If Your Mind Wanders While Meditating, an Expert Says to Follow This Technique to Refocus

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Every time one of my friends brings up their meditation practice, I quickly reply with something along the lines of, “I wish I could do it, but I can’t focus.” I know that meditation isn’t about perfection, but being type A, it’s hard for me to do something if I’m not “perfect” at it. Lately, meditation keeps popping up in my circle, from badass friends who are constantly hustling to my sheroes like Robin Roberts meditating every day at three-something in the morning, according to an interview with The Cut.

I figured if Robin Roberts can wake up that early every morning and commit to a meditation practice, I, too, could wake up (a little later) and get my meditation on. I’m still a meditation rookie, but one thing I found helpful when my mind wanders, which is basically every minute, is mental noting. “Mental noting, or labeling, is a mindful awareness technique of noting and naming the thoughts and feelings that come up as you meditate,” Millana Snow, meditation teacher, energy healer, and founder of Wellness Official, told POPSUGAR.

“When your mind starts to go off into tangents, you can use mental noting to bring pause and awareness to those thoughts so that you can start to unidentify with them and become the observer of those thoughts and feelings.” If you find your mind wondering, make note of it — “I’m thinking about the big pitch I have on Friday” — then return to the present.

Every time my mind drifts and I find myself wondering what I’m going to eat later that day, thinking about how many clients I have to train, planning a trip to Colombia, combing my never-ending to-do list, and every other random thought that comes up, I revert back to mental noting. Some days, I have to do it a lot, but other days, I only have to do it once or twice during my practice.

If you’re already going, “Yeah, I still won’t be able to do this,” I promise you, you will. When I catch myself thinking about everything else instead of being in the present, I practice mental noting by focusing on my breath while thinking, “Breathing in, breathing out.” When Millana finds her mind drifting, she said she reminds herself to “‘come back to my breath’ or come back to noting what the moment contains: the sounds in the room, the smells, and the way my body feels. I find this helps me go deeper into awareness,” she explained.

The key word in “practice mental noting” is practice. “We must allow ourselves to be the observer of our thoughts, and to watch thoughts pass by like you would clouds in the sky,” Millana said. She also recommends noting and naming your thoughts “instead of identifying with them and making them distractions.” The key is to become more present and separate the thought from yourself.

If you gave up on your meditation practice before starting because you thought focus would be an issue, try introducing mental noting into your practice.

6 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Ease Difficult Emotions

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Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword these days, with impressive studies popping up in the news with regularity.

For example, research from the University of Oxford finds that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is just as effective as antidepressants for preventing a relapse of depression. In MBCT, a person learns to pay closer attention to the present moment and to let go of the negative thoughts and ruminations that can trigger depression. They also explore a greater awareness of their own body, identifying stress and signs of depression before a crisis hits.

Four years ago, I took an eight-week intensive Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at Anne Arundel Community Hospital. The course was approved by and modeled from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s incredibly successful program at the University of Massachusetts. I often refer to the wise chapters of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living (which we used as a text book). Here are a few of the strategies he offers:

Hold Your Feelings with Awareness

One of the key concepts of mindfulness is bringing awareness to whatever you are experiencing — not pushing it away, ignoring it, or trying to replace it with a more positive experience. This is extraordinarily difficult when you are in the midst of deep pain, but it can also cut the edge off of the suffering.

“Strange as it may sound,” explains Kabat-Zinn, “the intentional knowing of your feelings in times of emotional suffering contains in itself the seeds of healing.” This is because the awareness itself is independent of your suffering. It exists outside of your pain.

So just as the weather unfolds within the sky, painful emotions happen against the backdrop of our awareness. This means we are no longer a victim of a storm. We are affected by it, yes, but it no longer happens to us. By relating to our pain consciously, and bringing awareness to our emotions, we are engaging with our feelings instead of being a victim to them and the stories we tell ourselves.

Accept What Is

At the heart of much of our suffering is our desire for things to be different than they are.

“If you are mindful as emotional storms occur,” writes Kabat-Zinn, “perhaps you will see in yourself an unwillingness to accept things as they already are, whether you like them or not.”

You may not be ready to accept things as they are, but knowing that part of your pain stems from the desire for things to be different can help put some space between you and your emotions.

Ride the Wave

One of the most reassuring elements of mindfulness for me is the reminder that nothing is permanent. Even though pain feels as though it is constant or solid at times, it actually ebbs and flows much like the ocean. The intensity fluctuates, comes and goes, and therefore gives us pockets of peace.

“Even these recurring images, thoughts, and feelings have a beginning and an end,” explains Kabat-Zinn, “that they are like waves that rise up in the mind and then subside. You may also notice that they are never quite the same. Each time one comes back, it is slightly different, never exactly the same as any pervious wave.”

Apply Compassion

Kabat-Zinn compares mindfulness of emotions to that of a loving mother who would be a source of comfort and compassion for her child who was upset. A mother knows that the painful emotions will pass — she is separate to her child’s feelings — so she is that awareness that provides peace and perspective. “Sometimes we need to care for ourselves as if that part of us that is suffering is our own child,” Kabat-Zinn writes. “Why not show compassion, kindness, and sympathy toward our own being, even as we open fully to our pain?”

Separate Yourself from the Pain

People who have suffered years from chronic illness tend to define themselves by their illnesses. Sometimes their identity is wrapped up in their symptoms. Kabat-Zinn reminds us that the painful feelings, sensations, and thoughts are separate to who we are. “Your awarenessof sensations, thoughts, and emotions is different from the sensations, the thoughts, and the emotions themselves,” he writes. “That aspect of your being that is aware is not itself in pain or ruled by these thoughts and feelings at all. It knows them, but it itself is free of them.”

He cautions us about the tendency to define ourselves as a “chronic pain patient.” “Instead,” he says, “remind yourself on a regular basis that you are a whole person who happens to have to face and work with a chronic pain condition as intelligently as possible — for the sake of your quality of life and well-being.”

Uncouple Your Thoughts, Emotions, and Sensations

Just as the sensations, thoughts, and emotions are separate from my identity, they are separate from each other. We tend to lump them all in together: “I feel anxious” or “I am depressed.” However, if we tease them apart, we might realize that a sensation (such as heart palpitations or nausea) we are experiencing is made worse by certain thoughts, and those thoughts feed other emotions.

By holding all three in awareness, we could find that the thoughts are nothing more than untrue narratives that are feeding emotions of fear and panic, and that by associating the thoughts and emotions with the sensation, we are creating more pain for ourselves.

“This phenomenon of uncoupling can give us new degrees of freedom in resting in awareness and holding whatever arises in any or all of these three domains in an entirely different way, and dramatically reduce the suffering experienced,” explains Kabat-Zinn.

 

How I Finally Made Meditation A Daily Habit

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Meditation has been shown to have numerous benefits to our mind and body such as stress and anxiety management, emotional wellbeing, improved focus and better sleep. Many successful people cite meditation as a valuable tool. For years I’ve recommended it to my clients, and yet, I struggled to make it part of my own routine.

There was always some excuse: an unpredictable schedule, events, deadlines, lack of time. Probably the sneakiest excuse for me of all was that I did yoga so did I really need to meditate on top of that?

I’d interview people and hear them talk about their meditation routine and think, “That sounds nice, but I could never do that. I’m too busy—and besides, I do yoga.”

How I finally made meditation a daily practiceJESSICA CORDING NUTRITION

My studio was like my second home. Aside from being a place where I’d made friends and even business contacts, it had given me a safe place to go work things out in my head. Yoga had seen me through break-ups, career shifts and even my father’s battle with cancer.

Then about a month after my dad died, the studio announced they were closing. This sounds like a total First World Problem—and it is—so I tried to stay positive, calling it a challenge to become more adaptable. Still, as a healthcare professional, I know taking care of myself helps me better care for my clients, so I was anxious to see how this shake-up to my self-care routine might impact my business.

In the midst of all this, I was writing a book, pulling late nights and early mornings. I found myself trying to multitask rest time with meditation time. I often fell asleep while trying to focus on my breath. Unfortunately, a fitful catnap did not have those same mental benefits. The combination of grief, poor sleep, and the loss of that baked-in mindfulness made me feel like my brain was short-circuiting.

You’re probably thinking, “This is New York—why didn’t you just find a new studio?” I was out there trying different places, but building a new routine takes time.

Which brings me back to meditation.

This winter, a friend of mine who was going through a different brand of tough stuff shared that getting back into meditation was helping him. After months of trying to keep my struggle to myself, I opened up about it. He suggested we do regular meditation check-ins to keep each other accountable. I’d never considered this approach but was willing to try.

It took about a week for it to feel like a daily thing, but I quickly noticed the benefits. I became more aware of when my mind started to wander, making it easier to refocus or redirect so I could stay on track with projects. If a situation stressed me out I was better able to identify exactly what was gnawing at me and respond calmly and thoughtfully. I found it easier to prioritize—my daily to-do list got smaller and I felt less pressured to respond right away to every single email. I also did a lot less online shopping.

Meditation has been shown to have many benefits, yet it can feel hard to make it a routine.GETTY

Perhaps the biggest benefit I noticed, though, was that when I got bad news or found myself awake at night with my mind on an anxiety loop, rather than let it hijack my brain, I focused on steps I could take to deal with the situation.

Making meditation a habit turned out to be easier than I’d imagined. Here’s what worked :

-I Started Small

I started with three and then five minutes. Soon 10 or 15 felt doable. On Valentine’s Day I even went to a 30-minute self-love meditation that flew by.

-I Made It Convenient

You don’t have to use an app, but I found the support of a tech tool (I chose Headspace) extremely helpful in staying consistent and tracking my progress to help motivate me. I set reminder alerts for times of day I would be likely to be in a place where I could sit quietly.

-I Found A Time That Worked

I tried out different times of day to see what felt doable. It turns out I’m still not a morning meditation person, but an afternoon reset or end-of-day wind-down works great.

-I Added An Accountability Component

This was huge for me. I’d often thought of meditation as a solitary practice, but checking in with someone every day actually helped me stick to it. Just be careful if you get competitive—it should feel like a supporting, encouraging relationship.

While I’m now meditating daily, I have to admit I’m still on the journey, learning as I go. Like so many things, I’ve found, it really is about learning to be where you are and be open to making changes one small step at a time.

 

To learn more about how to streamline your healthy living routine and enjoy a more balanced relationship with food and exercise, visit JessicaCordingNutrition.com.

5 Ways Sexual Meditation Can Help You Have Better Sex

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By now, you’ve likely heard that mindfulness and meditation come with a bunch of health benefits. The practices have the potential to reduce stress and anxiety, ease pain and fatigue, help you make healthier food choices, fight premature aging, and even boost your immunity.

But that’s not where the perks end: An emerging body of research suggests that mindfulness may boost your sex life, too, increasing desire (and even lubrication), helping with sexual satisfaction, and your confidence.

“What we’re bringing together is the mind and the body—the physical, sexual response,” says Cheryl Fraser, PhD, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and author of Buddha’s Bedroom. “Meditation is essentially the ability to focus our attention, our concentration, and our mind on whatever the chosen meditation object is—and great sex is all in your head.”

But what exactly is sexual meditation and how can you put it to use for, you know, better sex and more orgasms? Ahead, experts explain:


What is sexual meditation, exactly?

First, sexual meditation isn’t quite a term used by experts in the field. They refer to mindfulness and meditation more broadly, studying how the practices apply to sex.

Terminology aside, the idea is all about bringing the skills of mindfulness into a sexual context, explains Lori Brotto, PhD, director of the University of British Columbia Sexual Health Laboratory and author of Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire.

To this point, sexual meditation can be many different things: It can simply refer to a general mindfulness or meditation practice, a more mindful approach to sex while you’re in the moment, partner exercises that have sexual and mindfulness components, or specific mindfulness work that could have particular payoff during sex.


The benefits of sexual meditation

Both general mindfulness and meditation can have big benefits for your sex life. These are five of the biggest ones, according to experts:

It reduces stress, which makes sex more enjoyable.

“Sex is stressful for a lot of people,” says Brotto, who notes that this is especially true if you have sexual difficulties, such as pain during sex, insecurities, or communication issues. “During sex, all sorts of worries and preoccupations can create stress and that is reflected in the stress response system in the body,” she explains.

And as that stress response becomes activated, it becomes difficult to feel aroused. “We know when we can manage this response, we’re much more likely to experience arousal,” Brotto says. Mindfulness naturally decreases stress, since it helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This, in turn, balances out your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your stress response. The result: You enjoy the moment more.

It teaches you to focus on the present, leading to better orgasms.

“Focus intently on what you’re doing” is not a profound or complicated instruction, admits Fraser. But anyone whose mind has wandered to dirty dishes or the kids’ homework during sex can agree that it’s not always the easiest order to follow.

“Meditative focus makes your senses blaze.”

“Meditation is the ability to focus the mind and we’re really lousy at that,” says Fraser, adding that “meditative focus makes your senses blaze.” Learning how to hone in on the here and now—a kiss, touch, or other sensation—can help you be more present.

The benefit: “Sex itself can be a better, hotter, more sensual experience,” Fraser says. When you’re better able to tune into your partner stroking your leg or running a finger along your neck, you’re able to experience more intensity. Brotto adds that meditation can also increase activity in parts of the brain linked to interoceptive awareness—or how aware you are of different body parts.

It can increase your sex drive.

Really. Research finds that a mindfulness practice can help increase sexual desire and how much you want to have sex, says Fraser. “You’re more likely to initiate if you’re practicing mindfulness and applying it to your sex life.”

It’s not that a little Om is suddenly going to turn you on, but rather that the qualities of mindfulness—the ability to pay fairly close, focused attention to what’s actually happening, which in turn allows you to be more present and enjoy those happenings more—can build off of one another, strengthening your drive.

“When people start a mindfulness practice, they tend to continue over time because they are so motivated,” adds Brotto.

It can make you closer with your partner.

How much you enjoy sex matters. But often, sex is also about that connection and love for your partner, says Fraser. And if you’re able to root yourself in the present moment, you’ll also be more acutely aware of the other person in the room, allowing you to reconnect in a more meaningful way.

Sex will feel fresh again.

“If you can train your mind to show up, it creates novelty, it creates excitement, and it creates a type of connection that generally we have only experienced early on in our love affair,” says Fraser. That means, in many ways, retraining your mind via meditation and mindfulness can recreate that honeymoon-type feeling you may not have felt in a while, instilling a new sense of excitement in your sex life.


How to practice sexual meditation

On your own or with your partner, there are multiple different ways to pick up a sexual mindfulness or meditation practice. Here are a few ways the experts suggest you get started.

1. Start a simple, daily mindfulness practice.

If you’re not meditating or creating any moments of mindfulness at all in your average day-to-day, it’s time to start. “I advocate really strongly for, first and foremost, a general, structured mindfulness practice,” says Brotto. This might include simply sitting quietly to meditate on your own and focusing on your breathing or it could involve meditating with the help of an app such as Calm or Headspace.

Building skills and learning to focus on your breath, the moment, and other sensations can help you adopt your newfound habit in the bedroom, she notes.

2. Do this back-to-back partner activity together.

“Mindfulness exercises can be done with a partner and I often advocate doing them together,” says Brotto. One she likes: Sit or stand back-to-back and do a body scan, where you mentally scan how your body feels from head to toe, noting any parts that feel tense or relaxed. Focus on the points of contact between you and your partner. Hone in on factors such as texture, pressure, and temperature—things you can pick up on in sexual moments, too, suggests Brotto.

3. Open your eyes while you meditate, then try it during sex.

Closing your eyes during meditation can be helpful because it eliminates distraction from the visual field, says Fraser. But too often, a lack of eye contact in sex can keep us from connecting with our partner.

To refine this skill, Fraser suggests finding mindful moments when you keep your eyes open, such as sitting and looking out a window at a beautiful spring scene or staring at a plant in your apartment, taking in its different parts.

Focusing on something beautiful when you’re not in the bedroom can help you do it when you are, she says. In the moment, especially if you’re feeling yourself getting pulled elsewhere, try to gaze into your partner’s eyes. This can regroup you into the here and now, says Brotto.

4. Better yet, try this eye contact exercise.

At a quiet time during the day, sit face-to-face with your partner and gaze into his or her eyes for three full minutes, suggests Fraser. Better yet: Gaze into only one eye, which is not something people do very often but can actually be more intense than switching between both eyes, she says. It’s okay to giggle and feel uncomfortable but try not to talk.

You can advance the exercise by kissing with your eyes open, focusing in on the sensations. When you’re more comfortable simply looking at each other outside of the bedroom, it should come easier in the heat of the moment (playing up that connection factor), she says.

5. Take a distracting thought in a sexier direction.

If you notice your mind wandering during sex, drop the thought and swap it for a sexual one, suggests Fraser. While using your erotic imagination to think of something sexy isn’t exactly what it means to be in the moment, it’s something Fraser often suggests to people to help bring them closer to the sexual experience at hand. “Mental distraction is number one sex drive killer and this is a step in the right direction,” she says.

Eventually, with practice, you might not need this bridge and might be able to simply drop the thought to focus on the intensity of a touch or smell in the moment.

6. Try a ‘slow sex’ session.

In a crazy, fast-paced world, slowing down your mind is difficult. It’s also not something we do all that often. That’s why Fraser suggests that people have really slow sex from time to time (or that they practice really slow sexual activities).

Her advice: Have one session where one person is the ‘giver’ and one is the ‘receiver’ and simply concentrate on slow, erotic touch or seduction. Training your mind and body to slow down can not only improve mental focus but also curiosity, helping you to realize certain touches you might not have known you liked or sensations you hadn’t noticed before.

Freelance WriterCassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance writer and editor with almost a decade of experience reporting on all things health, fitness, and travel.

Deep Breathing Might Have Benefits We’re Only Beginning to Understand

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Sundar-Balasubramanian
Sundar Balasubramanian.
Balaji Parthasarathy

As a cell biologist, Sundar Balasubramanian never forgot his rural southern Indian roots, or the traditional practices his uncle, the village healer, exposed him to. Today, as a researcher and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, Balasubramanian has turned his focus back to those roots — specifically, to pranayama, a deep-breathing relaxation technique. He’s showing that this ancient yoga practice is about more than relaxing — it can change us at the cellular level.

Q: What made you examine this technique through a cellular biology lens?

A: In 2005, I noticed while I was practicing pranayama, I was producing so much saliva that I was almost drooling. I wondered why and what the overall impact of that was. This led me and my team to study whether increased saliva production was a common response to the practice, and we found that it was.

Q: Most people wouldn’t think much of getting spitty when they focus on breathing and relaxing. But your 2016 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed this bump in salivation seems to matter. Why?

A: Saliva has numerous antibodies and proteins that do everything from suppressing tumors to regenerating the liver. For example, it contains immunoglobulin, which are antibodies that bind to germs, as well as DMBT1, a tumor suppressor that blocks the conversion of normal cells to cancer cells.

Q: Your 2015 study in International Psychogeriatrics showed that pranayama does more than just increase salivation. Can you elaborate?

A: Yes, it changes the makeup of saliva by increasing the amount of nerve growth factor (NGF). When NGF is produced, it’s transported to the brain, where it signals nerve cells to grow or survive longer. Increased NGF could have a major impact on aging, and specifically on some of the degenerative diseases of the day like Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Q: Do you have any upcoming or ongoing research projects on pranayama?

A: We’re about to start a study on patients with scleroderma, a chronic disorder that causes the body’s connective tissue to swell and harden. We’ll look at how these breathing techniques impact inflammation and how this relates to disease symptoms. We’re also in the beginning phases of a study that will look at whether deep breathing can reduce pain, improve appetite and improve mood in cancer patients.

When Inspiration Strikes

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When Inspiration Strikes
Photo by Raul Varzar | Unsplash

Meditation practice should always be inclusive and workable. In fact, a wholehearted, mindful embrace of everything that arises in your mind is the only path to true freedom. It is critical that all thoughts—including inspiring ones—be included in meditation practice. So the moment when inspiration strikes is really the perfect opportunity to put this vision of inclusiveness and workability to the test! Here are some tools that can help you affirm your inspiring thoughts without letting them distract you from the focus of your practice:

1. Make an Agreement with Yourself
Before beginning a period of meditation, reflect for a moment on your commitment to bringing your inspiring thoughts into the heart of your meditation practice. Place a pad and a pen beside you. Make an agreement with yourself that you will allow yourself to record onlyone inspiring thought per sitting period.

2. Focus the Mind
If your mind is scattered, it is helpful to cultivate a degree of concentration and calm before bringing the awareness to thoughts and emotions. You may find it helpful to do this by focusing on the changing sensations of your breathing for a while.

3. Note Resistance
It is not uncommon to feel that the process of thinking is an interruption of what should be happening. So start by becoming aware of any resistance to these thoughts: do you feel it in your body? Where? Perhaps across the shoulder blades, or in the face, the groin area, or the stomach? Is there an experience of tightness or tension in your mind? Include this resistance in the field of your awareness.

4. Note Fear
If you are worried that you will forget the thought, fear has entered the picture! It is critical that you also include the energetic experience of fear in your practice. Where do you feel the changing sensations associated with the fear? The emotional transition from resistance to fear is a wonderful opportunity to observe the laws of karma at work. Insight into the laws of cause and effect and the interdependence of the mind and the body is an important aspect of meditation practice.

5. Use A Mental Noting Practice
If you tend to get excited when inspiration strikes, it may be interesting to examine what is happening. Mentally noting these feelings and reactions to your thoughts may help. Try: in breath, out breath, and note: “inspiring thought, excitement, thought”; then again, in breath, out breath, and note: “worry, fear, another inspiring thought,” and so on.

6. Maintain a Sense of Humor
Try giving the inspiring thoughts a humorous label as soon as they arise, like “Einstein!” The simple label will not only help you realize the cyclical pattern of your thoughts, but by not taking your thoughts so seriously you will probably dilute any impulse to turn them into a problem.

7. As a Last Resort, Write Down the Thought
If a thought keeps relentlessly recurring, document the inspiration on your notepad, maintaining awareness of each intention as you do so: the intention and sensation of opening the eyes, the intention to reach for the pen, the sensations as your arm moves, the sensations of grasping the pen, the intention to reach for the pad, hearing the scratch of the pen on the paper.

By mindfully making a place for inspiring thoughts in your meditation practice, you affirm these thoughts and—who knows?—you may even get enlightened in the process!

♦From In the Lap of the Buddha by Gavin Harrison. © 1994 by The Dharma Foundation. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc., www.shambhala.com.

 

I Don’t Like Meditating. Here’s Why I Do It Anyway

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As much as I’m loath to admit it, I’m not a fan of meditation. It comes unnaturally to me, despite my 36 years of martial arts study and interest in self-improvement, health-hacking, and general enlightenment.

I realize this speaks poorly of me as a person, kind of like my opinions on aikido, jazz music, pumpkin pie, and “A Prairie Home Companion.” That I’m not fond of them doesn’t mean they’re bad, it means I’m not as good as I could be.

Worse yet, when I do regularly meditate, I find my life is better. Stress is lower, my health improves. I can focus more on my work, and am less likely to say things I regret to my friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Problems seem smaller. I seem bigger.

And I’m not alone. Over the past few decades, a host of research has supported the conclusion that meditation is good for us, and that we should all meditate a few minutes each day.

  • Meditation has been found again, and again (and again) to reduce stress, with all the physical, social, and emotional benefits that provides.
  • Multiple studies have found meditation can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • In 2003, researchers learned that regular meditation helped to boost immune function.
  • Meditation can help control pain, according to several studies, including these in 2016and 2017.

That’s just the tip of that particular iceberg. Bottom line: meditation is good for me, and for you, no matter how much we might not want to do it. Kind of like eating a vegetarian meal once or twice a week.

So, from one resistant but learning meditator to others, here’s what I’ve learned about meditation and how to make it part of improving your life.

You don’t have to just sit around

Non-practitioners sometimes imagine meditation to be boring — and perhaps if not done a certain way, it can be. But there’s more than one kind of meditation available, so you can easily find one that suits you. Here are just a few alternatives:

  • Walking meditation calms your mind when you focus on your strides and movement of taking steps (rather than, say, focusing on your breath). Walking in a labyrinth is a centuries-old practice of contemplation common among many spiritual faiths, including Catholicism.
  • Kata is the formal practice of martial arts, including tai chi. The motions of this practice are so complex it becomes impossible to think of other things, allowing for profound meditative focus. See also yoga.
  • Listening mindfully to music, especially music without lyrics, produces the same impacts of meditation by allowing you to be transported by the sounds, away from stray and extraneous thoughts.
  • Daily task meditation iswhere you take the process of a task — like doing dishes, cooking a meal, or getting dressed — and focus on it the way a kung fu master might focus on her forms.

Those are just a few examples. Other options for meditation include loving-kindness meditation, guided relaxation, breathing meditation, zazen sitting meditation, awareness meditation, Kundalini, pranayama…

The point is there’s a kind of meditation that works well with your needs, tastes, and general outlook. It’s just a matter of finding the right match.

Your brain might mess with you

Meditating is supposed to be a quieting of the mind, where you think about nothing in particular (or nothing other than the actions of the meditation) to allow that background noise to filter out and let you rest. That’s why exercise can be meditative: at a certain point you’re only able to think about the exercise.

But along the way, throughout each session of meditation, your thoughts are going to keep zooming in and trying to distract you. This happens all the time in the beginning, but here’s a secret: It happens all the time to the masters, too.

The trick with meditation isn’t to totally eliminate those stray thoughts. It’s to let them pass through your mind without you grabbing hold of them.

In the first stages of learning, you’ll fail a lot of the time. You’ll be meditating for a while and suddenly realize you stopped somewhere along the way to think about your to-do list and what you’re making for dinner that night.

Eventually, that will happen less and less, and you’ll start distracting yourself by getting frustrated that the thoughts intrude at all. You will ultimately be able to let them pass through and over you without taking root, so you can continue your meditation for as long as you wish.

Speaking of “as long as you wish….”

It doesn’t have to be for very long

Yes, I read the stories about Gichin Funakoshi (aka The Father of Modern Day Karate) meditating for an entire day while standing under a waterfall, and about retreats where people spend the entire weekend in some kind of a trance. And probably, some of those stories are true.

No, they don’t mean you have to meditate for hours to get anything out of meditation.

The studies I mentioned above had subjects meditate for less than an hour, in most cases less than 15 minutes, and even those sessions resulted in significant improvements to physical, emotional, and psychological health.

Some of the masters I’ve personally spoken with go one further, advising us to start with just one minute of meditation per day. That won’t be enough to reap huge, long-lasting benefits, but it has two advantages:

  1. You will succeed. Anybody can meditate for a minute, no matter how busy or distractible they are.
  2. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much of a difference it makes for the next 10 minutes of your life.

I personally found those two factors combined to be an excellent motivator. Under the powerful motivation of immediate success and feeling the short-term impact of that minute, I committed more fully to learning how to meditate.

You don’t have to be a certain ‘type’ of person to meditate

Meditation has shed the new age or ‘hippie’ reputation it once had. Anyone can do it. Here’s an incomplete list of groups that actively practice meditation or encourage their people to meditate regularly:

  • professional athletes in the NFL, NHL, and UFC
  • actors including Hugh Jackman, Clint Eastwood, and Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • SEAL Team Six and other special forces branches of U.S. and worldwide militaries
  • an impossibly long list of CEOs and entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk

If Randy Couture and the guy who plays Wolverine meditate, you can do it too. It only takes a minute — literally — and you can start today.

A Meditation on Observing Thoughts, Non-Judgmentally

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A Guided Meditation on Observing Thoughts

  • 20:22
  1. Take a few moments to settle into feeling the body as a whole, sitting and breathing, or lying down and breathing, riding the waves of the breath moment by moment, resting in awareness. An awareness that features the entirety of the body scape and the breath scape as they express themselves, moment by moment. Life unfolding here and now in the body, in awareness.
  2. And when you’re ready, if you care to, letting go of the breath and the body as a whole. Allowing them to recede into the background or rest in the wings, as we’ve been saying, still very much present but less featured while we invite the whole domain of thoughts and feelings and mood states to be center stage in the field of awareness.
  3. For a time attending to the stream of thought rather than being carried away by the content or emotional charge of individual thoughts, instead resting comfortably on the bank of the thoughts, river or the thought stream itself, allowing individual thoughts if and when they arise to be seen, felt, recognized and known, as thoughts as events in the field of awareness.
  4. Recognizing them as mental events, occurrences, secretions of the thinking mind, independent of their content and their emotional charge, even as that content and emotional charge are also seen and known.
  5. Seeing any and all of these fleeting thoughts as bubbles, eddies and currents within the stream, rather than as facts or as the truth of things, whatever the content, whatever the emotional charge, whatever their urgency or their tendency to reappear, whether they are pleasant or seductive, unpleasant or repulsive. Or neutral and therefore harder to detect at all.
  6. Expanding the metaphor, seeing any and all of these evanescent thought events more like clouds in the sky or bubbles coming off the bottom of a pot of boiling water. Or like writing on water, arising in a moment, lingering for the briefest of instances, and dissolving back into the formlessness from whence they came. Relating to their content as if it were of equal importance and relevance to say what you had for dinner three nights ago. Even if a thought is particularly compelling and insightful. Especially if it is particularly compelling and insightful.
  7. For now, just letting any and all thoughts come and go. Just let sounds come and go. Or sensations come and go. Not preferring some to others, nor pursuing some over others, not pursuing anything. Just resting in an awareness of thinking itself and the spaces between thoughts. Moment by moment, breath by breath, as we sit here or as we lie here.
  8. It might be helpful to be especially sensitive to the steady stream of commentary and advice you may be giving yourself as you sit here, and recognising it as such. As scaffolding. As running commentary, taking a position in relationship to it that resembles turning down the sound on a television set, so that you’re just watching the game and aren’t being sucked into the endless stream of commentary and interpretation and opinion that is so characteristic of televised sports events.
  9. Rather, you now detect the individual secretions of commentary on your moment to moment experience merely is more thinking as thoughts,, as judgments and rest in the recognizing of them in the economists attending to each event as it arises in the stream without being pulled into the past or into the future or into opinions or fears or desires, simply seeing them and knowing them as thoughts and as emotions as mental events, not as the truth and not as you watching them proliferate endlessly as they do watching the mind secrete them and throw them off.
  10. Watching how easily thoughts manufacture or fabricate views, opinions, ideas, beliefs, plans, memories, stories, and how easily they proliferate. If we feed them the one thought morphing into the next, then into the next, until we suddenly realize that we’ve been carried downstream and are no longer aware of the stream itself. The process of thinking and how in the noticing we are already back in the frame of attending to thinking, is thinking to thoughts, thoughts observing them, recognizing them, perhaps being carried away again.
  11. And if so over and over again coming back to this moment to this frame in this moment to the field of thought itself beyond all the content of the endless thinking and proliferating and fabricating and the emotions that accompany them springing from whether they are pleasant unpleasant or neutral and from what’s going on in your life in this moment.
  12. Allowing all of this to be held to bear attention in awareness moment on breath by breath as we sit here or live here resting in the awareness itself south taking up residence in awareness itself in the knowing of thoughts thoughts and feelings as feelings in the accepting of thoughts thoughts and feelings feelings whatever their content whatever their emotional charge just as an experiment in cultivating greater intimacy with your own interiority with what’s on your mind and in your heart. And with new dimensions of the possible.
  13. If we learn to observe carefully and rather than identifying with the content of thoughts and feelings to see them more impersonally as weather patterns as ripples and waves on the surface of the vast and deep ocean of the mind. As we inhabit the whole of the mind that boundless essence of mine that already knows before I thought underneath thought beyond thought that is bigger than thought. Bigger than any feeling however powerful that is capable of making use of thought and emotion without being caught and imprisoned by unwise and unexamined habit patterns developed over a lifetime of ignoring these aspects of the mindscape of the landscape of our own being of our lives unfolding.
  14. So for the remainder of our time together, until you hear the sound of the bells resting in an awareness of the arising and passing away of thoughts and feelings in the mindscape some overwhelmingly obvious, some quite subtle, some masquerading as commentary, others as scaffolding, others as neither, and simply returning over and over again to the frame, whenever the mind is carried off, not looking for thoughts or emotions or mood indicators, just resting in awareness and letting the mall come to you.
  15. Letting them arise on their own in the field of awareness to whatever degree they do. Moment by moment by moment, and breath by breath, as you sit here or as you live your life.

How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America

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There’s a reason some people laugh when I say that mindfulness meditation can save the United States—that it can dampen the political polarization now dividing the country; that it can defuse the hatreds that have propelled the word “tribal” into our political vocabulary and have led serious commentators to compare the US in 2017 to Northern Ireland, even Yugoslavia, in the 1990s.Actually, there are two reasons people laugh. One is that they can’t imagine a huge number of Americans—especially those in the Trump tribe—actually sitting down and meditating. And I, too, have trouble imagining a sea of MAGA hats enveloping a statue of the Buddha. For that matter, I’m not under the illusion that most anti-Trumpers get up every day and meditate. But for reasons I’ll explain, I don’t think these harsh realities are fatal to my American salvation scenario.

The other reason people laugh at this salvation scenario is that they think the point of meditation is to cultivate love or compassion or some other warm and fuzzy feeling that might heal the nation. But in fact, mindfulness meditation isn’t fundamentally about love or compassion. Other kinds of Buddhist meditation—such as “metta” meditation—take on that challenge more directly.

More broadly, mindfulness meditation isn’t warm and fuzzy. In a certain sense it’s cool and clinical. It involves, among other things, examining your feelings and deciding whether to buy into them, whether to let them carry you away.

Obviously, America could stand for people to be a little less susceptible to getting carried away by their feelings. But the contribution mindfulness can make to bridging the great tribal divide is more powerful than that simple formulation suggests. To appreciate this potential, you have to understand how subtle the psychology of tribalism is.

Tribal psychology involves, at one level, some obvious ingredients: rage, vengeance, loathing—the kinds of raw emotions you might imagine when you imagine tribes literally at war. But the psychology of tribalism also involves—in fact, I’d say, it mainlyinvolves—cognitive biases that warp our perception of the world.

Cognitive biases have gotten a lot of attention in the popular psychology literature over the past decade. For example, confirmation bias—our tendency to accept and retain information that supports our views and reject or not notice information that contradicts our views—is now pretty famous. But the term “cognitive bias” misleads people about the nature of this problem. “Cognition” is often thought of as separate from feelings—it’s the kind of rational, logical process a computer can execute—but in fact feelings often influence cognition. And they seem to play a key role in cognitive biases.

Consider the role confirmation bias can play in “fake news,” false or deeply misleading information that spreads widely, typically via social media.

Such information is sometimes spread cynically and knowingly. But often it is spread unknowingly, by people who click “retweet” or “share” without first investigating what they’re sharing. And the reason they don’t do this critical investigation is because the information they’re sharing supports their world view—because, in other words, they are victims of confirmation bias.

I sometimes spread dubious information this way myself. And when, having discovered my mistake, I reflect on what made me do it, the answer I come up with is this: Clicking “retweet” made me feel good. After all, the information I was spreading reflected favorably on my ideological tribe and unfavorably on the enemy tribe. What’s not to like?

Indeed, if you pay close attention at the moment you’re sharing this kind of news on social media, you may observe a sequence of feelings: a positive feeling upon seeing the news, the subtle but palpable urge to spread it, and the feeling of gratification you get upon spreading it—a gratification that is deepened if this addition to the nation’s discourse then gets a lot of retweets, shares, or likes. These are the feelings that can make you part of the fake news problem.

If, on the other hand, you see information that reflects unfavorably on your tribe, you may notice a negative feeling well up, and you’ll probably feel no urge to share the information; you’ll either dismiss it and move on or inspect it critically, looking for flaws. And if you find flaws, this will feel good, and will likely feed an urge to publicize them.

So confirmation bias is a “cognitive” bias that is driven by feelings from start to finish. In that sense it’s feelings, more than thoughts, that propel false or misleading information through social media. Yes, Russian bots and conspiracy-theorist crackpots and other nefarious actors have played a role in systematically spreading fake news, but much of the false or misleading information that is now muddying discourse and sustaining the tribal divide is spread unknowingly—innocently, in a sense—by people on both sides of the divide who are acting in accordance with human nature.

This is where mindfulness could come in. In my experience, and in the experience of many others, spending 20 or 30 minutes on the cushion every morning doing mindfulness meditation makes you more aware of feelings—not just as you meditate but as you go through the day. When feelings well up that you might otherwise obey reflexively, you’re more likely to reflect on them and decide whether to obey them.

Obviously, meditation won’t singlehandedly end fake news. But I think it would reduce the fuel supply for false and slanted information. And that could make a big difference, because the problem with such information isn’t just that it confuses the people who believe it. It also has an unfortunate influence on the people who don’t believe it—the people in the tribe who didn’t spread it. It reinforces their belief that the people in the other tribe are, at worst, knowingly lying and, at best, deeply confused.And probably the former. After all, we tend to interpret the errors of our enemies and rivals in an unfavorable light, while explaining away the errors of our allies in more innocent terms.

Indeed, this tendency itself involves a cognitive bias, one that is less famous than confirmation bias. It’s called “attribution error,” and it, too, is dividing America.

In a context of intense tribalism, attribution error works like this: If people we identify as members of our tribe do something bad—if they’re mean to someone, say, or they break the law—we tend to attribute the behavior to “situational” factors. They had been under stress at work, or they were pressured by bad actors into misbehaving, or whatever. If members of the enemy tribe do something bad, we’re more likely to explain the behavior in “dispositional” terms—the bad behavior emanates from their basic disposition, their character. It’s just the kind of thing that people like them do.

Good behavior works the other way around. If members of our tribe do something good, the explanation tends to be dispositional—their behavior is a simple reflection of who they are. If members of the enemy tribe do something good, the explanation will likely be situational—maybe they were “virtue signaling” to a particular audience, or maybe they did the right thing because all other options were foreclosed.

One consequence of attribution error is that once you’ve been categorized as an enemy, it’s hard to get that label changed. The bad things you do will be attributed to your essential nature, and so reinforce the label, and the good things you do will be explained away as not reflecting the “real you.” So the more Americans there are who are looking at each other through this bias—the more Americans there are who identify with one tribe or the other, and the more intense the identification—the deeper the challenge of near-term reconciliation.

This cognitive bias, like confirmation bias, seems to be triggered by feelings. You don’t have to be all that sensitive to pick up on the negative feeling that accompanies the thought of an enemy. This feeling can infuse your very perception of the person with a sense that they possess a kind of “essence of enemy,” an essence that then shapes the way you think about them.

So with attribution error, as with confirmation bias, anything that helps you reflect on your feelings before letting them take root, before giving them your obedience, could help. And mindfulness meditation does that. It can make you less reactive, more reflective, less buffeted by unexamined emotion, more equanimous. It can make you at least a bit less inclined to embrace and hang on to that “enemy” vibe when it surfaces.

I hope all of this explains why I think that, if most Americans meditated, the prospect of ever-intensifying tribal warfare could start to recede. What it doesn’t explain is why I hold out hope for salvation by mindfulness even though most Americans don’t, in fact, meditate. And, worse still, what meditators there are seem to cluster on one side of the aisle. When I’ve gone to meditation retreats, the parking lots have featured a number of Volvos, Subarus, and Priuses, few if any pickup trucks, and zero bumper stickers that say Make America Great Again.There are four reasons that I nonetheless hold out hope.

First, parking lots can be misleading. I have a sister who is a conservative Christian and voted for Trump and has dabbled in mindfulness meditation. One reason that last part shouldn’t surprise you is that mindfulness meditation has in many settings, including the growing number of schools and workplaces where it’s offered, been severed from its Buddhist roots and packaged as simple self-help, as therapy. Such as: “mindfulness-based stress reduction.”

And viewing stress mindfully can lead to viewing other feelings mindfully. Indeed, people who teach meditation as a way of handling stress or anxiety often wind up helping students deal with rage, anger, resentment, and other feelings that warp our perception of the enemy tribe. Besides, using mindfulness to deal with any given problematic feeling naturally tends to lead to greater awareness of, and more critical reflection on, other feelings as well, including even the subtler of the feelings that may drive cognitive biases. What starts as simple self-help can wind up making you a better person and a better citizen.

Second, meditation on one side of the tribal divide can exert a calming influence on the other side. The way figurative tribal warfare becomes literal tribal warfare is through a positive feedback loop: Hatred and hyperbolic rhetoric on one side lead to more of that on the other side, and vice versa. Well, the positive feedback works in the other direction too. If there is less hatred and less accusatory, hyperbolic rhetoric coming from one side, the amount of hatred and hyperbolic rhetoric on the other side can drop in response.

Third, meditation has established a pretty big beachhead and is gaining momentum. A National Institutes of Health survey conducted in 2012 found that 18 million American adults meditated and 21 million practiced yoga, which often has an element of mindfulness. And both numbers were growing.

Finally, science is providing more reason to meditate—not just by documenting the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness but by showing that our mental processes are in need of clarifying, and suggesting that clarifying them could involve changing our relationship to some of our feelings.

In a landmark study conducted during the 2004 election, researchers scanned the brains of strongly partisan Americans as they were shown evidence of hypocrisy in three people—George W. Bush, John Kerry, and a “neutral” figure, such as a famous actor with no well-known ideology. In all three cases, they were then shown “exculpatory” evidence that offered a way to explain the conduct in question without deeming it hypocritical. It’s no surprise that, in opining about which political candidates had indeed committed hypocrisy, Democratic and Republican partisans tended to nominate Bush and Kerry, respectively. More interesting is what went on in their brains as they moved toward these judgments.

For both Democrats and Republicans, a part of the brain associated with emotion tended to be activated upon seeing signs of hypocrisy in both Bush and Kerry, but not upon seeing signs of hypocrisy in the neutral figure. But some of the details depended on whether the candidate who seemed hypocritical was from their party. If he was, the study’s authors reported, then an initial “emotionally aversive” reaction was followed by a second phase that they described this way: a “combination of reduced negative affect (absence of activity in the insula and lateral orbital cortex) and increased positive affect or reward (ventral striatum activation) once subjects had ample time to reach biased conclusions.”

In other words, our “cognitive” biases seem to rest on a foundation of affective rewards. We think what it feels good to think. And it feels good to think that our tribe makes sense and the other tribe doesn’t.

Mindfulness meditation has roots going back more than two millennia, as do the Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist psychology that inform it. And Buddhist psychology has long emphasized the fine intertwining of cognition and affect, of thinking and feeling; our feelings make us cling to some thoughts and flee from others. Indeed, this is a big reason that, according to Buddhism, meditative practices which loosen the grip of feelings can give us a clearer view of the world, can lead in the direction of enlightenment.

According to Buddhism, these practices aren’t good only because they’re clarifying. They’re good because a clearer view of the world reduces our suffering and the suffering we inflict on others.

Modern psychology (as I’ve argued at greater length elsewhere) is broadly corroborating the Buddhist view of our situation: We are naturally afflicted by confusion, including cognitive biases, and this confusion is indeed abetted by feelings, and one consequence of all this is needless suffering. With Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament getting more and more scientific validation, maybe it’s time we started paying attention to the Buddhist prescription.


Robert Wright (@robertwrighter) is the author of The Moral Animal, Nonzero, and The Evolution of God. This article is adapted from his new book Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and EnlightenmentWright has taught in the psychology department at Penn and the religion department at Princeton and is currently visiting professor of science and religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He also runs mindfulresistance.net.

Study Finds Mindful People Are Happier With Their Sex Life

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Married adults who are more aware of the present moment tend to have higher levels of sexual satisfaction, according to new research published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. The research suggests that mindfulness plays an important role in sexual wellbeing.

“I’ve been studying sex for some time and a number of years ago, I was introduced to mindfulness. Sex and mindfulness just seemed like a natural fit. People often struggle to feel connection and purpose in sex,” said study author Chelom E. Leavitt, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University.

“It may initially seem a little counter-intuitive, but slowing the experience down, being less goal-oriented, and more intentional, actually helps people feel better about themselves, closer to their partner, and more satisfied with the sexual experience.”

“When I teach sexual mindfulness to couples, most are a little skeptical at first. However, as they practice, they are amazed at the importance of awareness, curiosity, acceptance and letting go of self- and partner-judgment.”

Previous research has found that women who practice mindfulness meditation are more likely to report better sexual functioning and higher levels of sexual desire. But the researchers were interested in examining the potential influence of sexual mindfulness in particular, meaning the tendency to be aware of and accept one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment during sex.

For their study, the researchers surveyed 194 married, heterosexual individuals who were 35 to 60 years old. Leavitt and her colleagues found that more sexually mindful participants tended to be more satisfied with their relationships and sex lives. They also had better self-esteem compared to less mindful participants.

“The average person can improve their sexual relationship with a little instruction and practice. It doesn’t require new positions or special skill. Better sex may be as simple as slowing down, being less judgmental about yourself and your partner, and paying attention to touch, arousal, and the connection felt during sex,” Leavitt told PsyPost.

The association between mindfulness and sexual satisfaction was stronger among female participants, suggesting it may play a more important role for women.

“There are lots of questions still to be answered,” Leavitt said. “I just finished an intervention (a follow up study to this one) that taught couples about sexual mindfulness. We found significant positive results in the pilot study and are now doing a larger study that examines couples over time. Some people with high anxiety may find it is difficult to be mindful, but most people can learn this skill with a little guidance and practice.”

“This research is refreshing because it is science based — not some trendy solution. It is exciting for couples to learn simple skills that effectively help them create more meaning and joy in their romantic and sexual relationship,” Leavitt added.

The study, “The Role of Sexual Mindfulness in Sexual Wellbeing, Relational Wellbeing, and Self-Esteem“, was authored by Chelom E. Leavitt, Eva S. Lefkowitz, and Emily A. Waterman.

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