Mindfulness is often defined as nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness. While this is essentially true, it is a tad misleading. We would define mindfulness as having neither a positive nor negative reaction to our experience. It is superficially about judgment and more fundamentally about how our body-mind system (namarupa) responds to internal and external experience.
No. Meditation is one of the widely used practices for developing mindfulness.
No. Mindfulness is a natural state. It did not originate from a teaching or a teacher. In his teachings, the Buddha offered us a practical method for developing mindfulness in his primary discourse, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Satipatthana Sutta.
Mindfulness is based on a non-personalized awareness. If we personally identify with an object of awareness it becomes me or mine. We then have a positive or negative reaction to it. Our awareness needs to be properly developed to support the cultivation of mindfulness.
There is a qualitative difference between them. Mindfulness is a necessary condition for insight. When we practice mindfulness meditation we create a momentary refuge from the ordinary consciousness of craving and aversion. In this state, first we gain insight into our personality, and later we gain insight into how we adhere to the appearance of permanence and solidity. Insight meditation assists us to access the nature of suffering, change and the absence of self (dukka, anicca and annata).
Yes. It is a natural state of mind. There are many exercises and practices to cultivate mindfulness. However, if you hold the intention to develop mindfulness, meditation is the primary method used.
Wow, great question. Being mindful assists us to experience things based on the present moment rather than the past or projections into the future. Being mindful opens us to a more clear and accurate experience. It makes us more spacious and enables us to have a greater capacity to respond rather than react.
Yes and no. The quality of mindfulness changes with the development of one’s practice. At first we summon energy to be mindful. Later we find it occurs naturally, as a natural experience within our system, as just the way we respond to things.
Formal mindfulness practices usually refer to a period of time set aside exclusively for mindfulness meditation. Informal mindfulness practices are any activity that brings us into awareness of the present moment. The revered teacher Thich Nhat Hahn refers to these as a mindfulness bell. An example would be to place your awareness on a single respiration cycle every time you hang up a phone, send an email or send a text. This may give 60 or more opportunities each day to rest in the naturalness of the breath. This type of informal practice assists the development of formal practice, which in turn deepens the development of awareness.
Meditation is one of a number of intentional practices in which practitioners train their minds or cultivate an experience they define as spiritually beneficial. At the Insight Center our practice is based on the Buddha’s discourse on the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” (Satipatthana Sutta) from which we emphasize the non-sectarian practice of training the mind called mindfulness meditation.
Yes. Mindfulness meditation observes the natural rhythm of the breath as a method for transforming the body-mind system. Most breathing techniques manage the breath for temporary relief and sometimes rely on guided instructions.
The intentions are different. Meditation at the end of a yoga session intends to assist the body to relax. During a yoga session, the breath is used with the intention to change holding patterns for further release. In mindfulness practice the intention is to directly experience or observe the way things are without holding any intention to change them. Mindfulness arises through observation and the capacity to be with whatever is present without judgment or reactivity.
We use guided meditation to teach lovingkindness (metta) practice, traditional Burmese body scanning as taught by Saya Gyi U Ba Khin and Sunlun meditation. Once students can practice independently, we stop guiding their practice. This fosters skill development and independence. Relying on external resources such as a recording or teacher leading a guided meditation may be a pleasant experience, but it is not the pathway to training the mind and the development of happiness independent of external conditions.
The Buddha taught that there are Four Foundations of Mindfulness. By training the mind, mindfulness will arise from the activities of the body, the sensations of the body, the activities of the mind and the awareness of the body-mind system. These are not separate or independent dimensions.
Meditators with consistent, longstanding practices tend to become calmer and less reactive. Recent neuroscience studies using functional MRIs (FMRI) have shown that meditation changes the structure of the brain, increasing the capacity to process feelings and thus reducing the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed. Initially documented in the social sciences, neuroscientists have recently documented positive effects on the structure of the brain, emotional and physical health and cognitive functioning. This may be the reason we become happier, calmer and less reactive.
There are thousands of scientific articles that demonstrate the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for healing and managing a wide variety of emotional and physical challenges. Virtually every form of emotional distress can find relief from increased mindfulness. The first benefit most people realize is finding more space in their day. They notice they take moments of awareness that are respites from their busyness. They feel a deeper connection to themselves and the world around them. They become less reactive, anxious and preoccupied with unintended thought.
Most people have started long before they arrive here. You’ve probably tried meditating, read a book or two and wondered if you were doing it right. Right? The next step is to take a class and develop a relationship with a teacher. Trying to learn on your own makes it harder than necessary, especially in Los Angeles where we have many seasoned teachers.
Hah. Empty your mind, grasshopper? It is the nature of the mind to think. The problem is that our minds have become too busy. Attempts to force the mind to be quiet go against the nature of our existence. The mind naturally quiets when it has stability, and stability of mind arises from focused attention. By cultivating our capacity to focus attention, we quiet our mind. This leads us to the paradox of concentration and relaxation: the more concentrated the mind, the more relaxed we feel.
I teach meditation as a non-sectarian practice designed to assist the body-mind system to increase awareness and acceptance. It is not about adopting beliefs or magical rituals. A meditator can adhere to any set of religious beliefs and develop mindfulness. A colleague once said that prayer was her talking to God while her meditation was her act of listening.
There are several different intentions for chanting. Chanting was traditionally used to help memorize the teachings of the Buddha. Chanting is also used to increase concentration and absorption, often creating the conditions to experience the absence of self. At the Insight Center, chanting only happens on special occasions, such as on the Buddha’s Birthday (Wesok).
We start from the very beginning with the nuts-and-bolts of posture and the clarification of myths, intentions and process. We start with meditation periods of 10 minutes and then process students’ experiences during the meditation.
Results will vary based on many factors. Some people get results quickly, others slowly. Our courses allow enough time to help you get grounded and begin to practice regularly on your own. The initial results are usually hard won, but then things gradually change and become much easier.
Meditating builds mental muscle. Some initially find it difficult and tiring. Then it flows and we see new strength. It’s like learning to dance: at first it is difficult and awkward, then stiff and by the numbers, then smooth and flowing. The Buddha says we practice ardently, clearly comprehending, and mindfully.
Some people find learning from a book a good point of departure. Others prefer podcasts, talks or videos available from teachers via the Internet. If you are in a location where there are no accessible experienced teachers, then these types of resources become invaluable assets. But virtual teachers can’t answer your questions, adjust your posture, confirm your understanding or support your personal process.
Skillful teachers will help in ways that are specific to your experience and need. Their example, their presence and their accessibility creates an experience that goes beyond information or interpretation of a text. Great care needs to be taken when selecting a teacher. There are various organizations that offer training and “certification” as mindfulness facilitators or teachers.
Every teacher has his or her strengths and weaknesses. Some can help with meditation, some with learning dhamma and some with the practical application to everyday life experience. In all cases, comfort and trust are essential. And if you find a teacher trying to become your friend or something more intimate, telling you to do it their way, stop and take notice. Are they supporting you or imposing their ego?
Yes you can. Enlightenment would indeed be a strange thing if it could only be attained in a few postures! Chairs, benches, cushions, couches, and beds are fine support for meditation. How you sit is far less important than whether the posture supports mental alertness. Westerners tend to grow up sitting on chairs, not squatting on the floor. I will help you discover how to find the best posture for your body.
Many people find that meditating first thing in the morning works well. Whether you meditate before coffee and email or afterwards depends on your personal preference. We encourage students to be curious about their experience and what works best for them.
Times to generally avoid are when you are tired, immediately after eating or when under the influence of recreational drugs or alcohol.
The practice of mindfulness meditation is traditionally done with eyes closed. Exceptions to this are often made for those who have anxiety or panic attacks, who have been physically or sexually abused as children or attacked as adults, and those who suffer from PTSD from any source. Starting with a soft focus or eyes open and focused on a lower part of the body such as the feet often feels safer than eyes closed. Over time, this usually changes so that meditating with eyes closed becomes comfortable.
These distractions naturally go away as your concentration increases. They become noticed but not distracting. However, if an itch or unpleasant sensation creates an internal aversion that persists, we find in the beginning that it is better to scratch or purposefully move, going slowly and deliberately and using the least movement possible.
We suggest that beginners start with 10 minutes twice a day and progress to 15-minute periods during their training. Once 15 minutes seems short, we suggest going to 30 minutes because most people experience deeper states of relaxation and concentration between 20 and 25 minutes. Eventually we sit for 45 minutes or longer as a full session.
Practice, practice, practice. Repetition is the basic ingredient for developing new habits and stronger muscles. Meditation is no exception.
Don’t pressure yourself. There is a simple formula for progress: initial instructions and support, regular practice, guidance from a teacher and deeper practice in retreat.
Meditating in a group is often easier for several reasons. We go to a place with the specific intention to meditate. The presence of others sharing this intention supports our process. There is energy in a room of people in which experienced practitioners are often said to “carry” the less experienced on “a wave of concentration.”
Of course. If the medication helps the mind, then it’s actually better to meditate with it than without it. We have seen people with solid meditation practice get off anti-depressants and sleeping medication. Of course, always consult your physician before changing any medication use.
No. The Buddha was not vegetarian. You may, however, find yourself becoming more aware of what and why you eat.
Yes, those with active hallucinations or under the influence of drugs or some medications. More commonly, some people need to depart from traditional styles of practice to accommodate special needs. Various forms of trauma often manifest with a difficulty feeling safe with eyes closed so a soft focus approach can be helpful. Individuals with psychotic symptoms should approach meditation slowly and with close supervision as they sometimes find their symptoms become exasperated with close attention. For these reasons it is helpful to find an experienced teacher who can work with each student individually.
Therapy is a process between a professional and a client — an individual, couple, family or group — to assist them to enhance their sense of psychological health. The technique and approach vary according to the client’s concerns and the therapist’s expertise.
Most people seek help when their usual way of handling problems stops working. Therapy helps us discover the most fundamental patterns that form our experience. By discovering those patterns and experiencing them with self-conscious awareness, we progressively change to become more coherent, grounded, resilient and autonomous human beings.
Therapy is not just for those times when you feel bad. You may have a sense that life could be better, or that you would like to continue your personal growth with support from a professional.
Word of mouth is a great starting place, so ask for recommendations from friends who have had a good experience or from a professional you respect. If you search the web, rely more heavily on respected websites like these: Psychology Today, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), The International EMDR website, the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute (SETI).
Pay attention to how it feels to be with the therapist. Tell a bit about yourself and why you are there. Ask about their training and experience, how they would propose working, and whether they feel their expertise is a good match for your initial needs. Tell them you are shopping around and ask how much they charge. Listen. Do you have a sense of trust and confidence? If so, you may be a good match.
This depends on a number of things: you, what you want to work on and the trust factor. Choose the one with whom you would feel most comfortable.
Do you feel hopeful when you meet them? Do you feel that the therapist heard you and that they get you? Do you get that gut feeling that says this could work despite being nervous? Do you have a sense that you could feel safe? Can you imagine yourself opening up with them and have confidence that they can help you?
Good, you are in touch with your fear. A common fear is that we will be judged for our beliefs about all of the horrible things we have done, feelings we feel or thoughts we have. An experienced therapist will not go beyond your level of comfort. They will explain the process in the beginning and as you go on. You may temporarily feel bad; after all you are in therapy to have a better life.
Most of my clients were referred by others who were also previously in therapy and now find themselves making significant change. As time passes, we change and when we are motivated, we approach our personal growth through fresh eyes.
The initial visit is for you and your therapist to get to know each other and decide how to proceed. In brief, the first 15 minutes are about introductions and practice policies (fees, appointments, missing sessions and confidentiality). Talk about what has brought you to therapy and ask how the therapist might work. At this time, it is up to you to determine if you believe this person can be of help to you.
If you are not happy with your therapist, it is very important to make your feelings part of the therapeutic process. Therapists are trained to work with difficult feelings, including anger. If you are not happy with your progress, it would be beneficial for you to examine the issue in therapy. You can ask for referrals if you continue to be unsatisfied. Good therapy is often less pleasant than bad therapy.
If you have serious doubts about your current therapist, let them know that you will not be returning. Most therapists will respond in a professional manner and offer to give you a referral. Some therapists may ask why you are leaving, and it is best if you answer honestly or simply state that you prefer not to stay.
Clients generally sense that they feel satisfied with their progress. You will notice you have new energy, interest and enthusiasm about other aspects of your life – as well as the confidence to tackle new challenges on your own. You and your therapist will decide how to end.
You are hiring your therapist to help you understand your patterns and internal conflicts. It is important to be as honest as possible with yourself and your therapist. Take some time after the session to review what happened. Pay attention between sessions. Let your therapist know about any patterns you notice, especially anything out of the ordinary. Write things down and take them to the session if you need to. Therapy is a partnership. It is more effective when you are an active partner.
We mostly practice within a traditional 50-minute session, but some of our faculty have longer regular sessions. Some sessions can run longer when arranged in advance. Of course there are established time boundaries and they are set between you and your therapist.
We will usually have weekly sessions, however this can vary depending on the type of therapy and your own personal needs. Successful therapy also depends on maintaining the momentum of the work. Most clients find weekly sessions the most productive. Others may need more frequent sessions, and some can only tolerate less frequent sessions.
If you feel that you are a danger to yourself or others, dial 911 or ask a family member or friend to take you to the nearest emergency room. Once you meet with your therapist, you will have their phone number and it is perfectly okay to call between sessions.
We can refer you to psychiatrists in the community who can evaluate you for medication and prescribe it if needed. You may also ask your internist to give you a referral to a psychiatrist. We do not prescribe medication.
Your appointment is reserved exclusively for you. For no-shows or same-day cancellations, you may be charged for the session, payable at the next session. We recognize that real emergencies do happen and under those circumstances you may not be charged. Each of our psychotherapy faculty has their own cancellation policy.
I do not participate on any insurance panels, but I can create super-bills for you to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.
We cannot acknowledge our therapeutic relationship with any patient without their written consent. Information about you will not be disclosed without your written consent, except under the legally mandated exceptions to the client/therapist privilege.
All information and records obtained in the course of your therapy are held in strict confidence and privacy. It is general practice to keep the records for a minimum of seven years. Records or information about you will not be disclosed to any person without your written consent, except under legally mandated exceptions to the client/therapist privilege.