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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Benefits of Meditation in Schools

The Benefits of Mindfulness In Schools

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Mindfulness has been brought to the forefront in recent years, thanks to celebs like Oprah, Angeline Jolie and Eva Mendez touting the benefits of meditation practice.

Even schools have begun to get in on the action with mindfulness programs for students.

School mindfulness programs have been largely experimental up until now, but the experiments have proven a few major benefits.

The research shows that children benefit from mindfulness on many fronts, including cognitive outcomes, stress reduction, and overall wellbeing. We know that kindergarten social skills can predict whether children are at risk for deficits later in life that may lead to crime, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Our hope is that the improvements made through mindfulness training will also follow children into early adulthood.

Benefits of Mindfulness in Schools

Depression in adolescents and young adults is on the rise, and children’s stress levels seem to be at an all-time high. With major issues like school shootings, drug abuse, and student suicide, kids today have more to deal with than ever before.

Fortunately, some research shows that mindfulness programs may offer some help on this front. Here are some of the common benefits of practicing mindfulness in school:

benefits of meditation infographicFewer depressive symptoms and reduced stress

Research published in a 2013 British Journal of Psychiatry indicates that mindfulness programs may have a positive impact on depression and stress.

This study had 522 participants aged between 12 and 16. Part of the group participated in the Mindfulness in Schools Programme, and the rest took on the school’s usual curriculum. The study found that children who participated in the mindfulness program reported fewer side effects, lower stress, and greater well-being than those in the control group. Students who practiced mindfulness more often reported a better sense of well-being and less stress at their one-month follow-up.

Enhanced mindfulness

The goal of this type of school program is to increase mindfulness, so we can only hope that it works. And while we’ve seen some evidence that mindfulness programs work, the research here isn’t as enthusiastic as we’d like to see.

The University of Cambridge conducted a controlled trial of mindfulness training in schools and didn’t find clinically significant results in the mindful trained versus the control group. The promising news, however, is that researchers found improvements in psychological well-being and mindfulness in students who also practiced outside of school.

We need to see more research on the effects of mindfulness programs in schools, but these results may indicate that students must dedicate more than the allotted mindfulness time at school to achieve measurable results.

Increased cognitive performance

One of the goals of mindfulness training in schools is to help children focus on schoolwork. And a review of the research indicates that mindfulness training may lead to an increase in overall cognitive performance. Good news!

The Frontiers in Psychology review studied 24 studies, of which 13 were published. Across all studies, 1,348 students in grades 1-12 received mindfulness training and 876 served as controls. The review found promising results indicating that mindfulness-based interventions may improve cognitive performance and resilience to stress. The authors also noted there were a wide range of instruments and a variety of exercises used across all studies.

The bottom line is that mindfulness-based programs in schools show some promise, but we need more research to determine their ultimate effect.

Teaching mindfulness to your children

If your child’s school doesn’t have a mindfulness program, you can still teach them the skills they need to become more mindful. Even if they are learning mindfulness in school, you can reinforce the lessons at home.

Here are some tips for teaching mindfulness to your own children:

Begin your own practice – When it comes to parenting, nothing is as powerful as “practicing what you preach.” Kids learn best by example, so show them what it really means to be mindful in all areas of your life. No one is perfect, so when you act emotionally, talk to your kids about how you could have handled things differently.

Keep it simple – Talk to your kids about awareness. They should be aware of their thoughts and their feelings. Ask them to actively notice things around them. You may find this comes more naturally for your child than it does for you. That’s okay.

Don’t force mindfulness – This is something that should happen organically, so don’t force your child to practice. Try to make it fun and explain all the benefits. Just remain consistent, and he or she should come around.

Create a bedtime routine – Bedtime is a great time for practice. Depending on your child’s age and interest, you can do a guided breathing meditation or a simple awareness practice.

If you’ve seen benefits from practicing mindfulness, you may want to share the experience with your child. As the studies have shown, there are some benefits. Start now to set the tone for a mindful life.

meditation at work

5 Simple Ways to Practice Meditation at Work

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How to Meditate at Work

Trying to practice meditation at work can be difficult. During our daily lives, we get into the rush of getting things done and forget about our practice. We’ve been asked quite a bit about how to meditate at work, so we thought we’d offer a few practices we use in our daily lives and workplaces.

You may have a job that is a bit different than ours, but we work in offices behind a computer. At a desk all day, it can be a wonderful reprieve to meditate for a few minutes. You can do so at your desk, on a break, and without anyone knowing you are even meditating while working!




benefits of meditation infographicThe Benefits of Meditating at Work

There are many reasons to practice in general, and there are certainly some benefits that apply directly to our work life. For example, multiple studies have found that mindfulness can boost productivity. In addition, our practice can help us relax, release stress, and return to our present-time experience.

I find that even a few minutes of meditation scattered throughout my weekdays can dramatically change my experience. I am able to notice when stress is growing, and respond before I fall into habitual reactions. Practicing meditation at work allows me to stay in tune with what is going on in my experience, and not fall victim to the ways I react that cause suffering for myself and those around me.

The benefits of meditation at work include:

  • Pain reduction
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Boost your creativity
  • Improve working memory
  • Focus better on the task at hand
  • Work better with stress and deadlines
  • Increase ability to solve problems

You can read more about the benefits of meditation and find research about meditation in our recent post 29 Benefits of Meditation: What the Research Tells Us.

Quick Meditation Techniques at Work

There are many different ways to practice, and we have just a few here. These are our favorite quick meditation techniques at work, but you may adapt many different meditation practices to work with your job and lifestyle.

1. Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is something many people don’t take seriously. However, the Buddha himself recommended walking meditation many times, as he does in the Satipatthana Sutta, his words on establishing mindfulness. It’s a powerful practice we can use any time and any place.

You can try a formal walking meditation practice in your free time to familiarize yourself with the practice, but you can also do walking meditation any time at work. You may choose to do it during a break or lunch, or you can practice walking meditation while walking around the office. One of the reasons walking practice is so useful in the workplace is that you can do it without anyone even realizing you are meditating!

To do a walking meditation while working, simply begin by tuning into the feeling of the feet as they touch the floor. You may notice the sensation of the heel-to-toe movement as the feet come into contact with the ground. You may also feel the experience of the feet lifting to take the next step. The investigation can continue to include sensations in the legs, hips, and torso as you move.

This practice is a great way to ground yourself during your day, and can help us to both relax and return to our present-time experience. Give it a shot on a break or while walking to and from your desk!




2. Body Scan and Awareness

A body scan is another great practice you can do anytime. You can do a body scan meditation while walking, while standing, or while sitting at your desk. If you want to learn how to meditate at your desk, we recommend starting with a body scan meditation as it is relatively simple and always accessible. There is a guided body scan meditation practice for beginners at the end of this post, so you can familiarize yourself with the practice before doing it on your own at work.

In body scan practice, we move through the body to see what is present in each part. Generally moving from the head down to the toe, we practice observing our experience and tuning into whatever is present. This can help us ground ourselves, lower blood pressure, and build some concentration. You can do this meditation practice right at your desk, without changing posture or closing your eyes. This is a wonderful practice to return to as we always are carrying our bodies with us!

Guided Meditation CD’s

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3. Mindful Listening

Mindful listening is a powerful practice we can do any time, on or off the meditation cushion. We can practice mindful listening while in a meeting at work, while talking with somebody, or simply while sitting at our desks and getting work done. Although it may seem relatively quiet, there are almost always noises going on around us.

To meditate with mindful listening, take a moment to check in with what is going on in the realm of hearing. Notice what sounds you can hear. Maybe you notice sounds of other people working, cars going by outside, or your fingers typing on a keyboard. As you begin to drop into awareness of sounds, you can play with it. See if you can focus on sounds that are nearby, then switch to sounds that are farther away.

When there is conversation going on in the office or workplace, be present. When the mind wanders off onto other things, come back to the experience of listening to the person who is speaking. You can do this any time, and return to it again and again to arrive back into your present time experience.




4. Mindfulness of the Breath

Mindfulness of the breath is perhaps one of the most popular and well-known meditation practices. It’s a great way to build concentration and can help with anxiety and stress. You can turn toward the breath any time, and you don’t need to breathe in any special way.

To practice mindfulness of breathing, turn your attention to a place in the body where you can naturally feel the breath. You can allow the body to breathe itself; you don’t need to control the breath at all. Find a place where you can feel the breath easily. It may be in the abdomen or stomach, the chest and lungs, or the nostrils. Work with whatever part of the body feels most accessible to you.

It can be helpful to start by using some sort of mantra like “in” and “out” with each breath. Doing this for a few breaths can help you bring your awareness to the present-time experience, and you can let go of the words after a few breaths. You can tune into the body breathing while doing almost anything at work. When the mind wanders, simply bring it back to breath. You can do this to keep yourself grounded in the present moment and to help regulate heart rate during your day.

Below is a quick guided meditaiton practice that takes just 60 seconds. You can watch this at work with the sound off any time.

5. Metta Meditation at Work

The previous four practices have all been related to mindfulness and insight practices. Although these are useful, we can also work with heart practices like metta, or lovingkindness. This is the practice of cultivating kindness, friendliness, and an open heart toward ourselves and those around us.

You can do a formal metta meditation in order to familiarize yourself with the practice and how it is done, but you can also practice metta at work all day long. When you have a phrase or two that feel right, you can offer them silently to yourself and those around you. Nobody needs to know you are cultivating metta. You can offer phrases in your head to different people around you, yourself, and those you interact with. This is a fantastic way to stay in touch with our intention to respond with kindness and care during our days.

We also highly recommend checking out Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace for more great ways to practice with our work lives, especially in regards to metta meditation.

Guided Meditation at Work

Here are a few practices you can do during your day. These guided meditations may be done on a break or when you have a spare moment. If you’re interested in leading a guided meditation at work, you can check out our guided meditation scripts.

Meditation for Anxiety

Body Scan for Beginners

Quick Concentration Practice

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different types of buddhism

Understanding the Different Types of Buddhism

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The Different Types of Buddhism

Here at One Mind Dharma, we practice mainly in one tradition of Buddhism. However, there are different types of Buddhism out there, and it may be useful to investigate for ourselves which tradition and practices work for us in our lives. These different schools of Buddhism have many things in common, and generally follow the basic teachings. However, the spread of Buddhism to new cultures and lands created traditions that vary greatly in practice.

You can also check out our post Differences Between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism for more information about how these schools differ.

When you’re done reading, take our fun little quiz at the bottom. You can also skip ahead to the quiz to see what you know before you read!

The Schools of Buddhism

There are three main schools of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Vajrayana is considered by some scholars to be a branch of Mahayana, while others consider it to be a separate tradition. Within each school are many different traditions and practices. The different types of Buddhism can be broken down most basically into three schools, with further subdivisions below.

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Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism translates to the “Way of the Elders,” and is the oldest form of Buddhism existing. Using the Pali language, Theravada Buddhism relies on the Tipitaka, or Pali canon. This is the collection of the Buddha’s earliest teachings and discourses. During Buddhist councils, Theravada Buddhists added commentary to the suttas, or scriptures.

Theravada is most popular in Southeast Asia, in countries such as Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, and Laos. Theravada may be considered more conservative, following older teachings of the Buddha and not adding widely-accepted new scriptures or teachings. Monks follow fairly rigorous training rules (vinaya), eat only what is freely offered, and often spend hours of their day sitting in formal meditation.

The focus of Theravada Buddhism is to cultivate liberation and become an arhat, or fully awakened being. This is done through meditation practice, taking refuge in the Three Jewels, contemplation of the dhamma, and and the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Among individual traditions, teachers focus on different practices leading to awakening. Some traditions encourage reading the suttas repeatedly, while others focus on concentrative meditation to work toward awakening.




ajahn chah

Ajahn Chah

Thai Forest Tradition

The Thai Forest Tradition, or kammatthana, is a tradition that took shape in the late 19th century with Ajahn Mun Bhuridatto and Ajahn Sao Kantasilo. Building off the previously established Dhammayut order, the kammatthana order was created by monks wishing to investigate Buddhism as the Buddha taught it. The two monks came from a region in Northeast Thailand called Isan, and wandered the country in order to practice monasticism as the Buddha did. Thai Forest tradition focuses on applying the Buddha’s teachings to the defilements of the mind in order to relieve suffering.

This type of Buddhism as a whole is against the idea of “dry insight.” That is, teachers in the Thai Forest tradition often teach that we must first cultivate concentration through jhana practice before developing wisdom and insight. Without calming the mind, we cannot achieve true insight and liberation. The words “exertion” and “effort” are commonly used in this tradition, as the tradition holds that we must put some effort forth in order to achieve liberation.

There have been many wonderful teachers from Thai Forest tradition. Some of our personal favorite include: Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Brahm, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and Ajahn Amaro. If you’re looking for books on Theravada Buddhism, we recommend Food for the Heart by Ajahn Chah and Jack Kornfield’s Living Dharma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters.

burmese buddhism

Sayadaw U Pandita

Burmese Buddhism

Like Thailand, Buddhism has a long history in Myanmar. The recent Sixth Buddhist Council was held in Rangoon in the mid 1950’s, and the country has had strong Buddhist roots for many centuries. Burmese monks wear maroon robes, where Thai, Laotian, and Sri Lankan monks often wear saffron robes. The largest order of monks is the Thudhamma tradition, which consists of an estimated 300,000 monks in the country.

Burmese Buddhist culture places strong emphasis on merit, or creating positive karma through meritorious deeds. This leads to a community of laypeople that strongly supports and venerates the monastic order, offering money, food, and space for the monks to practice. Meditation practice centers around the practice of vipassana, or insight, meditation. This is a form of meditation as old as the Buddha, but popularized in recent centuries.

There are many great Burmese teachers, and Jack Kornfield covers some of them in the aforementioned Living Dharma book. Some of our favorite Burmese teachers include Mahasi Sayadaw, Pa Auk Sayadaw, S.N. Goenka, and Sayadaw U Pandita. We recommend reading In This Very Life by Sayadaw U Pandita and the large but wonderful Manual of Insight from Mahasi Sayadaw.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka

sri lanka buddhism

Bhante Henapola Gunaratana

Sri Lanka is an important area in the history of Buddhism. The dharma first traveled to Sri Lanka with Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE. Sri Lanka is where the Pali canon was first written down, where Buddhist monk-scholar Buddhaghoso wrote the Visuddhimaga, and was home to the Fourth Buddhist Council. Sri Lanka has a strong tradition of writing the Buddha’s teachings and making them available to surrounding cultures and people.

Sri Lanka has the oldest known lineage of Buddhist communities, with the sangha remaining largely intact since the 3rd century BCE. Because of its history and involvement in the writing of the suttas, reading and writing dhamma is still important today in Sri Lanka. Due to colonization and Christian proselytizing, Buddhism gained some momentum in the mid 1800’s. Unlike many other Theravada countries, Sri Lanka has an active order of bhikkhunis, or nuns.

Sri Lankan Buddhism still revolves around learning the dhamma, studying the teachings, and applying the teachings. Prominent teachers in Sri Lankan lineages include Bhante Henepolo Gunaratana, Bhante Sujatha, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ayya Khema, and Bhikkhu Analayo. For readings from the Sri Lanka traditions, we recommend Bhikkhu Analayo’s Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization and Ayya Khema’s Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.

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Insight Meditation

Insight meditation is a tradition that has taken hold in the West very strongly, and you may have heard the term. Also known as the vipassana movement, insight meditation is the foundation of meditation centers like Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock Meditation Center. The insight meditation movement became popular in the 1950’s in Myanmar, and moved to the West through American teachers like Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach, Sylvia Boorstein, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and S.N. Goenka.

Originating from vipassana meditation in Theravada schools, it is largely influenced by Thai Forest teachers and Burmese teachers. Mahasi Sayadaw, Ajahn Chah, and Dipa Ma are often considered some of the most powerful influencers of the modern-day vipassana movement. The emphasis in insight meditation is on developing insight, specifically through investigation of experience and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

Insight meditation is perhaps most popular in Myanmar and Western countries. Many of the American teachers who helped bring insight meditation back to the United States are still alive and teaching today, leading the vipassana movement in the country. For books on insight meditation, we recommend Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart.

mahayana buddhismMahayana Buddhism

Mahayana is the other major school of Buddhism, and the largest school of Buddhism in the world. It is popular in many countries in Asia, including Nepal, Tibet, Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. Although these countries may not be majority Buddhist, the Buddhist traditions which are most popular in these areas tend to be Mahayana ones. There are many different types of Mahayana, and we are going to cover a few well-known traditions.

The term Mahayana means “great vehicle” and refers the the path of the bodhisattva. In Mahayana Buddhism, the aim of practice is generally not to attain enlightenment for oneself but to cultivate buddhahood for all sentient beings. Many people take the bodhisattva vows, which is the promise to return to this world until all living beings are freed from suffering. The traditional Four Great Vows are:

Sentient beings are numberless,
I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible,
I vow to put an end to them.
The Dharmas are boundless,
I vow to master them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable,
I vow to attain it.

Mahayana monks tend to live with less strict rules than Theravada monks. They often eat vegetarian and are able to participate in more activities than Theravada monastics. In addition, bhikkhuni orders are generally much more common in Mahayana schools than Theravada. Some scholars believe this schism from Theravada happened at the Second Buddhist Council, although it is unclear when Mahayana emerged as a different type of Buddhism than Theravada.

In many Mahayana traditions, there are teachings outside the Pali canon. There are many teachers who have been revered and sutras (the Sanskrit word equivalent to the Pali word sutta) which have been included. These include popular teachings like the Lotus Sutra or the Heart Sutra. Meditation practice also includes more chanting and mantras, especially in Tibetan traditions.

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zen buddhism

Japanese Zen Temple

Chan and Zen

Perhaps one of the best-known types of Buddhism is Zen Buddhism. Zen originated in China around the 5th century CE as Chan. Heavily influenced by Taoist culture and yogic practices, Chan emerged as its own tradition. From China, Chan traveled to Vietnam, Korea, and eventually to Japan. In Japanese, Chan is called Zen. Lineage is very important in Zen and Chan traditions, and most teachers can trace their lineage back to Bodhidharma.

Zen students spend time sitting in meditation, known as zazen. Reading and understanding teachings is wonderful, but the focus of this tradition is on actually practicing and observing mind and experience. Zazen usually begins with a focus on the breath, and students will move on to simply sitting (known as shikantaza) and koan study with a Zen teacher.

Zen has heavily influenced artistic styles in Asia, and become rather trendy in the West in recent decades. Prominent Zen teachers include Thich Nhat Hanh, Suzuki Roshi, Wu Bong, and Jakusho Kwong Roshi. Although we have relatively little experience with Zen practice, we do recommend the books Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi.

Nichiren Buddhism

Nichiren is a branch of Buddhism which originated in Japan in the 13th century CE. Founded by the Buddhist priest Nichiren, it has been the foundation of many newer religious movements like SGI. Nichiren focuses on the innate Buddha-nature that all beings have within them. This means we are all capable of attaining enlightenment in our lives.

Nichiren practices relies heavily on chanting. Nichiren Buddhists often chant the Lotus Sutra and the names of bodhisattvas. The most common mantra is nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is a recitation of the title of the Lotus Sutra in Japanese. Nichiren taught and wrote of the importance of practicing the dharma with our bodies and in everyday life, and called for more than contemplation and meditation. Nichiren is one of the few Buddhist traditions that advocates for the spread of the tradition.

Meditation Mala

Pure Land

Pure Land Buddhism originated in India and is popular in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet. This type of Buddhism focuses on the Buddha Amitabha, a celestial Buddha known as the aggregate of discernment and deep awareness of emptiness. The word Amitabha means “limitless light.” The basis of Pure Land Buddhism is that this world will always contain corruption, and we must seek rebirth in a realm without corruption, the Pure Land.

Practice in Pure Land Buddhism focuses on Amitabha. Students recite the name of Amitabha and the mantra of Pure Land rebirth. They also may visualize Amitabha Buddha. These are practices in mindfulness of the Buddha, and Pure Land Buddhism is perhaps the tradition with the strongest emphasis on faith. It is popular in the West for its relative simplicity and clarity in practice.

Vajrayana Buddhism

vajrayana buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist Art

Vajrayana Buddhism is sometimes considered a type of Mahayana, while other scholars consider it its own specific type of Buddhism. The most famous form of this school is Tibetan Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism is sometimes called Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism. It involves the use of tantras, or specific spiritual techniques which help individuals gain enlightenment as quickly as possible.

Because the practices are considered advanced, they may be dangerous if worked without proper guidance. The practices can lead individuals into more craving, clinging, and suffering if not done carefully. With proper work, it is believed that tantric practice can bring you to full enlightenment in this lifetime, rather than waiting for countless reincarnations. Many practices in Vajrayana schools are known only to senior teachers and serious students, as laypeople are not able to handle them. This leads to quite a bit of mystery around practices.

Many people in the West use the term Tibetan Buddhism to describe all Vajrayana traditions, but there are actually many different types of Vajrayana. His Holiness the Dalai is the leader of a tradition known as Gelug, in addition to being the ruler of Tibet. Vajrayana is responsible for quite a bit of Buddhist art, Buddhist symbols, and commonly-known mantras, as the practices focus on the use of objects and visualization.

Now that you’ve read about the different types of Buddhism, take our little quiz to see what else you can learn!

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Understanding the Eightfold Path as a Practice

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The Noble Eightfold Path is is one of the most important and foundational Buddhist teachings. Teachings like this may be read, understood, and contemplated, but we have to utilize them as a practice and investigation. The Eightfold Path is not just something we read and understand, but a path of practice.

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What is the Noble Eightfold Path?

The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s instructions on cultivating liberation, and the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. The Eightfold Path consists of eight factors in three sections:

Noble Eightfold PathPanna (Wisdom)
-Wise View
-Wise Intention

Sila (Ethics)
-Wise Speech
-Wise Action
-Wise Livelihood

Samadhi (Meditation)
-Wise Effort
-Wise Mindfulness
-Wise Concentration

These factors are offered in a list format, but are not necessarily to be cultivated in a linear fashion. Many of the factors relate to each other intimately, and we cannot cultivate one without also cultivating others. With these eight factors, the call to action from the Buddha is to take these teachings and use them in our lives and practice to cultivate liberation. The Buddhist monk and scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi says of the Eightfold Path:

“The choice of a spiritual path is closer to marriage: one wants a partner for life, one whose companionship will prove as trustworthy and durable as the pole star in the night sky.”




Sila – Ethics

Although it isn’t traditionally the first portion of the path, we’re going to start with sila, or ethics. The three factors that fall under ethics include Wise Speech, Wise Mindfulness, and Wise Livelihood. These are practices and teachings on our behavior in the world. At the core of Buddhist ethics is living in a way that doesn’t cause harm to others and cultivates joy and freedom in ourselves and others.

This means acting in a way that helps others, rather than hurting. This is important for many reasons. We don’t want to cause harm or suffering to other beings, as this will not lead to our happiness or the liberation of those around us. Furthermore, unskillful behavior can significantly impact our practice. As Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says:

“It’s very difficult to sit and meditate after a day of lying and stealing.”

Practicing ethics can start with the practice of the five precepts, or training rules. These are not just rules, but investigations and practices. We use mindfulness to look at our actions and how they may be causing suffering on others.

We can also take a look at our livelihood and how we earn a living. Is what we do for money wholesome, or does it cause suffering? This is the core of ethics practice. The teaching is to investigate how we carry ourselves in word, thought, and deed, bringing awareness to the karma of our actions.




Panna – Wisdom

The second part of the path is panna, or wisdom. This includes the factors of Wise View and Wise Intention (sometimes called Wise Thought). We can cultivate these qualities in meditation practice, looking at our experience and thoughts to see clearly the Three Marks of Existence, the Four Noble Truths, and karma.

Wise View may be understood most simply as seeing things clearly. In practice in daily life, this can mean a number of things. Personally, I’ve found that one of the ways in which “wrong” view arises is in fixed views. I find myself believing something without true investigation. This comes up in thoughts like, “I always do this,” “this person is _______,” or “this experience is always ________.”

When we fall into a fixed view on something, we often are not using information and wisdom in the moment. To practice Wise View in daily life, we can practice being open-minded by questioning our thoughts and experience. You can ask yourself the simple question, “Is this true?” You can also always take one step deeper with any experience, asking yourself what lies beneath.

To investigate Right Intention, we can work on the three main ways of practicing: intention of goodwill, intention of renunciation, and intention of harmlessness. Try asking yourself, “What is my deeper intention in this moment?” Often, our intentions are base don a biological response or some social pressure to be right, strong, or however we perceive we are “supposed” to be. Instead, we can return to our intentions to not cause harm, to care for the wellbeing of others, and to not grasp.

Samadhi – Meditation

The meditation factors are obviously to be cultivated in meditation practice, but we can also work on these factors in daily life. First, we can meditate! Yes, that seems obvious, but it’s worth reflecting on this point. The Buddha taught of these eight factors to relieve suffering, and three of them directly call for meditation practice. So grab a meditation cushion and sit!

The first of these factors is Wise Effort, which is traditionally done in meditation practice. However, we can also cultivate this factor in our daily life by investigating the effort we put forth. We can look at our effort in many regards, but perhaps the most relevant way is tuning into our effort around cultivating wholesome qualities and not causing suffering. Are you putting effort forth to act with wisdom and care for both yourself and others?

We can of course cultivate mindfulness in daily life as well. There are so many things to be mindful of: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and thoughts to begin with. We can be mindful of the effects of our actions on others, how other people are feeling, and our cravings and aversions. You can also check out our post 8 Ways to Bring Mindfulness to Daily Life for more ways to practice!

Finally, there is concentration. I find myself listening to music while working, watching TV and playing a game on my phone, or cooking dinner and thinking about work. Notice when the mind is bouncing around or when you’re experiencing monkey mind. Try to collect the mind on one experience or task at a time, cultivating this ability to be with something in the same way we may do with the breath in formal meditation practice!

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monkey mind

7 Ways to Work with Monkey Mind

One Mind Dharma Mindfulness

7 Ways to Work with Monkey Mind

This is a question we receive repeatedly, probably because most people deal with monkey mind in and out of meditation practice. Whether the mind wanders to the future and fantasizing, or is resting in resentment and the past, we all face monkey mind in our practice. Sometimes it is mild and we’re able to work with it, while other times it consumes us.

Sometimes we fight with the wandering mind, resisting it and creating stress. Sometimes we give up on our practice, especially when we’re beginners to meditation practice. There are different ways to deal with monkey mind that work for different people, and it may take some time to find what works for you.

quieting the monkey mindWhat is Monkey Mind?

Monkey mind is a term that comes from Zen and Chan traditions of Buddhism. It refers to the state of mind in which thoughts arise rapidly and we find ourselves lost. The thoughts many be a number of things, and you may experience monkey mind consistently with specific patterns. Maybe you find yourself lost in worry about the future often, regretting a past action, or just bouncing from random thought to random thought.

Two of the factors on The Noble Eightfold Path are wise concentration and wise mindfulness. This is a foundational Buddhist teaching, and one which is related to our experience of monkey mind. When the mind is bouncing around like a monkey from branch to branch, we get ensnared and may be sent for a ride.

Often, when the mind falls into this state, we are neither concentrated or mindful. As such, the presence of monkey mind calls for the cultivation of effort, concentration, and mindfulness. This can be especially difficult when we are just learning to meditate, but we can learn to work with monkey mind with consistent practice.




Ways to Work with a Wandering Mind

There are many ways to work with a wandering mind. Many individuals find different practices which work well for them, but here are a few we have found to be useful in our own practice.

1. Recognize the Monkey Mind

The first step is to notice when monkey mind is present. This is a practice in mindfulness of the mind, and can take time to cultivate. When you’re meditating, practice noting the wandering mind. You don’t need to fix it, judge yourself too harshly, or try to figure out exactly why the mind wandered.

Just by bringing your awareness to the monkey mind, you can dramatically change your relationship to it. Every time we notice that the mind is in this state, we are strengthening our ability to notice it in the future. Meditation practice offers us a relatively controlled environment to recognize monkey mind, and we can then bring this ability off the meditation cushion and into our daily lives.

2. Use the Breath

Of course, a concentrative meditation can be incredibly beneficial in working with monkey mind. With a concentration meditation, we focus our awareness on an object and practice bringing the mind back when it wanders. This cultivates a collected mind which is able to be with something without falling into distraction by other stimulation. This is a form of samatha, or calming the mind.

Like other meditation practices, working with the breath is a slow cultivation. As we continue to collect the mind on the body breathing, we build the ability to rest our awareness on an object. When the mind does wander, we simply bring it back to the breath. Every time we bring the mind back, we are training the mind and strengthening the ability of the mind to focus. This can be immensely useful in working with monkey mind, especially when practiced regularly.

auto calm

3. Cultivate Metta (Loving-Kindness)

Metta meditation can be another useful way to work with monkey mind. First, it is a practice in concentration and we can use it to cultivate a concentrated mind. Furthermore, the intention of metta practice is to cultivate a heart of loving-kindness, gentle friendliness, and goodwill.

By practicing metta consistently toward ourselves, we can train the mind to respond rather than react to the monkey mind. As we grow more gentle in our responses, we are able to meet the monkey mind with patience and wisdom rather than reactivity and judgement. This takes time, but with consistent practice we can dramatically alter our relationship with the mind, especially when it is doing its own thing.

4. Practice Self-Compassion

Dealing with monkey mind can create quite a bit of stress and discomfort. This calls for some self-compassion. Compassion is the second of the Buddhist brahma-viharas, or heart practices. In compassion practice, we work on responding with a caring presence when pain arises rather than meeting it with aversion.

Cultivating compassion can help us meet the difficulties we experience with patience and wisdom. When we become reactive, we are often not able to respond with mindfulness and wisdom. Compassion can help us to pause and be with the stress rather than trying to avoid it or push it down.

5. Notice Reactions to Monkey Mind

Mindfulness of the mind is a part of mindfulness practice as described by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta, or the discourse on establishing mindfulness. When we notice that monkey mind is present (in meditation or in daily life), we can try to notice what the reaction is. Often, the reaction is perpetuating the suffering more than we realize.

What is your natural reaction to noticing that your mind is wandering? Do you judge? Shrug it off? Let it wander? We can notice what our reactions are, and try to respond with compassion, mindfulness, and patience. The mind isn’t fully within our control in every moment, and we don’t need to take it so personally. Watch your reactions, noticing when you fall into resistance, craving, or aversion.

Guided Meditation CD’s

Meditation CD's

6. Use Awareness Triggers

One of the benefits of meditation practice is that we can bring our mindfulness into daily life. To help aid in this, we can find ways to encourage mindful moments in daily life. Although we may meditate in the morning we often go into autopilot mode as we go about our days.

Try setting an awareness trigger. This is something that reminds you to return to the present moment. It can be a number of things, and you may benefit from investigating different triggers. We use a few things in our own practice, and have heard a few students share their ideas with us. When your trigger happens, take a moment to return to the present. Take a few deep breaths, feel the body where it is, listen mindfully, or do whatever brings you back to your present-time experience.

Here are a few awareness triggers you may try using in your daily life:

  • The sound of a telephone ringing (or buzzing)
  • Changing posture from sitting to standing (or vice versa)
  • Walking through a doorway (including between rooms, inside/outside, and cars)
  • Taking a drink of water (or tea, coffee, or anything else)
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Set a reminder to go off on your phone and/or computer
  • The feeling of walking and the feet on the floor




7. Practice Mindful Consumption

Finally, recognize what your are consuming and how it may be impacting your experience. Part of the purpose of meditation practice is to cultivate a mind that is aware of cause and effect, or karma. There may be certain things you’re consuming that contribute to the arising of monkey mind.

Although many of us have different experiences, some things we consume which may exacerbate monkey mind include:

  • Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine
  • Sugar and simple carbohydrates
  • Media we watch/listen to such as TV, movies, music, news, and books
  • Conversations we have and interactions which cause stress

Monkey Mind Meditation

We’ve mentioned a few meditation practices for dealing with monkey mind. With some, the intention is to quiet the mind or calm it, while other times the practice is to bring awareness to the mental experience. You can also check out our Guided Meditations for Anxiety, Stress, and Worry Relief for some related meditations and practices.

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Best Meditation Books

11 Best Meditation Books for Beginners

One Mind Dharma Mindfulness 4 Comments

11 Best Meditation Books for Beginners

Meditation and mindfulness are now commonly-heard words in the West, growing in popularity in recent decades. Although these practices have existed and evolved over thousands of years, it is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. We’re often asked for our favorite meditation books, and created a page on some of our favorite Buddhist books a while back. You can also check out our favorite books on Tibetan Buddhism.

This list contains books about meditation aimed at beginners to practice. Whether you’re hoping to deal with some anxiety, de-stress your life, begin to investigate the Buddha’s teachings, or are just curious about the benefits of meditation, there’s a book in our list for you!

Check these books out and if you have a question, please reach out to us. We are happy to provide recommendations and share our thoughts about these meditation books! You can click on each book to learn more about it or buy it.

 

1. A Fierce Heart

A Fierce Heart by Spring Washamby Spring Washam

A Fierce Heart came out in late 2017, and is Spring Washam’s first published book. Spring is one of the founders of East Bay Meditation Center, a teacher at Spirit Rock, and a healer with Lotus Vine Journeys. This book tops our list as it is new, relevant, and timely. Spring shares about her experience coming to the practices of mindfulness and compassion, running an urban meditation center, and how we can all incorporate these practices into our daily lives to help transform suffering. This book is a truly beautiful offering, and we personally are grateful for Spring and her teachings.

 

2. A Path with Heart

a path with heart by jack kornfieldby Jack Kornfield

A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield is a book that we highly recommend, returning to it ourselves repeatedly. First published almost 25 years ago, this is one of the best meditation books for beginners out there. Jack is a master in the art of storytelling, and uses his skill and wisdom to explain these practices in a way that is easy to understand. Each chapter has practices for you to try, stories from Jack’s own life, and allegories and fables from various traditions. This book is an absolute must-read for anybody new to meditation practice.

 

3. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

Real Happiness by Sharon Salzbergby Sharon Salzberg

Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness is a fantastic book for beginners to meditation. The book offers a 28 day program for investigating different meditation practices. The founder of multiple meditation centers in the United States, Sharon is a leading teacher on the practice of metta, or loving-kindness. This book offers guidance and practices for engaging in a month of meditation practice, and can help you build a regularly daily practice. We strongly recommend giving this program a shot. We do this challenge every year ourselves, and know many people who began their investigation of Buddhist meditation with this book.

 

4. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings

the heart of the buddha's teachingsby Thich Nhat Hanh

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorite books. Although it’s not strictly about meditation, this book offers a deep look at the teachings surrounding Buddhist meditation and ethics. The author, activist, poet, and monk expertly explains basic Buddhist teachings and makes them simple to understand. It’s not easy to take complex ideas and simplify them so a beginner can understand, but Thich Nhat Hanh does so with incredible tact and wisdom. If you’re new to meditation, this book can help give you a deeper understanding of the framework surrounding the practices.

 

5. The Heart of the Revolution

Heart of the Revolutionby Noah Levine

Noah Levine’s book The Heart of the Revolution is one of our favorites, especially for newcomers to practice. The punk-rock meditation teacher who founded Against the Stream and built the Buddhist recovery program Refuge Recovery wrote this book as an investigation of the heart practices. Noah teaches about compassion, loving-kindness, forgiveness, and more with an intense honesty and authenticity. This book is raw, relatable, and incredibly useful. Noah offers insights, stories, and practices to help us understand what these meditation practices are and how they can be used to help cultivate some peace in our lives.

 

6. When Things Fall Apart

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodronby Pema Chodron

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron is a curated collection of talks that Pema gave in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. This book is beautiful because it specifically addresses using meditation to open the heart during difficult times in our lives. I have returned to this book time and time again, as it is full of wisdom for facing everyday pains and difficulties. Pema Chodron is a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, and one of the most well-respected Buddhist leaders in the modern era. Reading this book on meditation will give you a toolbox of practices and ideas to which you can return for the rest of your life. If you’re struggling with anything like a breakup, anxiety, physical pain, or anything else, this book offers a fantastic introduction into the world of meditation and the heart practices.

 

7. Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brachby Tara brach

Tara Brach has many wonderful books and teachings, but Radical Acceptance is hands-down our favorite. Tara Brach has a Ph.D. in psychology and is an established meditation teacher. She is the founding teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and speaks all over the world about meditation and psychology. In Radical Acceptance, Tara investigates meditation practice and how we can use the practice of self-acceptance to transform our experience. This book focuses on meditation and how we can train ourselves to work with our shadow side, addressing issues like trauma, eating disorders, addiction, and some of the heavier pains many of us go through. We strongly recommend reading this book and giving these practices a shot. Using foundational Buddhist teachings and her extensive experience and education, Tara has crafted these practices to address issues we face with a caring and patient wisdom.

 

8. Buddha’s Brain

Buddha's Brain by Rick Hansonby Rick Hanson

Buddha’s Brain is not directly a book about meditation, but it is an incredibly useful book for newcomers to meditation practice. Dr. Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist who utilizes his deep understanding of the human brain to explain how meditation practice can help us in different areas of our lives. Dr. Hanson offers scientific evidence and research to back up his claims, and offers practices outside of formal meditation that we can utilize in daily life to train our minds. This is a great book for those new to meditation who want to understand the science behind practice. By understanding how it all works, we can be more effective in our practice and perhaps have some more faith in the potential for meditation to alter our experience.

 

9. Awakening the Buddha Within

Awakening the Buddha withinby Lama Surya Das

Awakening the Buddha Within is one of many books by the American Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das. A strong voice in the movement of Buddhism in the West, Lama Surya Das teaches in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage. This book is full of powerful thoughts, insights, stories, and practices for those new to meditation. The author’s ability to explain ideas through storytelling and examples makes this book an incredible tool to help us understand meditation practice. The book focuses on the cultivation of qualities we already have within us, rather than pulling things in from the outside. Through meditation, ethics, chanting, and other mindfulness practices, Lama Surya Das offers a path to help us cultivate qualities of compassion, kindness, mindfulness, and wisdom

 

10. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Mindfulnes Bookby Joseph Goldstein

Joseph Goldstein’s Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening is exactly as it sounds: a guide to practicing mindfulness and awakening. By investigating the Satipatthana, the Buddha’s words on mindfulness, Joseph explains clearly what it means to practice mindfulness meditation. A pioneer of meditation in the United States, Joseph uses his extensive experience and studies of the Buddha’s teachings and words to offer a pragmatic way to understand these ancient teachings and cultivate mindfulness, wisdom, and insight. You’ve probably heard the word mindfulness in your life, and this book can help you to actually understand what it means, how we can cultivate it, and what the experience of mindfulness feels like.

 

11. The Miracle of Mindfulness

The Miracle of Mindfulnessby Thich Nhat Hanh

The Miracle of Mindfulness is a meditation book that focuses on cultivating mindfulness in daily life. I have a soft spot in my heart for this book, as it was the first book on mindfulness or meditation that I ever read. Thich Nhat Hanh, a master in engaged mindfulness, offers practices, stories, and insights regarding mindfulness in our daily lives. From peeling oranges to doing dishes, the author offers ways we can cultivate awareness and presence in daily activities. This book is a great one for beginners, as we can use it to begin to understand meditation off the cushion and in the real world.

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meditation benefits research

29 Benefits of Meditation: What the Research Tells Us

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Benefits of Meditation

There are many benefits of meditation practice. In recent decades, quite a bit of research has come forth to suggest mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation can help us in a number of ways. From physical benefits like reducing heart rate to cognitive benefits like increasing working memory, there are many ways in which mindfulness practice can help us in our lives.

Physical Benefits of Meditation

Although we often think of meditation as a spiritual practice or something we do for the mind, there are many physical benefits of meditation practice. Here are nine powerful ways that meditation can improve your physical health.

benefits of meditation infographic1. Meditation Can Reduce Pain

A 2016 study found that meditation practice significantly reduced the intensity of pain and unpleasantness of pain in the body. Perhaps most interesting is that this effect was not mitigated by the presence of naloxone, a drug that blocks the opioid receptors. This suggests that meditation can reduce pain without acting upon the opioid receptors, and may pave the way for a deeper understanding of non-addictive pain management.

2. Mindfulness Lowers Blood Pressure

In 2013, Hughes, et al. published a study that found mindfulness practice reduced blood pressure. Following their study participants for two years, their findings suggest mindfulness practice may be an effective treatment or supplement to medication in treating individuals with high blood pressure.

3. It Lowers Heart Rate

A study published by the Association of Humanitas Medicine took a look at the heart rate and respiratory rates of individuals practicing mindfulness meditation. The researchers found that the decrease in both heart rate and respiratory rate was significant for 6-8 months after the mindfulness-based intervention.

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4. The Body Heals Faster

In one of the older studies related to this field, researchers discovered guided imagery practice helped improve postoperative stress and wound healing. Much of this is due to the nature of meditation practice to ease anxiety, thus lessening the stress response of the body while healing.

5. Meditation is an Anti-Inflammatory

In 2013, Richard J. Davidson found that meditation reduces inflammation all the way down to the cellular level. In a study at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the team found an extraordinary benefit of meditation: it actually changes the genes acting upon cellular structure in the body, reducing inflammation.

6. It Helps You Digest Your Food

Mindfulness has been shown many times to help people with inflammatory diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome. A study published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that participants who engaged in a mindfulness-based intervention showed increased effectiveness of digestion, less anxiety in relation to their condition, and an overall increase in quality of life. This was an 8-week mindfulness course, and the benefits were observed six months later in study participants.

7. Your Immune System Strengthens

Mindfulness meditation can strengthen your immune system, increasing its function. A 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine had people participate in an eight week mindfulness meditation course, finding that individuals had increased immune function when meditating when compared with the control group.

8. Meditation Helps Prevent Asthma

A meta-analysis published in August 2017 in the Journal of Asthma found significant evidence to suggest meditation increases quality of life in people with asthma, as well as helping relieve symptoms. The study authors conclude their research with a call for further studies, but this is a great step toward understanding this condition.

9. Mindfulness Can Ease Premenstrual and Menopausal Symptoms

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a meta-analysis in October 2006 investigating the medical benefits of mindfulness meditation. Among their findings was that meditation, meditative prayer, and yoga improved symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause.




Psychological Benefits of Meditation

There are some benefits of meditation practice on our psychological state. These benefits include reductions in anxiety and stress levels, increased creativity, and better self-esteem.

scientific benefits of mindfulness10. Meditation Helps You Sleep Better

Harvard Health reports that mindfulness meditation can help fight insomnia. Meditation can help you fall asleep more easily, and sleep more soundly. Many people find a period of meditation before bed is helpful, but these studies actually show meditation practice at any point during the day actually benefits our sleeping habits.

11. It Reduces Anxiety and Stress

Meditating to reduce anxiety and stress may not be something new to you. A core Buddhist teaching is that we meditate to see clearly and end dukkha, or stress. Hofmann, et al. found decreases in anxiety among study participants, whether or not they had a previously-present anxiety disorder. There are many studies suggesting meditation may have beneficial outcomes for those struggling with stress and anxiety.

12. Mindfulness Helps Regulate Mood Disorders

In the aforementioned study by Hofmann and his team, researchers found a decrease in depression and less symptoms of mood disturbances in study participants. Again, this held true for individuals with mood disorders and those without mood disorders.

13. Meditation Reduces Symptoms of PTSD

Research has found that meditation can significantly reduce symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), with one study finding a reduction in PTSD symptoms in veterans. In this study, veterans underwent a normal treatment routine for PTSD, while another group added in mindfulness meditation practices. Those who participated in the mindfulness program showed less symptoms of trauma after the study than those who completely the regular routine of treatment.

14. Meditation Improves Self-Esteem

There have been many studies investigating the relationship between meditation practice and things like self-esteem and body image. One of my favorites is a 2005 study investigating self-esteem in women with breast cancer. The study looked at tai chi, a form of moving meditation. The author found that those who participated in this mindfulness practice showed more self-esteem than those who interacted with a social support group.

15. Mindfulness Practice Can Help Treat Addiction

Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular in addiction treatment programs. Sarah Bowen, a researcher at the University of Washington, has found that mindfulness-based interventions increase outcomes in those participating in drug treatment programs. According to an interview with UC Berkeley, Bowen believes this is partly due to the pragmatism of mindfulness practice, or the fact that we can bring our meditations to life in daily living.

16. Creativity is Boosted

Colzato, et al. found in 2012 that open awareness, or mindfulness, practices increased creativity and divergent thinking in study participants. This increased the ability of individuals to be creative, and allows for greater problem solving skills and thinking outside of the proverbial box.

17. It Increases Self-Awareness

A 2006 study found that meditation improves self-reference and self-awareness. It is just one of many, but this one used EEG’s, ERP’s, and neuroimaging, which makes it especially interesting in our opinion. This study found that individuals who practiced mindfulness experienced increased activity and blood flow in their anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal areas, resulting in an increase in self-awareness.

18. Meditation Helps Reduce Anger

Letting go of anger can be tough, but recent research has found that meditations with the heart practices such as compassion and metta decreases the stress and immune response in difficult and unpleasant situations. This research suggests these practices can create a difference in how the brain and body respond to stimulus, thus reducing anger responses.




Cognitive Benefits of Meditation

Cognitive benefits of meditation include effects on our working memory, our focus, our ability to learn, and more. There are many congitive benefits, but here are a few of the more well-researched ones.

mindfulness and cognition19. Meditation Improves Working Memory

In 2013, Mrazek, et al. investigated the relationship between mindfulness and working memory. Participants took just a two week meditation course, and then took multiple tests to measure focus, working memory, and more. The researchers found that the individuals who participated in the mindfulness meditation course had a significant increase in working memory when compared with the control group.

20. It Increases Focus

The same study mentioned above also found an increase in focus. Specifically, the researchers measured the presence of thoughts not related to the task at hand during a test, finding that non-task-related thoughts were much lower in individuals who had undergone a two week mindfulness course. There have been many more studies to suggest the same, and this is one powerful benefit of meditation practice.

21. Mindfulness Helps You Work Better Under Stress

Katherine MacLean led a study with a team at the University of California, Davis that found meditation can help you work better under stress. Their study investigated a lot of different factors and had many interesting findings. One of these was that individuals were able to focus on boring tasks and tasks with deadlines. Those who engaged in twenty minutes of practice a day were able to work more efficiently, focus better, and work with less stress than the control group.

22. Meditation Improves Your Ability to Solve Problems

A 1982 study published in the journal Memory & Cognition found that meditation practice increased verbal problem solving. This study actually looked at Transcendental Meditation® (TM®), not Buddhist meditation. The study found the meditation to be effective in helping individuals develop verbal problem solving, or the ability to speak and question in a way that helped solve problems.




23. Decision-Making is Better

In individuals recovering from polysubstance abuse, a study found that individuals who underwent mindfulness-based therapies displayed better decision-making. This study found a significant increase in decision making and executive functions. This is likely a result of increased activity in the prefrontal cortex due to meditation practice.

24. Meditation Helps You Learn New Things

Multiple studies have found that mindfulness practice increases an individual’s ability to learn new information. This is due to increased activity in regions of the brain associated with memory, learning, problem-solving, and more.

25. Mindfulness Helps Visuospatial Processing

Fadel Zeidan, a researcher at the Wake Forest School of Medicine investigated mindfulness practice and its relationship with visuospatial learning. His team and he found that mindfulness practice significantly increased visuospatial memory and processing. This is what is responsible for our ability to visually remember things, recognize objects and events by sight, and process visual information.



Social Benefits of Meditation

In addition to the psychological, physical, and cognitive benefits of mindfulness, there are ways in which our practice can impact our social interactions. These benefits may show in our daily lives, and the way we interact with others in our lives.

26. Mindfulness Decreases Feelings of Loneliness

Loneliness is of course a social issue, but also leads to many physical and psychological issues as well. A 2012 study found that meditation practice, even when done alone, can decrease feelings of loneliness. This includes the feeling of loneliness that may arise whether or not we are surrounded by other people.

27. Compassion Practice Helps us Be More Compassionate

Elizabeth covered this study a while ago in her post for One Mind Dharma. Researchers had people practice compassion meditation, and found that those who practiced were more likely to actually act with compassion and generosity than the control group. This is a beautiful study, as it demonstrates the real-world benefit of a meditation practice.

Downloadable Meditation CD’s
Meditation CD's

 

28. Metta Reduces Social Isolation

I personally love studies on metta meditation, and this one was done with just a few minutes of practice a day. Hutcherson, et al. found that this loving-kindness practice can significantly help increase positive social emotions and decrease social isolation.

29. Loving-Kindness Helps Create Positive Relationships

In addition to decreasing negative social emotions, loving-kindness practice can help us create positive relationships. The research found that metta practice increases empathy and allows us to connect more deeply with others. With even a few minutes of practice, individuals showed marked increases in positive relationships with others.

Critiques of the Research

It would be irresponsible to talk about the research on meditation and mindfulness without discussing a few critiques. There are many critiques out there, but here are a few we see. To be clear, we are not taking the position that all mindfulness-based research is wrong or inaccurate. Rather, we must note that there are shortcomings and problems with the research.

Null and Counter Findings

Although we just listed 29 ways in which meditation can be beneficial with cited studies, there are many studies that found null or counter findings. For example, we recently published a piece on our blog in which a study found that mindfulness had little or no benefit for teens. Another study found that mindfulness practice may increase the forming of false memories. More research suggests meditation may actually be triggering or activating for those who have experienced trauma or are in the midst of a mental health disorder.

There is a lot of research out there showing things other than mindfulness being beneficial. Some didn’t find any benefit to meditation practice, while others actually discovered potential harms to practice. These studies may give some insight into if mindfulness is effective across the board, and what populations may benefit most from meditation practice.

Varied Systematic Definitions

In my opinion, this is one of the greatest pitfalls of meditation research. Like many other research disciplines, there are loose definitions. The word “mindfulness” in a study may refer to a body scan or a concentrative meditation on the breath. The term “compassion” is often used to refer to metta meditation, not compassion. These differences make it hard to understand across the board what is meant by terms like mindfulness, mindfulness intervention, and meditation.

Mindfulness Research is New

Finally, there is the point that this is a relatively new field of research. In fact, mindfulness is relatively new to the West in general. With the spread of Buddhism and mindfulness across the world in recent centuries, it has become an increasingly popular practice. The studies and research have really just begun. Because it is in its youth, the research we do have is laying groundwork. Like other scientific disciplines, we don’t have sure answers, only working theories!

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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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5 Practices for Letting Go of Worry

One Mind Dharma Mindfulness Leave a Comment

Worry is something many of us deal with regularly. We were recently asked how to approach times in which we struggle with worry, especially in regards to things over which we have no control. We all do this from time to time. We worry and stress about something, regardless of our ability to change it.

We’ll offer a few practices we’ve found useful in letting go of worry, including three guided meditations. First, let’s dive into what worry is and how we experience it.

Understanding Worry

Worry, anxiety, and stress happen to all of us. We get lost in the thinking mind, what may happen or is happening, and out of rational thinking. Sometimes, we worry about things which we cannot control at all. Other times, we worry about a situation we are going to be in, replaying over and over again our idea of what will happen.

Worry is something that occurs in the mind, but there are also physical effects of worry. Unlike anxiety, worry is generally related to something specific or real, and is largely a state of mind. Anxiety on the other hand is a more general state, and related to a physical experience as well.




In Buddhism

Buddhist teachings suggest that worry is a mental state just like any other mental state we experience. Just like we do with joy, anger, or calmness of mind, we bring our kind awareness to the experience and observe the minds. There are a few ways that Buddhism teaches us to address worry.

practices for letting go of worryThe Fourth Hindrance

First, there is worry as part of the fourth hindrance. The five hindrances are states which arise in meditation practice and hinder us from settling into concentration. The fourth hindrance is restlessness and worry.

Generally, restlessness is seen as the physical component while worry is seen as the mental component. Among the recommendations in the suttas for dealing with restlessness and worry are:

  • Cultivating knowledge of dhamma(SN 46.53)
  • Having noble friendship (SN 46.53)
  • Suitable conversation (SN 46.53)
  • Cultivating concentration (SN 46.53)
  • Equanimity (SN 46.53)
  • Giving wise attention to the mind with quietude (SN 46.51)
  • Knowing when worry is present and not (MN 10 – Satipatthana)

One of the chief ways in which we work with the five hindrances in meditation practice is by simply noticing when they are present or not. We can do this by simply noting to ourselves that we are experiencing worry. Simply saying “Oh. Worry is present!” is enough to note to ourselves and bring awareness to it.

In relation to worry as a hindrance, the Buddha frequently pointed out that the hindrances require nourishment. That is, we must feed our worry for it to exist. It is difficult, but we can train the mind to denourish worry and cultivate a mental state free from it.

Relating to Thoughts

In addition to worry as a hindrance, we can look at the state as we would any other experience. We don’t need to block negative thoughts or try to force ourselves to just think positive thoughts. Instead, we can bring our awareness to the thinking mind, the worry, and the experience.

Sometimes, the mind falls into a state of papañca, or wandering mind. When the mind falls into worry, this is often the case. Instead of letting the mind just roll on its own, we can bring mindfulness to what is occurring. We can see the thoughts come and go, and the impermanence of each one.

We also can work on observing with mindfulness and not reacting. Although we may find the experience unpleasant, we don’t need to respond by hating it or having a strong aversion. We can notice that it is unpleasant, that there is a slight disliking, and watch it with a compassionate awareness.

auto calm

Modern Perspective

I also think it’s important to understand what happens when we worry. The mind begins to think about something that is perhaps fancied, in the future, and/or stressful. This can cause or be caused by anxiety, and can lead to a physical experience as well.

When the mind gets activated and into a state of worry, the body goes into fight or flight mode, or the state in which we perceive a threat and need to respond. This is often responsible for the feelings we get in the body associated with worry, such as an increase in blood pressure, shallow breathing, and a fast heart rate.

When we go into this survival mode, we begin acting a little more on instinct. Recent research suggests that activity in the prefrontal cortex is significantly less when an individual is experiencing anxiety or worry. This means our problem solving and rational thinking is decreased.

When we go into a state of worry, we feel like we are thinking through something or perhaps solving a problem. However, the part of our brain that helps us to actually think through problems is less active than normal. We can think through things much more clearly when we are calm and not in a state of worry.

Practices to Help Address Worry

There are many ways we can deal with worry that arises. Here are five practices we have found to be useful in working with worry in general, and when it arises.

Mindfulness of the Mind

Mindfulness of the mind is a great practice to help us in many ways. We can begin to tune into the three marks of existence, tuning into the impermanent, not-self, and dukkha nature of the thinking mind. In this practice, we simply work to bring nonjudgmental awareness to the experience of thinking.

We can use this practice regularly, or when we’re experiencing anxiety during our days. Try working to tune into the experience of worry with a gentle awareness.

Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is another great meditation practice we can use to help us approach worry. As we continue to cultivate self-compassion in meditation practice, we are able to meet the difficult moments of worry with more clarity and patience.

Body Scan

Sometimes, we aren’t able to meet the state of worry with compassion or mindfulness of the thoughts. In these moments, a body scan be deeply useful. By returning to the body and the physical sensations, we can slow the thinking mind down and stop engaging with the thoughts. A body scan is a great way to go both in a moment of worry and to start our days.

Watch Diet and Exercise

There are many things we can try to help deal with worry. There are many foods that affect worry. Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can cause worry, and omega-3 fatty acids may actually reduce worry.

Further research has shown that exercise can significantly decrease anxiety. It doesn’t have to be anything too strenuous. Even a few minutes of walking or other cardio can make a big difference.

Try tuning in mindfulness to what you eat and hwo you move your body. Although this may not be a traditional practice, we can really make it a practice in self-care and mindfulness.

Writing

Writing is another great way to address worry, and something I’ve used in my own practice with it. There are a number of different writing practices you can do, but one sticks out as my favorite.

As mentioned before, the state of worry naturally consists of us thinking about things we often don’t have control over. Instead of letting the mind just run, get a piece of paper and a pen.

Start by writing what your worry is. You may be as specific as possible, and include anything that comes up. Then, begin writing if you have control over this worry, and if there is actually anything you can do.

As we write like this, we can find some clarity on the issue. We see that our worries may be silly, or we find that we actually can do something about our worries. Writing can be incredibly cathartic for some individuals, and many people find this practice to settle them and bring some clarity.




Aversion and Suffering

We’ll end by talking briefly about aversion as a cause of suffering. Often when we experience worry, we crave to be free from the experience. Aversion is one of the three poisons, or root causes of suffering.

When our goal is to be free from all worry, we are creating suffering. Instead, we can work to change our relationship to worry. When it arises, we can respond with compassionate mindfulness and not allow it to snowball into more suffering. By not engaging with the worry, it does eventually subside.

It’s important to remember this teaching on aversion and its relationship with suffering as we work with worry. If we just push the worry away, we end up hurting more. Instead, we can meet the worry head-on. The “freedom” from worry comes in not buying into the worrisome thoughts, not in never having another worrisome thoughts.

Check out our page of Anxiety Quotes for some great thoughts about anxiety and worry.

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