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Meditation for Non-Meditators

MFNM_300Meditation for Non-Meditators: How to Meditate in Five Minutes a Day, is designed to first, overcome the top misconceptions about meditation and educate everyone about the well-researched health, psychological and productive advantages that meditating daily can create. Second, the book’s purpose is to describe how to meditate using the simplest process possible, minimizing any special positions or arcane instructions, from a NON-religious perspective. I have identified the three key components of the meditation process: concentration (learning to focus our mind on a specific object, like the breath or a word), natural awareness (learning to rest in an uncontrived way of being that is simply aware of being aware) and positive imagery (learning to use our innate powerful capability of imagination to cultivate positive mental states, so that we begin to more often have a positive experience of being). Third, I elaborate on the positive change in our experience of ourselves and the world around us that can come from this simple practice (like weight control, better relationships and more altruism).

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WDAF – July 8th, 2014

Mindfulness Revolution

Organic Spa Living – July 4th, 2014

A Meditation Mantra for July 4th

Setting off fireworks may seem like an odd time to practice meditation, but what better time, really, to be fully present and in the moment? The heat of summer is a wonderful time to practice the three key components of a flexible July 4th practice: Concentration, Natural Awareness and Positive Imagery.

Many people think that meditation is just a process practiced while sitting quietly in the pretzel position. Thank goodness that we have many more, even better opportunities to practice these time-tested tools!  Here’s how to integrate several mindful techniques into any meditative moment of any day – whether you are commuting in traffic, playing golf or watching fireworks with our family.

First, begin with Concentration. As you are reading these words, stop for a few moments and be aware of the tiny sensations of breathing in and breathing out. You can have your eyes open or closed; either way is okay. Concentrating on your breath for a few moments actually lowers your blood pressure and can help decrease the stress hormones in your body.  To get started, you might even breathe in counting to four, and breathe out counting to six.  A longer out breath automatically slows down your heartbeat.

It’s normal that random thoughts and feelings, even sounds and sensations, will arise when you practice concentration. Instead of trying to ignore them or push them away, try incorporating them into the meditative experience by imagining each one to be nothing more than a cloud floating by in the sky. Notice the distraction and then return to focusing on your breath. You can practice concentration while you flip the hamburgers on the grill, or while sitting poolside watching your children play.

Second, we can practice being more aware of our surroundings. To initiate Natural Awareness, gently gaze straight ahead for a few moments, expanding your peripheral vision. Pick an imaginary “spot” about three feet in front of your eyes and focus, then expand your awareness to radiate out in all directions. This practice is sometimes called Neutral Curiosity. When family and friends and overwhelming noise and conversation in midst of a party, surround you, this practice helps you be more present and calm in the midst of it all.

Third, we can practice cultivating positive emotions, or Positive Imagery.  Whenever families or friends are gathered, a myriad of situations arise. We can use whatever happens as a chance to cultivate a sense of loving-kindness and compassion. In fact, neurological research proves that imagining positive emotions creates more positive neural networks in our brains, enabling us to more naturally and more often experience them.

What better time to try to be present than when a Roman candle whizzes by your head?

Happy Fourth of July.

WDAF – June 10th, 2014

Become a Meditator

Natural Solutions – May 27th, 2014

Vibrant Health, Balanced Living

Easing meditative moments into everyday life

It seems that meditation is very hip these daysundefinedscience is now validating that this very ancient practice is “good” for you.  So why isn’t everyone doing it?  I have been practicing meditation for over twenty years and teaching people how to meditate for the last ten, and I have heard all the reasons why many say it is too difficult to do consistently.  When I mention to someone that I teach meditation, I often get a swoosh of the hand and an instant dismissal that they have already tried meditation and failed.  When I started out, I was a single working mom, and I can relate to what a struggle it was to integrate a consistent practice into an already over-busy life, but I know it can be done, and I know it is worth the effort. So, I have been building an arsenal of tools that enable anyone to give it a try and have some early success, enough to stick with it long enough to experience greater benefits.  First, it is vitally important to confront the common myths about meditation and then, to create some baby steps to get started.  Here is a laundry list of the usual excuses I have heard about why it cannot be done:

“I have to sit first thing in the morning, and I’m too tired/busy/agitated, etc.” Before even considering a sitting practice, I start with the simplest definition of meditation: meditation is nothing more than creating a gap between stimulus and response.  Practice taking a deep breath right now, before you continue reading. (I can pause while you breathe…)  You did it!  One deep breath slows down our habitual patterns of reacting, which gives us time (and some helpful oxygen to the brain) to explore alternative ways to respond to whatever arises in lifeundefinedthoughts, emotions, sensations, situations.  Any stimulus can be a clarion call to take a deep breath before proceeding forward.  This may seem so simple, yet most people do not do it. In fact, many of us are oxygen-deprived because we breathe in a very shallow way, so much so that our bodies are not getting enough of what it needs to function properly, making us tired and cranky. Every day, you will have many, many opportunities to practice this simple exercise.  Think of your most frustrating moment yesterday.  Imagine how the situation might have unfolded differently by creating a gap between stimulus and response, with the help of one deep breath.  This small tool of deep breathing can be the first step to a lifetime of meditative moments.

“I have to sit for long hours to get any benefit.”  While the research shows that short spurts (5-10 minutes) of meditation done consistently for as little as eight weeks can have a positive impact on your brain (see the wonderful ongoing research being done by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Richard Davidson), I encourage newbies to start with something even simpler. Here is a Meditative warm-up that doesn’t require sitting quietly at all: single-tasking.  I call it “Five Moments” practice.   Find five moments throughout any day when you commit to being fully aware and present as you do one thing at a time.  For instance, when getting out of bed, be aware of how it feels when your feet first touch the floor.  So often, our minds have already raced ahead to the tasks of the day, and we miss that moment altogether.  Or, try single-tasking with that first sip of coffee/tea/water in the morning.  Finding these five moments throughout the day can train our brain to do one thing at a time. In fact, research from Stanford University shows single-tasking creates higher productivity.

“I have to stop my thoughts.”  Nope, and if you have ever tried to do so, you probably discovered that it makes the whir of mental noise worsen.  Wherever you are, you can take a deep breath and simply be aware of the tiny sensations of breathing in and breathing out.  It won’t take long for thoughts, feelings, sounds and other sensations to arise.  Incorporate them all into the meditative experience, by imagining each one to be “like a cloud floating by in the sky”.  We practice not trying to hang on to any thought or feeling, AND not to trying to push any of them away.  We practice finding the balance of simply being aware of them all, as if they all are just clouds floating by in the sky.  Then, we continue to focus on the tiny sensations of breathing in and breathing out.  I once had a student misunderstand meundefinedshe thought I said, “like clowns floating by the sky”.  That works tooundefineda little lightheartedness goes a long way.

This simple meditative practice can be done anywhereundefinedat your desk, in your car (preferably when it is parked) or even as you walk around, since it is not even necessary to close your eyes.  We practice incorporate all of life into the meditative experience by simply being more aware of each moment.  With these simple instructions, and some real world experience, sitting meditation will become easier as well.

“I have to sit in the pretzel position.”  This is another myth that I am delighted to dispel. Most of the people I teach to meditate do so while sitting in chairs.  Some even lie down on the floor (although that is not a pose I recommend due to the increased likelihood of snoring.)  If you can sit with your back fairly straight and your shoulders relaxed, you are in the “right” position.  Other types of meditations may call for many different types of postures and hand positions, but I have found that is unnecessary and overly burdensome to someone starting out.

“I can’t stay focused for very longundefinedI get distracted.”  Everyone does.  It’s part of the process.  One moment, you are focused on your breathing, and then, you suddenly realize that you have been distracted by what you want to eat after all this sitting is done, or replaying the argument you had with your sister, or how painful your leg feels, or a myriad of other distractions.  I encourage meditators to celebrate each moment of realizing that they are distracted, because that moment is one of being aware and present.  It can happen dozens of time in even the shortest meditation.  Not to worryundefinedjust return again and again, as many times as needed, to focusing on breathing in and breathing out.

“I get bored/restless/agitated/angry/resentful/guilty just sitting quietly.” Yes, we all have a mountain of different thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise while meditating.  Many people label their meditations as “good” or “bad” based on the amount of difficulty they have.  Luckily, any attempt at meditation is “good”, if in just the slightest way.  Dr. Herbert Benson, back in the 1970’s, tried out a technique he called “The Relaxation Response.”  He took people’s vital signs then asked them to try a simple fifteen-minute “relaxation response” (meditation was too woo-woo for most doctors AND most patients in the seventies).  He found that whether the patient interpreted their experience as successful or not, the attempt alone had a positive impact on them physiologically.  Moreover, some neuroscience studies show that getting through a “difficult” meditation is often more likely to rewire the brain if the meditator sticks with it.  It is in the midst of wanting to bail, and choosing instead to stay, it is then that we create a new neural network for tolerating uncomfortable sensations.

“I’ve tried to meditation, but it didn’t make me feel peaceful at all.”  See above.  While most people try meditation because they want more peace in their lives, not all meditations will result in a sense of peacefulness.  Knowing this upfront will reduce the sense of failure that many have felt.  Peace comes as a by-product of a consistent meditation practice.  When we focus on simply learning to be neutrally aware of whatever arises, we learn to tolerate difficult thoughts, emotions and sensation. When we can tolerate whatever arises, we will find that we are more often “at peace.”

Two additional tools:  Another meditative tool that is helpful for newbies is the use of guided meditations.  When we flex our imagination muscle with positive imagery, it gives our every-busy brain something good to focus on.  A simple guided meditation on loving-kindness can rewire our brain to more naturally rest in a state of love and kindness.  Also, meditating with a group helps support our practice.  Most people are less likely to stop in the middle of a meditation if they are practicing with others.  Find some friends who are also interested and make a meditation date.

For more helpful tools, check out my non-profit organization called Serenity Pause that includes free resources for anyone getting started.  You’ll find them at SerenityPause.org or feel free to buy my book, Meditation for Non-Meditators: Learn to Meditate in Five Minutes.  I would be very grateful.  Happy meditating!

WDAF – February 4th, 2014

Mindful Eating

CNN.com – February 2014

A Buddhist Guide to Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day can conjure up the whole spectrum of human emotionundefinedfrom the ecstasy of new love to the intense pain of loneliness.
It seems the day reeks of the expectation that we need the perfect relationship in order to be happy. But what do we really want?
Some of you might now that the Buddha left his wife and young child to pursue enlightenment, so maybe he’s not the best person to give advice about your love life. On the other hand, the wisdom of his teachings on love, relationships and suffering has a lot to say about our modern lives.

The Buddha’s first teaching was about the connection between expectations and suffering. He taught that life includes suffering because we seek happiness in inherently dissatisfying ways. We often expect others to make us happy. When they don’t live up to our expectations, we suffer.

While loving another person and being loved are some of life’s greatest joys, it can be painful when you think your happiness is another person’s responsibility. Valentine’s Day feeds the suffering when it includes a huge expectation about what your mate must do to make you happy.

Instead, Buddhists learn to cultivate positive mental states, regardless of their external circumstances. February 14th is the perfect day to practice cultivating happiness and love, regardless of whether your boyfriend just proposed to you or or just dumped you, or even if you haven’t had a relationship since the Ice Age.

It’s all about letting go of expectations and taking charge of our own happiness. Right now, in this moment, imagine what it feels like to experience love and happiness and joy.

You have the power of your imagination to create the experience without anything changing in the external world. When we set our intention to be happy, we no longer require the world to meet any pre-conceived notion about what we need to be happy.

Quit waiting for the perfect mate or piece of jewelry, and take charge of your own positive experience. An added bonusundefinedwhen we become happier and more inspired, we attract more happiness all around us.

One last thought–try radiating love towards everyone (or at least send out some loving-kindness), regardless of whether they make you happy or not. At the very least it makes you feel better, and it might even get you a date for next Valentine’s Day.

Science of Mind Magazine – August 2013

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Better Kansas City – August 12, 2013

Fox 4 News – July 18, 2013

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