meditation study in teen students

New Study Finds Mindfulness Training Shows Little Benefit in Adolescents

One Mind Dharma Mindfulness

Mindfulness is quite the buzz word these days. We hear it everywhere, it’s touted as a solution to many issues we face, and it’s something many of use believe we should practice. According to Fortune, meditation became a $1 billion industry in 2015.

It’s a powerful practice with many pieces of research to support claims that mindfulness can ease anxiety, increase psychological wellbeing, and support healthy hearts. However, a new study which will be published in the December 2017 issue of the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy has found that mindfulness may not be as effective as we think in teenagers.

“We found no differences in outcomes between any of the groups at any time point.”

How the Study was Conducted

The study was conducted by Catherine Johnson, Christine Burke, Sally Brinkman, and Tracey Wade at the Flinders University School of Psychology in Australia. The authors sought to understand how mindfulness may impact the teenagers’ levels of depression, anxiety, psychological wellbeing, and healthy self-image. They also measured overall mindfulness using a 25-item assessment before and after the course.

The researchers worked with 555 adolescents at an average age of 13.44. The students came from four school, one private and two public. The children were split up into three groups for the study: mindfulness, mindfulness with parental involvement, and the control group. The researchers collected data 3-4 before the mindfulness intervention started, at the end of the mindfulness intervention, six months after the intervention, and twelve months after the intervention.

teen meditatingThe Practices

Participants took part in an adapated .be program from Mindfulness in Schools, aimed at adolescents ages 11-16. The intervention consisted of nine weekly lessons of 40-60 minutes. The group with parental involvement included a ten-minute guided meditation to do at home once a week with the teen.

The course consisted of a variety of mindfulness-based practices, including breath counting, mindfulness of daily activities, observing thoughts, and guided meditations on mindfulness of the body and a relaxation practice. Students were encouraged to practice regularly at home, and were offered guided audio files.

Johnson, et al. used six methods of encouraging practice:

  1. Emphasizing the potential to change the brain during the difficult period of adolescence
  2. Adding the mindfulness practice at the start of every lesson to create a familiar “anchoring”
  3. Quizzes each week with small candy rewards
  4. Addind pages to the homework manual to encourage the recording of activity
  5. Hanging posters in each classroom summarizing the steps of practice and illustrating mindfulness
  6. At conclusion of intervention, giving students laminated copies of key ideas and teachers instructions on reinforcing mindfulness with students in the future

Parental Involvement

In the group where parental involvement was encouraged, parents were invited to an hour long information session at the child’s school. This occurred before the beginning of the intervention, and explained mindfulness, current research, and the program. Parents were offered the opportunity to ask questions during this period. Parents were then given a weekly email with a ten minute YouTube video with key points of the current week’s lesson, a guided exercise, and an explanation of their child’s home practice for the week.




The Findings

depression and anxietyWe encourage you to read the actual study yourself, but there were quite a few interesting findings. Let’s start with involvement. For parents and the ten minute YouTube video, involvement hovered around 38% for the first two weeks, but fell to only 9% by the final week of the course.

The control group showed higher rates of awareness, and the biggest differences were recorded at the post-intervention data collection. During the course, 24.4% of participants were meditating regularly, while only 7% practiced weekly at the twelve-month follow-up point.

Those that completed more homework during the course showed worse outcomes, which we personally find rather interesting! The only place where positive outcome was consistently found was in several facets of mindfulness being measured: Awareness of Internal Experiences; Awareness of External Experiences; Decentering and non-reactivity, Relativity, and Insight. Body image did not improve, and neither did levels of depression, anxiety, or general psychological wellbeing.

Another finding that we thought was interesting is related to the feedback forms filled out by about half of participants after the intervention. When rating from 0-10 how likely participants were to use mindfulness practices in the future, the average was 6.1. At the six month follow up, only 10.6% of people meditated regularly. At the twelve-month follow-up, 8.4% used their practice in their lives.

There are many interesting pieces in this study, including that a recent study on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy demonstrated improvement in psychological wellbeing in adolescents, but this one did not. We really encourage checking it out at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000579671730181X.




Their Conclusion

“Young people may also need greater scaffolding than adults to make connections between seemingly abstract tools and real life, especially if they are currently not distressed.”

The researchers believe that more research is required to continue investigating the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions. This comes a few months after the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science published a piece about the need for more formal and rigorous studies on mindfulness before we tout its benefits.

The researchers end their conclusion by stating:

“Further research is required to identify the optimal age, content and length of programs delivering mindfulness to adolescents.”

mindfulness factorsMy Personal Thoughts

Okay, I know nobody has asked for them, but here are a few thoughts about this. First, I love that this piece of research clearly states the type of mindfulness practices being offered and included a fairly rigorous course of practice. Some studies about mindfulness don’t clearly state what practices are being used and involve relatively infrequent practice.

My personal experience with mindfulness has been a beautiful one, but this is purely anecdotal. I do help run One Mind Dharma, sell meditation CD’s, and teach meditation by donation at our meditation center. That is, I recognize that I am a (incredibly small) part of the aforementioned $1 billion meditation industry.

However, I must admit that meditation may not be for everyone. There is research like this that suggests there may be optimal times, lengths, and practices in order to make mindfulness effective. I myself was introduced to mindfulness and meditation at age 14, and did not find it useful for a few years after. I appreciate that this kind of research is being done, and one of the reasons I thought it was worth sharing is that it points toward a greater need for the scientific community to understand meditation and mindfulness.

I have experienced benefits of mindfulness and dharma, at least in my perspective. It is through mindfulness practice that I have grown from a lonely and broke 19-year old with anger problems, great suffering, felony charges, and a serious drug addiction into a young adult with a family, full-time job, and a much more peaceful experience of daily living. This study does not say that mindfulness is useless, even for teenagers.

Instead, this study may be a great foundation for us to understand if and when mindfulness is useful to adolescents and young adults. It’s my hopes that researchers like Johnson and her team continue to work to uncover what is useful, but I don’t plan on stopping my practice anytime soon either way!

I believe that scientific research about mindfulness can help people investigate a practice I have found to be useful. I’ve also seen it useful in the lives of others, including mentees in the Refuge Recovery program, students at the meditation center, and fellow members of my sangha. Sometimes a research-backed practice can reach people where religion and faith do not.

Although I think we need to investigate our own experience and see what is useful and what is not, a catalyst to begin practice can be useful. If this catalyst that encourages us to begin practice is reading a study, then great! This is one of the reasons I’m for research on mindfulness, and love reading studies like this that are pushing us toward a deeper understanding.




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The 19 Best Meditation Podcasts in 2018

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The 19 Best Meditation Podcasts in 2018

There are tons of meditation and mindfulness podcasts out there, and it can be hard to weed through them all to find one that fits your needs. Although one style doesn’t work for everyone, we have compiled what we find to be the best meditation and mindfulness podcasts currently running. We couldn’t pick just one to be the best meditation podcast, so these are 19 different ones, listed in no particular order!

One Mind Dharma’s Podcasts

First, we have to mention that One Mind Dharma has a few podcasts of our own! We didn’t feel right about including them in our actual list of our favorites, but wanted to mention them. Our podcast Buddhist Guided Meditations is exactly as it sounds: a podcast with guided meditations covering a variety of topics related to Buddhist meditation.

Our other podcast, Dharma Talk, is a casual conversation between the teachers at One Mind Dharma about mindfulness, meditation, compassion, and more. This is a great podcast to listen to on the go to get your daily dose of dharma!

audiodharma

1. Audio Dharma

Audio Dharma is one of our favorite podcasts out there. Recordings from Insight Meditation Center in California, Audio Dharma has talks from Gil Fronsdal, Max Erdstein, Andrea Fella, Nikki Mirghafori, and more. This podcast has longer talks and shorter talks, called dharmettes. Gil and the teaching team at IMC offer insightful talks covering a ton of important Buddhist teachings, and we always learn something listening to them share about the dharma. You can listen on their website, download their new mobile app, or listen in your favorite podcast player!

2. Tara Brach

Tara Brach is one of our favorite teachers. With extensive experience practicing and teaching meditation, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and deep insight into the mind and body, Tara offers amazing meditations and teachings that we highly recommend. Although she teaches about a variety of subjects, many of her talks and meditations focus on trauma, opening the heart, and healing. You can find her talks and meditations on her website, or on your favorite podcast store.

dharma seed podcast3. Dharma Seed

Dharma Seed was one of the first meditation and mindfulness podcasts we listened to regularly. One of the oldest productions still around, this podcast contains teachings and meditations from various teachers across different schools. Many of the recordings on this podcast come from Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and teachers like Jack Kornfield, James Baraz, and Joseph Goldstein are often featured. You can check out DharmaSeed.org or find them on iTunes and Google Play! They also have their own mobile app available.

4. Metta Hour

Metta Hour with Sharon Salzberg is always interesting. Sharon, one of the most prolific metta teachers in the West, has conversations with teachers, meditators, psychologists, and other experts. Topics include metta, compassion, mindfulness, and other Buddhist related topics. This podcast always changes things up, and each episode offers something new! You can check it out on iTunes, Google Play, or online!

buddhism guide5. Buddhism Guide

Buddhism Guide by Karma Yeshe Rabgye is a podcast with dharma talks, discussions about meditation, and more. A teacher in the Kaygu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Karma Yeshe Rabgye offers teachings from his years and years of deep practice and understanding of the dharma. His website BuddhismGuide.org has his talks, and you can also find them on iTunes, Google Play, and more!

6. Buddhist Geeks

The Buddhist Geeks podcast is quite the fun one. I’m a geek myself, so I was drawn to this podcast from the moment I saw the name. Despite the name, this is largely a secular podcast in which the hosts discuss mindfulness, ethics, compassion, and modern issues. From race and social justice to technology and the latest research, Buddhist Geeks really cover it all. One of the reasons I love this show is the always different topics and unique perspectives they offer! You can check them out at BuddhistGeeks.org.



zencast podcast7. Zencast

Zencast is a podcast that produces one episode a week, with various practices and dharma talks. Gil Fronsdal is definitely the most common teacher found on Zencast, but there are many wonderful teachers from Insight Meditation Center and elsewhere. This is a great podcast offering hand-selected teachings and episodes from different teachers, and offers a regular Sunday talk and practice for you every week. Check them out on your podcast store, or visit their website at ZenCast.org.

8. Tricycle Talks

Tricycle Talks is the podcast from Tricycle Magazine, a leading Buddhist periodical. You can check their magazine out and subscribe here, but we’re here to talk about their podcast! The Tricycle Talks podcast is a collection of conversations with some of the top teachers, thinkers, and leaders in the world. Every week, a new episode is released on a topic related to mindfulness, meditation, compassion, and/or current events. With teachers like Mark Epstein, Sharon Salzberg, Guy Armstrong, and more, this is a star-studded show we highly recommend checking out! You can find them on iTunes or your favorite podcast store.

9. Dhamma Talks – Amaravati

The Amaravati podcast is a collection of talks from one of the biggest monasteries in the Thai Forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism. Located just northwest of London, this temple is led by some insightful, wise, and eloquent monks. Their talks contain teachings from Ajahn Candasiri, Ajahn Ariyasilo, Luang Por Pasanno, Ajahn Amaro, and more. These are Theravada dhamma talks. Although they may be a bit dry compared to some of the more modern meditation podcasts, they are full of wisdom and insight. You can find the podcast on iTunes here.
Buddha Groove Jewelry

dhamma talks10. Dhamma Talks – Wat Metta

This is probably the podcast on this list I personally listen to most regularly. Thanissaro Bhikhhu is a well-respected monk, scholar, and translator of the Pali language. His deep understanding of the Buddhist teachings make this a podcast worth listening to. Having ordained over 40 years ago as a monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu offers talks on the suttas, practice, concentration, metta, and more from his monastery in San Diego. You can listen to it at DhammaTalks.org, and rumor is you can even ask your Amazon Alexa to “listen to dhammatalks” to get these episodes on your speaker!

11. Against the Stream

The Against the Stream podcast is a collection of talks from the teaching team at Against the Stream in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and related sitting groups. Teachers include Noah Levine, JoAnna Harper, Mary Stancavage, Vinny Ferraro, and various guest teachers. Against the Stream offers an approachable form of Buddhism and meditation, and is often known as the “punk-rock” meditation center. The talks really focus on the Buddha’s teachings in a way in which we can understand easily. The teachings on meditation and mindfulness are applicable to our daily living, and can help us investigate the dharma with deeper understanding. They can be found on their website, iTunes, and many other podcast applications.

12. Meditation Oasis

The Meditation Oasis podcast is one of the most popular podcasts on meditation and mindfulness available out there. This is not a Buddhist meditation podcast, but incorporates a more open, new-age approach. This may or may not be what you’re looking for, but it’s a great offering that many can benefit from. The teachers have deep practices, incredible passion, and joy in teaching which is contagious. You can check it out on their website or find the podcast on iTunes and Google Play.



13. The Secular Buddhist

The Secular Buddhist podcast is another must-listen. Provided from the Secular Buddhist Association, the podcast contains conversations and teachings from some amazing teachers, such as Spring Washam, Ethan Nichtern, and Stephen Batchelor. This podcast really focuses on bringing these ancient Buddhist teachings to modern life, looking at environmental destruction, social justice, race, and many other issues. You can listen on iTunes or Google Play to their bi-weekly episodes.

meditation in the city14. Meditation in the City

Meditation in the City is a great podcast that just came to our attention in recent months, and we’ve listened avidly since. Produced by Shambhala Meditation Center of New York, this podcast aims to make meditation accessible, dispel myths about practice, and offer ways to bring our practice to everyday life. Teachers like Ethan Nichtern, Natalie Baker, and Elizabeth Reid are some of the guests on the show. Every week, Meditation in the City releases a new episode covering a teaching or practice that is super useful to us in our lives. Check it out on iTunes.

15. Thich Nhat Hanh Dharma Talks

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most celebrated Buddhist monks and teachers of our time, and for good reason. His books on meditation include bestsellers, he has established monasteries across the world, and is a renowned activist, poet, and teacher. His podcast contains talks from his monastery, including some talks from senior monks in the tradition. Thich Nhat Hanh offers a simple mindfulness practice which we can bring to all of our daily actions, and is incredibly useful. Check it out on the website, or find them on podcast stores.

16. UCLA Meditation at the Hammer

The Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles is one of the leading institutions in mindfulness research and training. Every week, UCLA hosts a meditation at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, and shares them via podcast. You can check it out on the MARC website to listen in every week. They have leading teachers visiting, and the classes are most often led by the director, Diana Winston.

refuge recovery17. Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist inspired path to recovery created by Noah Levine and the amazing team at Against the Stream. It’s our program of choice for our recovery, and we love it! If you’re in recovery from addiction, mental health disorders, or any other form of adversity, this podcast is a great offering to check out! With many teachings and meditations from Dave Smith, Noah Levine, and others, this podcast is our favorite Buddhist recovery podcast out there by far! Check it out on their site, or find it on your favorite store.

18. 10% Happier

This podcast is hosted by the one and only Dan Harris, former host of Good Morning America. After his now-famous panic attack on the air, he turned toward meditation and wrote a best-selling book called 10% Happier. In his podcast, Dan connects with some great teachers and talks about meditation with kids, for students, for those struggling with mental health, and much more. It’s an entertaining and engaging look at mindfulness, meditation, and the science behind these practices. Listen and subscribe on Stitcher, Google Play, or iTunes.

19. The Greater Good Podcast

The Greater Good is a podcast, magazine, and source for news from the University of California, Berkeley. A well-respected research institution, UC Berkeley produces this wonderful podcast on the science behind mindfulness and meditation. This podcast is chalk full of amazing neuroscientists, mindfulness teachers, authors, and many other prominent meditation advocates. You can check it out on the Greater Good website or listen on your favorite podcast application!



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best books on tibetan buddhism

10 Best Books on Tibetan Buddhism

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10 Best Books on Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism is a popular type of Buddhism, branching off from the Mahayana school. With a strong emphasis on lineage, use of symbols and rituals, and the presence of many mantras and practices, Tibetan Buddhism offers a rich tradition in which to practice. There are many books on Tibetan Buddhism, but here are a few of our favorites!

Tibetan Book of the Dead1. The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Edited by Gyurme Dorje, Ph.D., Graham Coleman, and Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., this edition of the the Tibetan Book of the Dead is a beautiful copy. Believed to have been originally written in the 8th century, this book focuses on consciousness as we approach and go through death. Covering the Tibetan Buddhist teaching of bardo this book is widely considered to be an essential reading in this tradition. A text with a long and beautiful history, this is a great way to begin investigating basic teachings of Tibetan Buddhism.

the joy of living book2. The Joy of Living

The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a wonderful book that offers some pragmatic tips for getting started with meditation practice. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche has been called the “happiest man in the world,” and shares his practices of cultivating joy, compassion, and awareness. Using his deep experience with spiritual practice and an understanding of the science of the mind, he offers powerful encouragement and practices to meditate. From covering a few benefits of meditation practice to offering ancient Tibetan practices, this is a great read for those new to Tibetan Buddhism.

when things fall apart by pema chodron3. When Things Fall Apart

This book by Pema Chödrön is one of my favorite books out there. This is perhaps her best-known book, and has been in print for over twenty years. Pema expertly dives into dealing with anxiety, fear, and the pain we all experience. Using foundational teachings from Tibetan Buddhism, this book offers ways we can learn from these difficult experiences. She writes about moving toward the adversity, familiarizing ourselves, and gaining insight and compassion as we meed our difficulties with a kind awareness.

introduction to tibetan buddhism4. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism

Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers is a comprehensive book investigating the teachings and practices of the tradition. Starting with the history of Buddhism in Tibet, the author goes through basic teachings, the various schools, important figures, and more. He then dives into actually practicing and diving into the path ourselves. This is one of our favorite outlines of Tibetan Buddhism, organized well and clearly offering the basics of the traditions for newcomers.

art of happiness by the dalai lama5. The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness is one of the Dalai Lama’s most well-known books. A master in his tradition, the Dalai Lama offers stories, insights, and conversations for cultivating happiness in our lives. He offers practices you can try yourself, living happily in everyday life, and dealing with difficulties like anxiety, pain, anger, grief, and relationships. Dr. Howard Cutler co-authors the book and offers a scientific understanding of the brain and body, and how practice can be beneficial in approaching our lives and our contentment.

buddhism for beginners book6. Buddhism for Beginners

Buddhism for Beginners by Thubten Chodron is a handy user guide to help you understand Tibetan Buddhism. Thubten Chodron goes through basic Buddhist teachings, how to practice, and deep questions. Offered in a question-and-answer format, this book addresses many questions you may have about Buddhism and meditation practice. It makes the book easy to read, constantly changing in topic, and interesting. We strongly recommend checking this book out if you’re new to meditation practice!

Words of My Perfect Teacher7. Words of My Perfect Teacher

Co-written by Patrul Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama, this book is one of the most popular and well-respected books on Tibetan Buddhism. Offering a commentary on practices from the Longchen Nyingtig, this book uses stories, personal experience, and years of meditation experience to help make these teachings accessible and relateable. This is a great book to take these powerful teachings and begin applying them to your everyday life. With essays, poems, and more, this book is both intensely useful and interesting.

Shambhala8. Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

This book by Chogyam Trungpa covers the idea of the spiritual warrior, facing difficulties and pain with wisdom, awareness, and compassion. This is one of the best introductions to Shambhala Buddhism out there, and Chogyam Trungpa covers the the basics of this tradition beautifully. With a unique voice, extensive experience, and humor, this is one of our go-to recommendations for those interested in learning more about Tibetan schools of Buddhism!

awakening the buddha within9. Awakening the Buddha Within

This book has made other lists of ours, and we have multiple copies sitting our our bookshelves at home and in the center. Lama Surya Das has spent decades studying various traditions of Buddhism (and yoga), including Tibetan Buddhism. This book is a fairly big one, covering quite a few topics. One reason we love this book so much is that it always seems to be incredibly practical. He offers teachings, practices, stories, and guidance that you can actually take with you and use in formal meditation practice and in your daily life. We love the way he writes, as it is engaging and simple. It makes this book easy to read, consume, and learn from!

Essential Tibetan Buddhism10. Essential Tibetan Buddhism

This book by Robert. A. F. Thurman is another beautiful outline of Tibetan Buddhism. Thurman is both a monk and a scholar, giving him the ability to write with expertise from a few perspectives. Going through teachings of living Buddhas, cultivating awakening, and how to actually walk the path, this book is a great way to kickstart your practice in this beautiful tradition!

You can also check out our 11 Best Meditation Books for Beginners and Best Buddhist Books for more books about Buddhism.

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9 Meditation Tools to Help You Practice

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9 Meditation Tools to Help You Practice

There are many things we can do to help aid our practice at home. From sitting on a cushion to listening to guided meditations, here are a few tools you can try for your meditation practice. They may not all be for you, but hopefully some of these tools will be helpful in your practice.

Learn to Meditate

1. Zafu and Zabuton Set

If you are comfortable sitting on the ground, it’s great to have your own meditation cushion. A zafu is a round cushion used for meditation, and provides a way to sit comfortably for many people. The zabuton is the cushion or mat that goes below the zafu in order to rest your knees and feet comfortably.

Having a dedicated sitting device can be a great asset to your practice. Research on state-dependent memory suggests that having some routine to a practice can be beneficial. For example, sitting on the same cushion every day in meditation will help your mind and body associate the time on the cushion with ease and mindfulness. If a cushion is not comfortable for you, try sitting in the same chair every day!

DharmaCrafts meditation cushions

2. Books on Meditation

Reading is another great thing we can do. Reading and learning new practices can be a great tool for our meditation practice and daily living. We have some lists of our favorite Buddhist books and our favorite books about meditation, and there are hundreds of books out there. From mindfulness and sutta studies to trauma and neuroscience, there are books about almost everything.

It’s important that we don’t let reading substitute for a dedicated practice. Although we can learn quite a bit from learning the teachings and new practices, we have to actually practice them! If you do take up reading, make sure to actually put into practice what you’re learning.




3. Podcasts and Talks

Podcasts and dharma talks are a great way to help your practice. You can listen to a podcast at the end of a long day, while driving, or exercising. There are podcasts offering talks on Buddhism, talks about meditation, discussions, and more. We have a few of our own podcasts (check the button below), and listen to quite a few podcasts ourselves. If you’re looking for a useful meditation tool on the go, we suggest finding some you like!

We don’t have space here to list every single podcast we like related to meditation and mindfulness, but there are a few we recommend checking out:

  • DharmaSeed, a collection of talks from Spirit Rock and IMS
  • Audio Dharma, a collection of talks and meditations from Insight Retreat Center
  • Dhamma Talks, Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s collection of talks and meditations
  • Tara Brach, wonderful dharma talks from a psychologist and powerful teacher
  • Metta Hour, a podcast with Sharon Salzberg and guests

4. Guided Meditations

If you’re new to meditation practice, guided meditations can be one of the most useful tools you have. Guided meditations give us the opportunity to listen and understand while we practice. Rather than going it alone, we can get instruction and reminders for our practice. Although sitting in silence is also beneficial, the guidance can really help us get a deeper understanding of the methods and techniques to practice.

Many of the podcasts mentioned above have guided meditations available, so you can check those out. You can also surf YouTube for meditations from many teachers. Finally, apps like InsightTimer (see #7 below) have guided meditations you can try!

meditation button

5. A Teacher & Community

This isn’t exactly a tool, but it can really help our practice to have a community and a teacher. You can look on places like Meetup.com for local groups, find online groups through places like Worldwide Insight, or take a trip to go on retreat. Building a sangha can be incredibly helpful in our practice, as we can learn from others and connect deeply.

A teacher allows us to have somebody with whom we can discuss our practice openly. Meditation teachers who work one-on-one with individuals can help you find practices that work well for you, give you some direction with your practice, and act as both a guide and a companion on the path. We offer one-on-one coaching, and many teachers offer donation-based coaching and training.

6. Essential Oils

This is not a traditional meditation tool, but one we use personally in our own practice. Essential oils can be helpful in encouraging mindfulness, compassion, and a settled mind. Whether it’s some jasmine to help promote calm or some type of citrus to give some energy, you can check out essential oils for your practice. It may not be for everyone, and cats may have sensitivities to some oils, but you may find that they help your practice!

We use essential oils directly on the skin (make sure it is an oil which can be applied topically) and diffuse them when we practice. You can also use a diffuser necklace like those from Online Essential Oils Guide. Remember that essential oils are beginning to be understood, and there is beginning to be research suggesting benefits, so give it a shot.




7. Insight Timer

There are many ways we can use technology in our practice, and many meditation apps out there (including our own app). Our favorite mobile app for meditation is InsightTimer. We know there are many great apps out there, and don’t mean to say the other ones are bad in any way. However, InsightTimer is hands-down one of our favorite meditation tools available.

With InsightTimer you can set reminders to practice, use their meditation timer, connect with other meditators, follow teachers, listen to guided meditations, and more. It really is a wonderful app. One of our favorite things about it is the huge selection of teachers and teachings. The meditations and practices aren’t limited to one tradition, so you can investigate new things and find what fits your needs.

8. Mala Beads

tools to help meditate
Mala beads are more than just a decorative garland. Yes, there are some beautiful sets of beads out there, but they can also be used for practice. Malas are traditionally used for meditation, and there are different ways to practice with malas. You can repeat mantras, count the breath with the beads, or use the experience as a practice in mindfulness of the body as you feel each bead.

There are tons of places to buy mala beads, and we even make some ourselves. You can find tons of beautiful ones out there made with care and love, but we especially love Buddha Groove, the Mala Collective, and Dharma Crafts. We have given many gifts from these vendors and worked with them closely, and highly recommend checking them out!

9. Yourself

Finally, we want to make the point that you can have all the right tools, clothing, malas, cushions, etc., but all you really need to practice is yourself! We can sometimes get wrapped up in the thinking that this thing or that thing will “fix” our practice, but the truth is that all we need to practice is ourselves. Look at the Buddhist monks, and how simply they live. Remember that you can find ways to help your practice, but ultimately you need to just sit down and actually practice!

differences between mahayana and theravada buddhism

Differences Between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

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Differences Between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism

Theravada and Mahayana are two of the main schools of Buddhism. Although there are many different types of Buddhism, most traditions fall into one of these two schools. Although many of the teachings are the same between Mahayana and Theravada, there are a few major differences. We can understand these two schools more clearly if we first take a look at how and why they split from one another.

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The Split of Buddhist Schools

The exact split between these two schools is not known. There are many theories, but we do know a few things. First, it seems that there was a schism around the time of the Second Buddhist Council in 334 BCE. This was a split between the reformist Sthaviras and conservative Mahāsāṃghikas. Although this isn’t directly tied to the split between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists, it is suspected by many scholars to be the origin of these two schools.

Another view on the split comes from understanding how Buddhism spread in its earlier years. As the Buddhist teachings traveled to different countries, the dharma was influenced by local culture, people, and religions. When the practices arrive in a new culture and are geographically separated, they are subject to local customs. This causes the tradition to develop differently.

Theravada is relatively unified, while Mahayana traditions are generally more autonomous. It’s important to understand that this split is not necessarily a bad thing. Although there has historically been some disagreement between schools, the different traditions coexist relatively peacefully today. The claims of one being superior than the other are pervasive in some Asian countries, but the two schools of Buddhism largely accept one another.




mahayana vs theravada infographicThe Differences Between Theravada and Mahayana

The Buddhist teachings differ slightly between Theravada and Mahayana traditions. There are some major differences and some more minor ones.

Location

First, there is a clear difference between the two when it comes to location. Theravada is more common in Southeast Asia, in countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma). Mahayana, on the other hand, is more common in Tibet, China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Mongolia.

Suttas

The Buddha’s teachings are contained in suttas, or discourses. In Theravada Buddhism, the discourses used are known as the Pali Canon. These are the oldest known teachings of the Buddha, written in the Pali language.

Mahayana uses teachings which are more recent than the Pali Canon. Because the language of Mahayana is Sanskrit, these discourses are known as sutras instead of suttas. These sutras are teachings written down later than the Pali Canon, and often serve to elaborate on Mahayana ideas. Some of the more well-known of these later sutras include the Diamond Sutra, the Flower Garland Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra.

Liberation

Both schools of Buddhism have teachings on liberation, but they differ in a pretty major way. In Theravada Buddhism, the focus is on becoming an arhat, or fully-enlightened being. This is done through the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path, insight, and concentration. The heart practices are incorporated, and the attention is given to developing insight and awakening to the nature of reality.

In Mahayana Buddhism, there is a greater focus on compassion as the vehicle to awakening. True liberation is achieved when all beings are liberated. In the Mahayana traditions, emphasis is placed on the greater liberation rather than individual liberation.

Bodhisattvas

In relation to the nature of nirvana, the concept of bodhisattvas is different between the two schools of Buddhism. Theravada does not focus very much on bodhisattvas, or beings who vow to return to the human realm in order to help other beings achieve liberation. There are some traditions which hold the bodhisattva maitreya with veneration, but the concept of bodhisattvas is largely absent.

In many prominent Mahayana traditions, the concept of the bodhisattva is important. It may even be the goal of practice. People take bodhisattva vows, work toward the liberation of all beings, and may pray or make offerings to non-historical bodhisattvas.

Meditation

Meditation is a common practice in both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, but the practices often differ. Theravada schools put varying focus on samatha, insight, the brahma-viharas, and the practice of mindfulness. Different lineages have different focuses, but the practices often work to help understand experience.

In Mahayana Buddhist traditions, mindfulness, concentration, and compassion practice are common. However, many traditions incorporate different practices that involve the use of mantras and ritual. Meditation focuses less on understanding experience and the three marks of existence, and more on cultivating present-time awareness and alignment with the bodhisattva path.




Ritual

Both of the schools have some form of ritual. However, Mahayana generally contains much more ritual and iconography. Most Buddhist art we see in the West comes from Mahayana schools, Mahayana temples often are more ornate, and Mahayana traditions incorporate ritualistic practices much more often. Both schools incorporate chanting and prostrations, but Theravada is much less ritualistic in practice.

Monastic Code

The monastic code differs between Mahayana and Theravada, although the monastic tradition is considered important in both. Theravada monks generally eat one meal a day, take only what is offered to them, and spend most of their time meditating. Mahayana monks may eat more than one meal a day, often keep a vegetarian (or vegan) diet, and are generally more involved in their communities.

Other Differences

There are many other differences between Theravada and Mahayana. For one, Mahayana schools often teach of bardo, an in-between stage between death and rebirth. Theravada, or the “way of the elders” may be understood as the more conservative form of Buddhism, with relatively little influence from its transmission to new lands. Mahayana is more flexible in general, with many influences from various cultures with which it has come into contact.

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Similarities Between the Two

Although there are many ways in which the two differ, there are also many similarities. We don’t even have room to go into this fully here, but suffice it to say that these two schools are both forms of the same teachings. Both Mahayana and Theravada teachings contain important practices like the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and freedom from the cycle of samsara.

Here are a few things both schools teach, just to give you an idea of how many similarities there are between the two:

  • Four Noble Truths
  • Noble Eightfold Path
  • The historical Buddha as the teacher
  • Dependent Origination
  • The Three Marks of Existence
  • The Precepts
  • Emphasis on meditation practice
  • Classification of teachings into three categories
  • The emphasis on the training of the mind and heart




Investigating the Schools

We’ve been asked which school is “right” or “better,” and the truth is that we cannot come close to answering that question. We practice in the tradition of Insight Meditation, or vipassana. A branch off Theravada Buddhism, we have found it useful in our own lives as it is pragmatic. However, many people benefit from the ritual, compassion, and other teachings of Mahayana schools.

My personal recommendation is to check out both schools if you’re new to Buddhism. You can find groups and centers in both traditions, and see which one you click with better. Furthermore, you don’t have to pick just one. Although we practice mainly in one tradition, we incorporate many practices from other traditions in Theravada and from Mahayana traditions as well. This is not necessarily an either/or situation!

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Meditating While High: Buddhism and Marijuana

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Meditating While High: Buddhism and Marijuana

We’ve been asked recently a few questions about meditating while high, the Buddhist stance on marijuana use, and if smoking weed can be beneficial in our practice. This has been a recurring question we’ve received, and we have answered it on an individual basis. However, with the recent legalization of marijuana in our home state of California and an influx of questions about practicing while high, we thought we’d write a bit about this important topic.

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Marijuana and the Precepts

buddhism and marijuanaThis is perhaps the most important piece when considering the relationship between Buddhism and cannabis. The five precepts are training rules undertaken by Buddhists across the world, and have remained the same for thousands of years. Formed as a set of practices to protect the community and our personal practice, these are an important piece of the path.

The precepts are a foundational Buddhist teaching, and can help our practice greatly. The fifth precept is commonly translated as:

I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

Marijuana pretty clearly falls in this category when used recreationally. It is both intoxicating and can lead to carelessness. This precept serves to help us stay clear-headed, practicing, and not breaking the other four precepts. The five precepts are often referred to as “training rules,” but they may also be understood as practices.

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Medical Marijuana

On the note of the five precepts, it brings into question the use of marijuna for recreational purposes. Often, those using cannabis for medicinal purposes are using much lower amounts. The science behind medical marijuana is surmounting, and we’re clearly seeing the dangers of other medicine like opioids and benzodiazepines.

Like marijuana, these medications which can help treat pain, epilepsy, and anxiety cause a change in mental state. In this case, is cannabis less wholesome than other medications we take as directed? It’s certainly not for me to decide for you, but something worth considering. Using medical marijuana is significantly different as far as the fifth precept goes than using cannabis recreationally.




Can Smoking Weed Help Meditation?

This is one of the most common questions we’re asked in relation to cannabis. Some people seem to find it to help, while some report it dulls the mind. A Reddit post shows quite the split in opinion and experience.

The use of marijuana has been linked to a decrease in grey matter, dificits of dopamine in the brain, and significatly decreases empathy with human emotions. Although cannabis may feel beneficial to one’s practice, the science suggests this may not be the case.

Often, people who meditate while high are practicing other forms of meditation, for which it may be beneficial. In regards to concentration, mindfulness, and cultivating compassion, it is likely not helpful in most cases. There are some who may indeed benefit from the right type of cannabis in the right dose. However, the general benefits of quitting cannabis include better cognitive function, greater memory function, and more motivation.

Dependence & Addiction

One thing to consider with cannabis use is the Buddhist idea of karma. When we smoke regularly we are cultivating a habit, the tendency to rely on the use, further craving, and eventually dependence. Yes, we know that it is often claimed that “marijuana is not addictive.” However, an individual can develop marijuana use disorder, and an addiction.

Contrary to popular belief, heavy users can go through physical symptoms of withdrawal such as physical anxiety, fatigue, and changes in appetite. There are treatment programs that work in depth with marijuana users, like our personal friends down south at Crownview Co-Occurring Institute. Of course, not everyone becomes dependent, but it is important to understand the possible consequences of our choices.

Just a note, there is a Buddhist-based recovery program called Refuge Recovery that may be of use to somebody wishing to investigate living without drugs or alcohol. There are many ways to quit smoking marijuana, as Addiction Rehab Blog points out, so you can find a way that works for you.

My Personal Experience & Take

Refuge Recovery by Noah LevineI was introduced to meditation when I was in my teenage years, and I was not observing the fifth precept. When I decided myself to come back to meditation practice, it was during my years of heaviest use. The friends I had (who also smoked quite a bit) were into meditation, and it was cool in those circles to meditate.

This experience brought me back to meditation, and eventually helped lead to me stopping all drug use and getting sober. I meditated for a few years, often high, before getting sober and later finding the Refuge Recovery program. I do believe my practice then would have been more fruitful had I been clear-headed, but I also see that it was cannabis use that had brought me to these friends and to practice.

In my personal experience, cannabis was useful in helping bring me to practice. However, I needed to quit in order to continue progressing along the path. This isn’t to say that somebody who smokes marijuana is less progressed along any path; this is just my experience.

We have members of our sangha (online and/or in person) who have used cannabis both recreationally and medicinally, and I welcome them all. Our space is drug and alcohol-free, but it is my personal belief that all are welcome to the dharma regardless of choices they have made. The Buddha himself showed this repeatedly in the suttas, as he did in the famous story of Angulimala.

Although this is a dramatic example, it illustrates the potential for us to awaken. For me, the gradual awakening involved strictly observing the fifth precept. However, I am certainly not perfect with my conduct all the time, and do not think my conduct is “better” than anyone else’s because I don’t use cannabis. I do think this is a choice I have made because it has been beneficial in my life and practice, and I’ve observed the effects from both smoking and not smoking.




Investigating Use

When a student asks me about cannabis use and dharma practice, I often encourage them to investigate for themselves what the experience is like. Try tuning into the mental clarity when high, the craving and clinging that surrounds your cannabis use, and the other changes you notice in the body and mind.

You may also try giving it up for a week or two, and tuning into the craving, clinging, and mental states you experience. In one of our favorite meditation books, A Path with Heart, the author Jack Kornfield says: “Undertake for one week or one month to refrain from all intoxicants and addictive substances (such as wine, liquor, marijuana, cigarettes, and caʃeine). Observe the impulses to use these, and become aware of what is going on in the heart and mind at the time of those impulses.”

We can use our experience as practice, and cannabis use as a jumping off point for further investigation. We can use discernment, and try to steer clear of unkind judgement toward ourselves. Finally, we can look at our fixed views around the subject and our experience.

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Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

One Mind Dharma Mindfulness

You may have heard the phrase “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” before. We have used the phrase ourselves when teaching, and were recently asked to explain what it meant in a little more depth. So, we thought we would write a little bit about this popular quote and what it means in practice!

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional quote

The Origin of the Quote

This quote is often attributed to the Buddha incorrectly. A simple Google search of images shows quite a few misattributions to the Buddha. Although this is a teaching that is certainly in-line with the Buddha’s teachings, the origins of this quote are murky. According to Bodhipaksa of Fake Buddha Quotes, the earliest known attribution is in 1983 to Karen Casey.

Some sources also quote Haruki Murakami as the original author, a prominent Japanese author. His book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running included this quote. This book was published in 2007, and is unlikely to be the original use of this thought/quote.

Finally, this is a common saying in the twelve-step community. Because the nature of twelve step is that it’s anonymous, we don’t know when or where this originated in the rooms. However, it has been used in twelve step rooms and stories for at least twenty years.

Wherever this quote came from, we can be fairly certain it didn’t come from the Buddha himself. We have extensive written records of the Buddha’s teachings, and various types of Buddhism have different collections of teachings. However, none of these collections of suttas contain this phrase or anything closely related to it.

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Understanding Pain vs. Suffering

The essence of this thought fits with Buddhist teachings pretty well. The idea is that we all experience pain in life, and we can control how we react or respond to it. Pain comes in many forms. We have stronger pains like grief, trauma, and physical pain, but we also experience the everday pains like anxiety, stress, regret, and other discomforts.

If we understand “pain” as something unpleasant, it is a really broad spectrum. No matter how hard we try, we cannot avoid the unpleasant experiences in life. We can try all we want, but we cannot control everything. In fact, if we try too hard to avoid the unpleasant experiences, we are often creating suffering for ourselves!

Suffering, on the other hand, can be characterized as the reaction or response to experience. We can create suffering when coming into contact with pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral experiences. The teaching of the Second Noble Truth is that there is a cause to our suffering, and part of the cause is our clinging and craving for more pleasant experiences.

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When something pleasant arises, we want more of it. It may be something simple like the experience of getting off work at the end of a long day, or something extreme like drug abuse. On the other side of the same coin is aversion, or the tendency to move away from the unpleasant experiences. When we feel something unpleasant, we crave being free from the experience. Whether it’s a toothache, anxiety, or hunger, we avert from these unpleasant experiences and try to “fix” them.

The suffering arises when we react to stimulation. If we’re experiencing something unpleasant, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves and making sure we are safe. However, we can do so out of care and kindness, instead of having a knee-jerk reaction out of aversion. We can respond with metta instead of aversion.

In the Sallatha Sutta, the Buddha describes the experience with the analogy of two arrows:
“When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental.”

Working with Pain and Suffering

pain vs sufferingWhen we see suffering, we can respond with compassion. Sometimes, a painful experience arises. We feel grief, have an active mind, or have a difficult conversation. When these moments arise, we can work on responding with compassion and care rather than aversion. One of the benefits of practice is we train the mind to respond to these difficulties in new ways.

When pain arises, we can watch for the “second arrow” we often throw ourselves. We notice ourselves creating suffering, and can begin to take action to respond differently. By cultivating mindfulness, we can begin to see more clearly where the mind comes in to create suffering. We don’t have to beat ourselves up or judge ourselves, but we can respond with compassion and wisdom.

Let’s take the example of experiencing monkey mind, or an overactive mind. When the mind is running like this, we may habitually respond by overthinking, letting the thoughts control our experience, or trying to force the mind to be quiet.

Instead, we can notice that the mind is active, and perhaps unpleasantly so. Instead of trying to cure it or resist reality, we can do a few things. We may benefit from simply noticing what the experience is like. Instead of stabbing ourselves with the second arrow, we can instead simply notice the discomfort of the first arrow. What thoughts are arising? Can you notice them coming AND going? Is the body having an anxious experience along with the mental pattern?




We can also respond with some compassion. By noticing it is unpleasant and caring for this pain, we can train the mind to care rather than avert. Saying to ourselves, “The mind is running, and this is uncomfortable,” is a radical shift and act of compassion. When we do this, we’re training the mind bit by bit to respond with care and not compound the pain.

Below are two meditation you can try for working with pain and suffering. One is a practice in cultivating the heart practices for ourselves, which can be immensely useful in choosing how we respond. The other is a compassion practice we recorded specifically for dealing with anxiety.

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How to Use a Singing Bowl

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How to Use a Singing Bowl

We use singing bowls in our meditation center, at groups we lead, and in our own practice. They’re a beautiful tool for a meditation practice, and can be a wonderful addition to anyone’s existing sitting habits. However, many people ask us how to use them, so we thought we’d offer a little bit about singing bowls, how to play them, and why it can be beneficial to use one!

How to Play a Singing Bowl

Singing bowls can be played a number of ways. We will go through a few different ways to use a bowl, and the video below demonstrates each of these methods.

The Gentle Strike

First, there’s the gentle strike of the singing bowl. This is often used to signify the beginning or end of a meditation session. There are different uses in different traditions, with the bowl sometimes being struck once and sometimes being struck three times. In some Zen traditions, the bowls are also struck during the meditation period to bring you back to the present moment.

To use the singing bowl like this, gently tap the bowl on the side with a striker. You may find that it is best to have a striker with some felt on it to soften the sound of impact. To ring a singing bowl, it shouldn’t be an abrasive hit. Instead, gently strike the bowl just below the rim. Try tapping the bowl in different spots, as individual ones will have different “sweet spots.”




Making it Sing

Tibetan Singing Bowl 3Making the singing bowl actually sing can be a bit more difficult. You can start by striking it gently to get the vibration moving. It helps if you have the bowl on a cushion or in your hand. If it’s flat on the table or a hard surface, the vibration against the table may make a funny noise.

Gently trace the outside of the rim with the striker. Keep full contact, and move slowly. A sound may not erupt at first, but be patient. Try to keep the striker in contact with the bowl, but don’t press too hard. You can experiment with the speed at which you are moving; some bowls require different strengths and speeds to get the optimal singing going.

The Oscillating Sound

Once you learn how to make the bowl sing, you can make some oscillating sounds, sometimes referred to as the “wah-wah” sound. Most singing bowls have a natural ability to create this sound, and you can hear it as you make it sing. There’s a subtle oscillation of tone back and forth as the vibrations travel around the bowl and interact with one another.

You can actually induce this sound in a few different ways. First, you can try tilting the bowl back and forth as it is singing. This can create a change in the way the sound waves interact and an interesting fluctuation of noise.

The more popular way to make this “wah-wah” sound is to use your mouth. Once you have the bowl singing, you can put your mouth up to the opening at the rim. Open and close it as if you are saying “wah-wah,” but don’t actually make any noise. This opening and closing of the mouth can change the path of the sound waves and the way they echo back, creating an oscillating noise. It takes some practice, but can create quite the interesting sound!

The History of Bowls in Buddhism

The history of singing bowls is a bit confusing, with many different opinions coming forth. Many traditions and websites claim that Tibetan singing bowls date back to the times before the Buddha. This is supported by ancient accounts of ringing, singing, and sounds in Tibetan music and rituals. However, no specific mention of the singing bowls actually exists.

Many historians and anthropologists believe the singing bowls to be a more modern phenomenon, likely originating in China. Although singing bowls have been used for almost a thousand years, their popularity has grown substantially since the 20th century. In the 1970’s, singing bowls were used in music, sparking a huge market for the ritualistic bowls in the West. Today, many meditation centers in many traditions utilize some form of singing bowl to signify the beginning and/or end of a period of meditation practice.

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The Benefits of Using a Meditation Bowl

There are of course benefits of meditating in general, but a singing bowl may actually help as well. As we talk about in our guide on meditating for beginners, regularity can help greatly. When we practice consistently, it helps us train the mind.

Using a singing bowl to start your meditations regularly can help build this consistency. We use a singing bowl at the end of every meditation with our Daily Guided Meditation Emails, and use a bell in our own practice for this reason. The sound of the bowl becomes a bit like an auditory signal to be mindful. When you hear the noise, your mind and body associate it with your practice, and can fall more easily into your meditation period.

For some, singing bowls can be immensely relaxing. The practice of mindful listening can be a beautiful one. Instead of focusing on the breath or with general open awareness, we can use the sound of the singing bowls to focus our attention.




Singing Bowl Meditation

There are many forms of meditation utilizing singing bowls. Some traditions have sound healings, which are a beautiful practice in allowing crystal bowls to ring while students listen in a state of relaxation. Enter your email address below to get a free singing bowl meditation emailed to you!

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17 Ways to Be More Mindful in Everyday Life

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Mindfulness is a popular word these days, showing up in newspapers, on the covers of magazines, and all over social media. There are many benefits of mindfulness practice, and many people have found it to be helpful in their own lives. You may think of formal sitting meditation when you think of mindfulness, but we can actually cultivate mindfulness at any time, in any place.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness, in the Buddhist teachings, is a quality that may be most basically understood as awareness and recognition. One of the main purposes of mindfulness meditation is to cultivate awareness into the Three Marks of Existence.

In mindfulness, we are aware of our present-time experience, and recognize if it is causing suffering or liberation. For example, we may notice that we are experiencing anger (awareness), and that this anger is perpetuating suffering in our own lives and perhaps the lives of others (recognize). This second piece is often missed in describing mindfulness, and is important.

The Buddha taught about mindfulness extensively, with the most prominent teachings found in the Satipatthana, or the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. It is here that the Buddha taught of mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of the mind, mindfulness while walking, and many more important teachings.

When investigating what it means to be mindful or cultivate mindfulness, it is important to remember that mindfulness does not mean being happy all the time, does not only arise in sitting meditation, and does not just mean being present. Present-time awareness is necessary, but we also must recognize the nature of what we are experiencing. I recommend checking out our page on the Establishments of Mindfulness mentioned above, and our page on 7 Misconceptions about Meditation for more about what mindfulness is and is not. If you’re new to mindfulness, you can check out our Mindfulness for Beginners page with some guided meditations, tips, and explanations.

Ways to Be More Mindful in Everyday Life

We wrote a post a few years ago called 8 Ways to Bring Mindfulness to Daily Life and it was one of our most popular posts at the time. So, we thought we would elaborate, add some more ideas, and update that post!

walking meditation1. Awareness Triggers

We have written about this idea quite a bit, but it is because we love this practice in our own lives! The idea of an awareness trigger is that you choose something that happens regularly in your life, and use it as a reminder to practice mindfulness. When your chosen event happens, you can return to the body, take a few mindful breaths, or simply tune in with some open awareness to whatever is arising in your experience.

An awareness trigger can be anything you want. It may be something you do such as brushing your teeth, driving, or washing dishes. It also may be something that happens outside of your volition and control, such as the sound of a phone ringing (or vibrating), hearing a car horn, or seeing a non-human animal. Whatever your trigger is, make sure it’s something that happens somewhat regularly in your daily life!

2. Practice Walking Meditation

As we covered in our recent post 5 Simple Ways to Practice Meditation at Work, you can always turn toward walking meditation. Or, if you don’t walk or are unable to, you can practice moving meditation! It may be helpful to try a guided walking meditation first to understand the practice, but you can do this anytime during your day.

You can try simply bringing your awareness to the physical sensations as the body moves. What can you feel in the body as you walk? Maybe you notice the feet lifting off the ground and gently coming back down. Maybe you can feel the legs, hips, and abs working to keep you moving. There is no right or wrong answer. You can use the time you spend walking from your car into work, from your home to the bus, or the nightly walk around the block with the dog.

3. Scan the Body

Body scans are a great practice you can do any time. A body scan is simply the practice of moving through the body to see what is present. You can do this while sitting at your desk, walking, or lying down in bed. The body is always with us, always accessible, and always changing. Tune into your body for a few moments during you day to return to where you are.

You can do a formal body scan during your day without anybody knowing you are meditating. Start at the top of the head, and slowly work you way down to your toes. Notice what comes up. What can you actually feel in the body? Below is a body scan meditation you may try to familiarize yourself with the practice before taking it out into the world!

4. Take a Walk

Mindfulness doesn’t need to be rigorous, tiresome, or harsh. We can be gentle and at ease. Try taking a walk with the intention of cultivating mindfulness. The wonderful meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is a strong advocate of mindful walks, and we actually learned this practice at his monastery in San Diego.

Rather than doing a walking meditation in which you’re walking slowly and tuning into each movement of the body, tune into the world around you. There’s nothing specific you need to make happen. Notice the sounds, the colors, the movement, the nature, the human-made objects, the smells, and whatever comes into your experience. This can be a great way to get some energy out, relax, and cultivate mindfulness while on the go.

5. Speak Mindfully

There are many ways to practice mindful speech, but this is an important practice. It’s one of the factors on the Noble Eightfold Path and an integral part of the Five Precepts, which are five training rules undertaken by lay Buddhists. We spend much of our days interacting with others, so it makes sense that we are to bring mindfulness to one of the ways in which we communicate!

You can practice mindfulness of speech by simply being aware of what you’re saying and if it is useful. One practice which may help you greatly is slowing down when speaking. Is what you are saying true? Is it useful and helpful? Is now the right time to say it? It’s not always a right-or-wrong type of investigation, and we must use some discernment. Try tuning into your words to see. As a bonus, tune into the “speech” via text, email, and social media as well!

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6. Mindful Listening

Mindful listening is a powerful practice that we use in our own lives, dedicating time out to really cultivate a relationship where the other is heard. You can do this any time without anybody knowing you are dedicating effort to listening mindfully. Really tune into what the other person is saying. Try to listen just to listen, without waiting to respond.

You may try bringing awareness to the other person’s words, their experience, or the emotion behind them. You may also tune into your own body and mind, noticing what response arises. If somebody says something and you find yourself anxious or angry, you can notice it by practicing mindful listening. As with the other practices on this list, we get much better over time and with consistency.

meditation in daily life7. Keep it Simple

We all fall victim to monkey mind from time to time. The mind bounces from task to task and we find ourselves on autopilot, not fully choosing what we are doing. One practice you can try is to simplify, especially when it comes to getting things done. I know I listen to podcasts often while I’m working or to music while I am driving, but it can also be useful to just focus on the task at hand.

Try to do something without distraction. Of course, distraction will arise in the mind anyway, but don’t invite it in! Cultivate a mind that can concentrate on one thing at a time. As we begin to practice this, we find we are able to collect the mind more easily and focus in the future. We can make our tasks a form of samatha, or concentrative meditation.

8. Use Technology

Yes, use technology. There are ways we can use our computers, phones, smart speakers, etc. to help us be more mindful. Try setting reminders during your day to pause and be mindful. You can set a gentle alarm for a given time, or find one of many apps which allow you to set random alerts during your day. When the alert goes off, pause and practice a few moments or minutes of mindfulness.

You can always try this 1 Minute of Mindfulness practice for a quick break during your day!

9. Return to the Breath

Of course we cannot talk about meditation without mentioning the breath specifically. Like the body, the breath is always with us. You can return to the body breathing any time during your days, focusing on the sensations in the whole body or in a specific place in the body. Of course you know that you’re breathing, but what does it actually feel like to breathe in this moment?

Focus on the one breath in front of you right now. Try to be with it from the beginning of the inhale all the way through the end of the exhale. You can focus on the abdomen, the chest, or the nostrils. You can also feel the overarching sensation of the body breathing. Here is a short guided meditation you can try on the breath.



10. Bedtime Mindfulness

There are many ways to practice mindfulness in bed while lying down. Whether it is in the morning before getting out of bed, or in the evening before falling asleep, use your time in bed as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Feel the contact of the body with the bed, the body breathing, and notice where the mind is at.

If you’re meditating in the morning, you can connect with an intention for the day. At night, you can tune into the experience of the energy settling. When we get into bed, the mind and body may still be active. Try bringing your awareness to the energy in both as they settle into sleep mode.
mindful eating

11. Eat Mindfully

Eating is an important action we do regularly, and we can use it as a mindfulness practice. Instead of eating in front of the computer or a television, invite mindfulness into your daily life by really trying to be present while you eat. Tune into where the food came from, the effort that went into getting it in front of you, and all the energy that made this food happen. When you eat, notice the flavors, textures, and experience of eating.

If you’re interested in investigating the practice of mindful eating more deeply, we recommend checking out the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hahn and Dr. Lilian Cheung. It’s a wonderful book by two knowledgeable people that can help you look at the practice of eating as a mindfulness practice in your life.

12. Mindful Showering

The shower is a time in which many of us zone out in a sense, especially in relation to our mindfulness or spiritual practices. We sing, let the mind run, or just shut off. Instead, use your time bathing as a period of meditation. Be present for the shower and really see what the experience is like.

Notice how the water feels on the skin. Listen to the noises as the shower runs. Feel the body as you wash and rinse. The shower is a time in which physical sensations are strong, so you don’t need to do much other than receiving whatever arises into your awareness!

13. The Meditation Break

Sometimes, we hesitate to take a break as we have things to get done. If it helps you take a break, you should know that taking breaks actually boosts productivity. In addition, it is an act of kindness, allowing the mind and body to relax, reset, and revitalize. You can take a brief break to meditate any time during your day.

Personally, I find the after-lunch break to be most useful. Like many others, I begin to tire in the afternoon. Taking a break for a five minute meditation can make a huge difference. We just need to remind ourselves that it is useful in the long run, and not buy into the thoughts that tell us we don’t have time for a break!

14. Get Creative

creative meditationBeing creative can be a great way to cultivate some mindfulness in our daily life. If you’re looking for a fun way to be more mindful, try indulging your creative side! Play some music, write some poetry, plant something, draw or doodle, or work on a project. It doesn’t have to be an artistic masterpiece, and you don’t even have to show anyone else.

One beautiful side effect of spending time being creative is that we often can be truly present. When you are engaging in your creative activity, return to the present moment with it. Be with the experience, allow your creativity to flow, and use it as a practice. Don’t forget to be gentle with yourself and have a little fun!

15. Just Stop

We can of course slow down to help ourselves be more mindful, but try actually stopping. Sit on a park bench, watch the sunset, or just relax in your chair for a few minutes. We don’t need to do a formal meditation practice to practice mindfulness. Just stop and be where you are. Don’t engage in the thoughts that tell you to do something and don’t fall back into autopilot.

You can do this any time during your day that you have a few free moments. You don’t need to wait until you’re somewhere beautiful or quiet. Just stop, let the energy of the day settle, and don’t do anything. However you’re feeling, allow yourself to feel that way. This can be an incredibly grounding practice, bringing us back to the present moment and slowing the mind down.

16. Mindfulness of Others

We can practice mindfulness of others with our speech and by listening, but there are other ways. Try looking somebody in the eyes, recognizing that this is another human being just like you. Practice bringing your awareness to the humanity in another individual. Just like you, here is a person with memories, hopes, grief, worry, joy, and all of the other experiences humans have.

This can be incorporated with metta practice, as we wish well for this other person. We talked about this in our recent post Bringing Metta With Us. Try offering a few metta phrases silently in your head to the other person, which can be a beautiful practice to help connect with other people.

17. Sit in Meditation

Of course, sitting in meditation makes our list. Dedicate time in the morning or evening to sit. Try to find for yourself what the best time is to meditate during your day. Some people prefer meditating after a long day, while others enjoy a morning meditation to start the day. Investigate for yourself what works, and set some time aside for formal sitting practice.

As we sit more often in formal meditation, we train our minds to return to present-time awareness and recognition. The mind returns to the present moment with more ease, and we’re able to bring mindfulness into everyday living much more often. If you’re not sure how to get started, check out our free week of meditations to get started!

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Bringing Metta with Us

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Metta is an important part of my personal practice, and an important part of the dharma. We can practice it in formal sitting meditation of course, but we can also bring it to our life and other practices. The Buddha advised we should extend metta in all directions, toward all beings equally. If we are to do so, we must bring our practice to life outside formal sitting metta practice!




What is Metta?

You may not be familiar with metta practice. Most simply, it is the cultivation of a heart inclined toward caring, gentleness, and wishing well for others. Metta is a Pali word, and there are many translations people use in the English language. Some common translations are loving-kindness, gentle friendliness, goodwill, and unconditional friendliness. Whatever translation you use, it remains the same. It’s a foundational Buddhist teaching, and an important practice to incorporate in our lives.

It’s important with metta to recognize that the cultivation is different than the quality. In metta meditation, you may not feel loving and kind. The meditation practice is a method of cultivating this quality, and a method of samatha. As we practice more consistently, we begin to find ourselves inclined toward kindness and goodwill more easily. You can check out our page What is Metta? – Metta Practice, Meditations, and Explanation to learn more about what metta is and how we cultivate it in sitting practice.

Metta in Meditation

We can of course sit in a metta meditation, but we can also make an effort to bring this quality of gentleness to other meditation practices. We can bring kindness to a body scan, to general awareness practices, or to walking meditation. By making a dedicated effort to incorporate metta into our other practices, we’re cultivating the ability to respond with goodwill in new ways. If we can only cultivate metta in formal metta meditation practice, that isn’t of use in the rest of our lives!

We can do so by going about our normal practice, but making some effort to remember our practice of metta. If you’re sitting in an open awareness meditation, you may try beginning with a few minutes of metta for yourself. As you go through your practice, remember your intention of cultivating kindness. Notice when you’re tending toward judgement or ill-will. Try to respond to your experience with some gentleness and patience. Treat the mind and experience with friendliness.

Here is a kind awareness guided meditation you can try. This is a nice twenty minute practice you can use to begin investigating what it means to bring kindness to your mindfulness and awareness practices.

Metta Toward Ourselves

We can bring metta to our daily life, cultivating this quality for ourselves and our experience. Metta for ourselves can help us to respond to the mind, body, and emotional experience with less reactivity and more friendliness. We can cultivate this quality in meditation, but we can also carry it with us into daily life.

One of my favorite practices to help cultivate metta for myself in daily life is the practice of offering metta phrases as I walk. When I walk from my car into my office, I offer myself rhythmic metta phrases. You can do this any time you are walking throughout your days, whether it’s a short walk from one place to another or a longer walk you take to get some exercise.

You can also use the practice of returning to your deeper intentions. As we discuss in our post Eight Ways to Bring Mindfulness to Daily Life, there are many ways you can remind yourself of your intentions of metta. You can set a reminder on your computer or phone, use the sound of a phone ringing, or an action you do daily like brushing your teeth. When one of these awareness triggers occurs, return to your intention to be kind to yourself. By reminding ourselves of our intentions of metta daily, we’re able to find continuity with practice and bring it off the cushion.

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Interactions and Relationships

Many of us spend much of our days interacting with other people and beings. Whether it is family, friends, pets, people in service positions, coworkers, or strangers, we’re constantly interacting and social creatures. It’s important that we train the mind to respond with kindness and friendliness with other people. The Buddha did recommend in the Karinaya Metta Sutta that we:

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.

One practice I love is that of stealth metta. This is simply the practice of bringing the metta phrases to our daily lives with other people. You can extend phrases of metta silently in your head as you walk, drive, or see other people. I like to offer a single phrase like, “May you be at ease.” When I notice somebody else, I simply offer this phrase gently in my head, trying to connect with the natural inclination the heart has toward caring.

Another way to practice is to simply bring to mind the humanity in another being. You can reflect on the whole being in front of you. Often, we objectify people or see them with a fixed view. Instead, try to see the three dimensional being in front of you. Recognize that this person has hopes, dreams, joys, sorrows, grief, worries, people they love, people who love them, and all of the things and experiences you may have. This can help us connect more deeply and recognize the human experience of someone else.




All Beings

We’ve talked about this before in our post on Engaging with Metta, but it is worth repeating. We must work on cultivating metta toward ALL beings, not just those we like, see, or care about. But what does this mean? We don’t know most of the 7.4 billion people on the planet, and we certainly don’t know most of the 20 quintillion other living beings on the planet (an estimate, source: http://animals.mom.me/number-animals-earth-3994.html).

Instead, we can recognize the karma of our actions. We can care for all beings in simple ways, remembering that the Buddha suggested we care for those “born and to be born.” For example, make an effort to recycle or compost. Care for the planet and those beings living here and to be living here. You can connect with your inner intention to care for the wellbeing of all in order to help you take action. As you take action, you fortify the loving and kind heart.

Here are another few examples you may try to practice metta for all beings:

  • Tune into eating habits, and the suffering of animals in regards to your food
  • Watch your use of plastic and petroleum-based products
  • Drive safely and with patience
  • Purchase clothing, food, and other goods that cause minimal harm or support workers
  • Partake in social justice, political, or non-profit organizations
  • Watch energy consumption

There are of course many ways you can cultivate metta and bring it to your daily life. If you have some way you cultivate metta in your daily life that you think we should add here, let us know! Email us at [email protected] and we will add it in!

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letting go of fixed view

Letting Go of Fixed Views of Ourselves

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In the past, the holiday season has been difficult for me. Although I love my family very much, there has been a lot of pressure from them to have “good” holidays. We were always busy, going to the houses of grandparents, traveling to see family, and working on a schedule. The holidays were stressful for me as a quiet kid who needed time for the nervous system to reset.

This carried over into my adult experience with holidays. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a birthday, I find myself feeling anxious or stressed without much provocation. I perceive myself as the black sheep of the family, and am sometimes treated as such. It’s often tough for me, and I struggle to hold true to myself and my practice as I begin to act in a way that is in line with how I perceive I am being treated.

This holiday season, I found myself having a completely different experience. I really made an effort to tune into the fixed view I had of myself and my role in the family, and had a delightfully insightful experience.




Noticing the Thoughts

I was getting ready to go to Thanksgiving with my family when I noticed a very clear thought arise in the mind: “Here we go again.” The mind remembers my past experiences with holidays, and was preparing itself before any discomfort had arisen. When I noticed this thought arise, I paused and did a brief body scan meditation. I noticed some anxiety and tension in the body, which is quite normal for me when going into these uncomfortable social situations.

This time, I was able to see that this was just a thought. Rather than letting the thought control my experience, I was able to practice a bit of mindfulness of thinking. Simply by noticing that the thought was present, the relationship to it changed.

We can actually question the thinking mind. Is this thought true necessarily? Where does it come from? Is it coming from aversion, clinging, or delusion? Is this thought fueled by habit energies or mental patterns we experience? In this case, the mind was recognizing that this has been a difficult time in the past for me, and trying to prepare me for the upcoming experience. However, it wasn’t 100% accurate, as I did not know entirely what the future held.

When these thoughts arise, we can be with them with awareness. What causes this thought, and what does this thought cause? This is an intimate look at karma as it relates to the thinking mind. By observing the thought process, we can see how our thoughts are formed and may be perpetuating suffering.

Recognizing the Behaviors

I notice that when I have the expectation of difficulties, the mind looks for difficult situations on which to focus. I am on edge mentally and physically, and often act in less wholesome ways in these moments than I would like. By focusing on the small but difficult moments, I find myself experiencing more and more agitation and dis-ease.

fixed views buddhismOn the other hand, I’ve found that practicing mindfulness has helped me see the thoughts that arise, and how the behavior that follows may perpetuate suffering. When I am able to recall my practice and the Buddhist teachings, I can return to my experience and see how the thinking mind and habit energies are influencing my present-time experience.

This holiday season, I made an effort to behave in a way that I knew to be wholesome. Wise Action is one factor on the Noble Eightfold Path, and the difficult moments offer fertile ground for practice! By tuning into my actual experience from moment-to-moment, I was able to see that most of the unpleasant experiences were in my mind. The family was rather joyful, met me with kindness and respect, and showed immense love for one another. Like any family, there were arguments and snarky comments, but the experience was overall happy.

We had the opportunity to go on a catamaran to Belize with Elizabeth’s family for Christmas, which was a huge change for me. It was relaxing, joyful, and just beautiful. Although I found my own mind tending toward anxiety and stress surrounding the holiday season, there wasn’t anything happening outside the mind and body to cause stress. I continually returned to the experience of joy. In Buddha’s Brain, one of our favorite books about meditation, Rick Hanson talks about the power of recognizing and rejoicing in the moments of happiness.

We can dramatically change our behavior and experience by simply being with the joy rather than resisting it. Although some anxiety was present in the mind and the body, I participated in activities, was present for the happiness, and allowed myself to do so with my present experience. This doesn’t mean we should ignore how we are feeling or pretend we are happy when we’re struggling, but we can continue to act and behave in wholesome ways that cultivate joy and ease.

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Being Open to New Experiences

Through this holiday season, I keep noticing how much the mind holds to a fixed view. I think I know how the holiday season “should” be, or what my experience will be. However, my experience was quite different than anything I had anticipated. When the thoughts arise or we find ourselves looking for the difficulties, we can really question this closed view.

There are of course times in which it is useful to recognize a situation is unsafe or harmful. We shouldn’t go walking into super dangerous situations with the hope it will be different this time. However, there are times in which our minds and bodies are trying to tell us something is unsafe and we’re not truly as unsafe as we may think. Through anxiety and stress, we are being told that difficulty is coming, but it doesn’t actually come outside our own mental and physical experience.

One thing that can really help with this is open awareness practice. As we learn to meditate and sit in mindfulness meditation, we can tune into experience with beginner’s mind. Instead of just believing the thoughts and what we think may happen, we rest in a receptive open awareness, allowing ourselves to experience whatever arises.

One of the benefits of meditation practice is that we can become less reactive and more responsive. When we find ourselves thinking, we can leave the thoughts be and rest in openness to a new experience. Before coming to practice, these thoughts were quite pervasive as I allowed them to dictate my experience. With mindfulness practice, I can see that these thoughts are just thoughts, and only one part of my experience. Instead, I notice the thinking mind and return to openness to experience the joy, sorrows, pain, and pleasure that arises.




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