and yoga without the guidance of a recording. Yoga is somewhat different than meditation because there are more detailed instructions involved in the practice for doing postures and movements. Therefore, practicing mindful yoga with guidance is common. However, once you become very familiar with various postures and movements, you are welcome to design and practice your own sequence of postures and movements without the guidance of a recording or a teacher. It is also completely normal and typical for people to practice meditations without guidance from a recording or teacher. It is up to you. Whatever works best for you at a given time or day. After using guidance for a while, you can experiment with doing meditation on your own. Perhaps some days you may do meditations with guidance or perhaps other days you will do it on your own. It can be helpful to find one or more specific meditation practices (such as mindfulness of breathing or the body scan) that work for you and to develop the confidence and comfort to do that “go-to” practice whenever and wherever you would like. It can be valuable to have a go-to practice that you can practice in any situation with or without guidance.


About Mindfulness Meditation

WHAT DOES MINDFULNESS MEDITATION INVOLVE?

Mindfulness meditations are formal mindfulness practices that typically involve practicing the psychological skill of mindfulness while staying still in one position for a period of time, whether it is sitting on the floor, sitting in a chair, standing, or lying down. A common mindfulness practice is called mindfulness of breathing. We can take a closer look at this practice to understand how mindfulness practices help us develop greater awareness and acceptance.

The mindfulness of breathing meditation involves intentionally paying attention to the breath from moment to moment. The breath acts as one’s anchor or focal point for one’s attention. Mindfulness meditations often have an “anchor” or focal point, which is some aspect of the present moment that one focuses on. This focal point can be the breath, it can be body sensations, or it can be other things like sounds. The mindfulness of breathing meditation, as noted, involves bringing a curious attention to the breath and noticing the physical sensations of the breath as it flows in and out of the body from moment to moment. When the mind wanders from the breath—which it will again and again—one practices noticing where the mind went off to and then gently bringing the attention back to the breath again and again. One repeats this process over and over during the practice. This repeated process of observing the breath and noticing when the mind wanders helps one develop greater awareness of one’s inner experience and where one’s mind tends to wander. In addition, one practices bringing an open and accepting attitude to the process of watching the breath and noticing the mind wandering. When the mind wanders away from the breath to other things like thoughts and emotions, one practices noticing thoughts and emotions that come up with an open and accepting attitude instead of trying to get rid of them or rather than judging oneself for having a wandering mind. Paying attention with this open and non-judgmental attitude helps one develop greater acceptance towards one’s inner experience.

 Many of the other mindfulness meditations are similar to the mindfulness of breathing meditation just described. These other mindfulness meditations typically involve some sort of focal point and one practices the repeated process of paying attention to the focal point, noticing when the mind wanders, and gently bringing one’s attention back to the focal point with an open and accepting attitude. While the breath and body sensations are often used as the focal point, sometimes thoughts themselves are used as the focal point and one intentionally practices noticing thoughts as they arise from moment to moment. There are other variations of mindfulness meditations. Some mindfulness meditations such as the “Mountain Meditation” and the “Ocean Meditation” include guided imagery as well. Some mindfulness meditations such as the Loving-kindness meditation” involve cultivating an open and accepting attitude towards oneself and others by silently repeating kind phrases such as “May I be happy and at peace.” In the end, the best way to get a sense of what mindfulness meditations are all about is to do them and experience them first-hand. There are a variety of free guided mindfulness meditations on this website.

WHAT POSITION DO I MEDITATE IN?

While people often associate meditation with sitting cross-legged on the floor, meditation can be done in any position. In fact, for many people sitting cross-legged is very difficult or nearly impossible because this position may create a strain on their knees. Sitting on the floor cross-legged in no better or worse than any other position. Choose the position that works best for you and your body. There are a variety of options and they are listed below. In choosing a position, it is important to think about what position will help you feel both comfortable and alert at the same time. Remember, the goal of meditation is not to fall asleep. It is important to find a position is comfortable and that supports wakefulness. If lying on your back makes you too sleepy to meditate, then it may be best to try another position that helps you feel more alert. Also, as noted, if sitting cross legged is extremely painful, then choose a more comfortable position that works with your body. A common aspect about all positions for meditating is that the spine is long and straight. Meditation involves sitting, standing, or lying with a long and straight spine, instead of a slouched position with a curved spine.

Here are some common positions for meditation:

Sitting in a chair: You can sit at the edge of the seat with your feet flat on the floor and with a straight, upright posture. You can also sit back in the chair to support your lower back with the option of placing a cushion or pillow behind your lower back.

Lying on your back on the floor or on a cushioned surface: You can lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees pointing towards the ceiling. Or you can lie on your back with the legs fully extended with the option of placing a pillow or cushion under your knees relieve any strain in the lower back.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor: You can sit cross-legged on the floor with a rolled up blanket or towel or one or more cushions or pillows under your butt. Placing support under your butt lifts your hips above your knees and support your upright sitting posture. If your knees are lifted high off the ground while sitting cross-legged, you can also place cushions under your knees to support them, so you can sit more comfortably.

Kneeling on the floor: Another option for sitting on the floor is to sit on your knees with a pillow or cushion placed under your butt. Your feet can be on either side of the cushion. In a kneeling position, it is often helpful to have a soft surface under your knees for comfort.

Standing: You can also meditate in an upright standing position with both feet firmly placed on the floor about hip’s width apart.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I GET SLEEPY?

 If you get sleepy while meditating, you can experiment with keeping your eyes open or slightly open with a soft gaze. You can also consider changing positions. For instance, if you are lying down, you may want to switch to sitting in a chair. If you do fall asleep while meditating that is perfectly okay. Sometimes sleep is what you need. Just keep in mind that mediation is about wakefulness and is not about zoning out and entering some trance or sleep like state.

SHOULD MY EYES BE OPENED OR CLOSED WHILE MEDITATING?

You can practice meditation with your eyes open or closed. It is up to you. Whatever you are most comfortable with. You can have your eyes fully open or they can be slightly open and you can softly gaze in front of you without really focusing on anything in particular.

WHERE DO I MEDITATE?

You can meditate in a variety of places—whatever works for you at a given time. It is best to find a place where you feel comfortable and safe, and where you will not be disturbed. This may be in your bedroom at home, in your car while it is parked, in your office at work, or perhaps outside somewhere on a bench or in a park. Where to meditate takes a bit of experimentation. Try different places and find one that works best for you. It is not always practical or easy to find an ideal place to meditate. There are often distractions anywhere you go. One strategy is to communicate with other people and let them know when you are meditating or having “quiet time.” If you are somewhere relatively noisy, another option is to do a mindfulness of sounds meditation. In this way, the sounds around you are the objects of your meditation rather than a distraction.

Some people find it helpful to do things to set the mood for a meditation. This can involve lighting a candle, dimming the lights, or ringing a bell. Do what works for you and helps you settle into the practice. These things are by no means essential however. Some people find it helpful to meditate in the same place each time. If this is possible, than it may be worth a try.

Finally, some people find it helpful to meditate with a group of other people. This is another option. Go online and research local meditation groups in your area. You can meditate alone and meditate with a group when you can. The combination of both can be very helpful.      

HOW LONG DO I MEDITATE?

Typical formal meditation practices can range anywhere from 5 minutes to 1 hour. Formal meditations are usually at least 5 minutes. Meditating for an hour is certainly an option, but is not always a practical or realistic option for a daily practice. A common daily practice includes 10 to 20 minutes of meditation. There is no one recommended length of time to meditate. Find what works for you. Maybe 5 minutes a day works best for you. Or perhaps 5 minutes on some days and 20 minutes on other days work. Mix it up. Experiment. Find what works for you based on your lifestyle. One helpful option is to gradually increase the time you meditate. Perhaps start with 5 minutes and gradually increase to 20 minutes or 30 minutes as you gain more experience.

It is recommended to decide the length of time your are going to meditate before your begin a meditation. Pick a guided recording of a certain length of time and stick with it. Or, if you are doing a meditation without guidance, use a stopwatch or alarm clock and set the time for a specific amount of time and stick to it. (Of course, there may be times when you stop a meditation practice before time is up. This is okay. Do your best to stick to the allotted time, but if you feel it is best to end the meditation early for whatever reason, then that is completely okay).

 One more thing: meditating for a longer period of time on a given day in not necessarily better than a shorter practice. A high-quality 5-minute practice may be better than a “low-quality” practice in which you are not fully invested in the practice and are just trying to get the meditation done with. By “high-quality” I mean that you are making a full intention or investment to do the practice for the full length of time and are not simply going through the motions.

CAN I CHANGE POSITION WHILE MEDITATING?

While meditations are typically done while sustaining one position, it is completely normal and okay to change position, especially for longer meditations. If you are experiencing lots of discomfort and feel it is best to change positions, then go ahead and do so, especially if there is a simple change in position that you can do which will drastically reduce the amount of pain you feel. There may be times when you may still experience discomfort or bodily pain despite changing positions. One option is to make the discomfort the object of your meditation. Notice the discomfort and watch it as it changes or stays the same from moment to moment. Ask yourself whether it is possible to just be with this sensation of pain or discomfort and notice it without a struggle. Overall, be aware of what choices you are making around body discomfort and work towards making conscious choices about how to respond to body discomfort instead of automatically reacting or judging yourself whenever body discomfort arises.

MY MIND WON'T STOP WANDERING.IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME?

No, there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone’s minds wander when they meditate. This is a normal and common experience. It can help to remind yourself that a wandering mind is normal. A wandering mind and the distractions that arise during meditations are what mindfulness meditation is all about. The key is to learn how to notice the mind wandering without getting caught up or trapped in distractions. This detached noticing is an important skill. It is what we are practicing in meditation. In other words, the goal of meditation is not to stop the mind from wandering but to learn how to simply notice when the mind wanders without getting trapped or wrapped up in thoughts and other distractions. It can also help to bring a patient and compassionate attitude towards yourself when your mind wanders. This is also part of the practice as well. When the mind wanders again and again, simply notice this and then gently and kindly bring your attention back to the object of your attention without judging or criticizing yourself.

         Having said all this, at times the mind may be extremely busy and it is difficult to really engage in a meditation. Here are a few things you can try to help you when practicing mindfulness of the breath:

  •  Label the inhalation and exhalation: As you inhale, silently think “in” and as you exhale silently think “out.” (Remember though that the focus is on the physical sensations of the breath, not the words. The words are there to guide your attention.)
  • Count breaths: As you inhale, count 1. As you exhale, count 1. For the next breath, inhale count 2, and exhale count 2. Repeat this process going up to ten and then starting again at 1. If you lose count, simply begin again at 1.
  • Take a few deep breaths: Sometimes taking a few deep and conscious breaths can help focus the mind. If your mind is very busy during a meditation, try taking a few deep breaths and then letting your breath return to normal as you continue the meditation. Also, if it feels hard to breath at time or that you are not getting enough air, try doing the same and taking a few deep breaths before letting the breath return to its natural rate and rhythm.
  • Remind yourself of your purpose: Sometimes it can help to simply remind yourself of what you are trying to do during a meditation. Pause for a moment and say to yourself, “ I am here to pay attention to my breath.” You can repeat this as many times as you would like.

HOW CAN I PAY ATTENTION TO MY BREATHING WITHOUT CONTROLLING IT?

While practicing a mindfulness of breathing meditation, we generally do not try to control the breath but rather just let the breath go in and out at a natural pace. There are some times when we may take a few deep conscious breaths to help settle the mind. However, for the most part, we are paying attention to our breathing without trying to control it. Having said this, it is a common experience while meditating to feel like it is difficult or impossible to not control the breath while paying attention to it. This is normal and okay. There are a few options. One option is to simply notice you that if feels like you are somewhat controlling the breath and carry on with the meditation. There is nothing wrong with controlling the breath. Sometimes while meditating it will feel like you are controlling the breath and other times it will not. Just notice this. Another option is to pay attention to breathing in the nostrils rather than the chest or the belly. Sometimes it is easier to let go of controlling the breath when you are paying attention to the breath in the nostrils as opposed to the chest or belly. Just experiment with this. You may have a different experience. Perhaps it is easier to let go of controlling the breath when you pay attention to your belly. The point is to experiment with paying attention to the physical sensations of the breath in different areas of your body. Overall, remember that mindfulness of breathing involves noticing the natural breath rather than intentionally taking big deep breaths again and again.

WHERE SPECIFICALLY DO I PAY ATTENTION TO MY BREATHING?

Perhaps the two most common areas of the body to pay attention to the breath are the nostrils and the belly. It is usually helpful to choose one area to focus on the breath during a practice rather than switching back and forth between different areas during a practice. Paying attention to the nostrils means noticing the physical sensations of the breath that are present in the nostrils from moment to moment as you are breathing. This may include the sensations of the breath entering and leaving the rims of the nostrils. This may include the temperature of the breath in the nostrils. This may include following the stream of breath as it flows in and out of the nostrils. Paying attention to the belly means noticing the physical sensations of the breath that are present in the belly from moment to moment as you are breathing. This may include the gentle rise and fall of the belly. This may include the expansion of the side ribs. This may include subtle internal sensations of the breath around the belly. While the nostrils and the belly are common, you can also pay attention to breathing in the chest area and notice the expansion and contraction of the lungs and the gentle rise and fall of the chest. It is up to your where you want to pay attention to the breath. Do some experimentation. Try different areas for different practices and find what works best for you.

About Yoga vs. Meditation

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MINDFULNESS MEDITATION AND MINDUL YOGA?

Mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga are both mindfulness practices that can be done to develop and strengthen the psychological skill of mindfulness. The difference is that mindfulness meditations are usually done staying still—whether it is sitting, lying, or standing—while mindful yoga involves being mindful while doing postures, stretches, and breathing techniques. 

HOW DO MINDFULNESS MEDITATION AND MINDFUL YOGA GO TOGETHER?

Mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga are intimately related. Both are different types of formal mindfulness practice. Mindful yoga can be especially helpful as a complementary aid to mindfulness meditation. It is very common for mindful yoga to be practiced directly before a mindfulness meditation. The stretching and conscious breathing in mindful yoga can help relieve bodily tension and restlessness in order to prepare one for a mindfulness meditation that involves sitting still for a period of time. Additionally, mindful yoga can help calm one’s mind to some degree so that one can more easily settle into a mindfulness meditation. For example, when coming home after a long day of work, one’s body may be stiff from sitting all day and one’s mind may be busy with thoughts from the day. Doing a mindfulness meditation after work may be difficult because one has been sitting all day without any exercise or movement, or because one’s mind is still caught up in the day’s events. Doing mindful yoga after work can be very effective in preparing one’s mind and body for a mindfulness meditation that involves sitting still. In other words, mindful yoga can serve as a “doorway” or “gateway” to mindfulness meditation for those who may find it very difficult to sit still for a period of time. This is why all of the mindful yoga practices on this website end with a mindfulness meditation.

Interestingly enough, it is believed that yoga was first developed centuries ago to help young boys in India meditate. It is thought that by observing the animals and the way they naturally stretched and moved their bodies, people in India developed a system of postures and movements to do before meditation in order to help one sit still for longer periods of time while meditating. Therefore, yoga and meditation can definitely be practiced together in sequence. They are not separate practices that must be done at different times. Nevertheless, it is completely okay to practice them at different times. If you have no problem sitting still for a while, then it may not always be important for you to do mindful yoga beforehand. For instance, you may prefer to do a mindfulness meditation in the morning right after you wake up. Or, you may prefer to do a mindfulness meditation first and then mindful yoga afterwards. It is most important that you do what works best for you. There is no one formula for how to do things. Just keep in mind that mindful yoga can be very helpful to do before mindfulness meditation. Finally, it is also important to note that mindful yoga is a mindfulness practice in itself. Mindful yoga does not always need to be followed by a mindfulness meditation. Mindful yoga can be practiced on its own as a way to develop and strengthen one’s mindfulness.

 

 

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