Four Common Meditation Myths

As I began to teach meditation and recommend it to my patients, friends and colleagues, I noticed a lot of common misconceptions that were often holding people back. This blog is dedicated to debunking these myths.

You must sit a certain way.

Let’s be honest. When you think of meditation, one of the first things that comes to mind is a Buddhist monk with eyes closed sitting bolt upright, legs twisted into a pretzel and hands on knees serenely pointing triangles towards the sky. If you thought you had to sit in a certain position to meditate, you are not alone.

As I’ve deepened my practice, I’ve come to find that the most important thing about positioning the body for meditation is to be comfortable.

Beyond that, any position is acceptable. Many people practice meditation lying down, or even walking. Eyes can be open or closed. Your experience of the moment is the focus, and if you are distracted by discomfort in your body, it will likely only take away from the experience.

You must spend a lot of time.

It does not take long to begin to notice the benefits of meditation. In fact, in one study in a pediatric population, children were led through a mindfulness exercise for 5 minutes before a medical procedure. Even with this minor intervention, a decrease in perceived stress during the procedure was noted.

Within your life, benefits are noticed for practicing as little as 5-10 minutes per day. In other words, you do not need to commit hours upon end to notice the benefits of your practice. You can spend less time than you do scrolling through your social media accounts!

You must not think/possess the ability to clear your mind.

This is one of the most common misconceptions that I hear. If you can’t clear your mind, you are incapable or bad at meditation. Quite the contrary! As you practice meditation, thoughts are welcomed as a part of the flow of the present moment experience. The more you fight against them, the more frustration builds. Resisting and battling your thoughts is counterproductive. Instead, opening to your thoughts from a detached place of observation, nonjudgment and acceptance naturally results in a more calm and peaceful state of mind.

“The towns and countryside that the traveler sees through a train window do not slow down the train, nor does the train affect them. Neither disturbs the other. This is how you should see the thoughts that pass through your mind when you meditate.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Mindfulness meditation is difficult/I wouldn’t know how to do it.

Have you ever sat silently upon the beach, completely enthralled with the beauty of the rising sun, heard the sound of the waves crashing, felt the sand between your toes, in awe of the beauty of nature? Or maybe you’ve rested quietly at the peak of a mountain, observing the soft flutter of snow gently building upon the vast landscape and towering evergreens? If so, you have meditated. Mindfulness meditation does not have to be a complex process. Simply paying attention now is all that is needed.

Please comment below if you have other thoughts about meditation that are holding you back from starting your practice. I’ll do my best to address them!

Exploring the Science Series: Meditation for Pain

Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting more than 3 months.  Unfortunately, it is extremely prevalent. In the United States, 20% of adults suffer from chronic pain, with 8% experiencing debilitating pain. For all of my Australian followers (yes, I’ve noticed you and thank you for reading!), the numbers are very similar.  There is slightly more prevalence for females, and increasing prevalence with age (31% in females age 80-84). There are an estimated 5-8 million Americans with chronic pain currently on opioids. 

If you are someone experiencing pain, what can be done? 

Of course, my answer is predictable. Meditation! 

Let’s review some of the relevant literature.

If you are in pain, your body is trying to tell you something. It’s yelling, “HEY YOU! OVER HERE!! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!” Although some types of meditation practices may teach you to ignore pain, or become immune to it, others may actually help your body to heal the pain.

You’ve probably heard of the “placebo effect”  (For those of us in medicine, it’s the “annoying” ever-present factor in clinical trials that mucks up our results. Haha.) The placebo effect is a beneficial effect of a placebo drug (a sugar pill) that cannot be attributed to the placebo itself, and is therefore attributable to the patient’s belief in the treatment.

Trials in patients with chronic pain have been done comparing opioid pain medication with placebo. Roughly half of patients taking a placebo notice a greater than 30% improvement in their pain level. Furthermore, 35% of patients taking a placebo noticed a greater than 50% improvement in their pain level! These sugar pills are powerful stuff! (1)

The placebo effect is a display of, right there in black and white published in the scientific literature, the POWER OF THE HUMAN MIND. It’s truly remarkable.

So…sugar pills can reduce pain via the mind-body connection, but does meditation? 

The answer is yes. A multitude of studies have shown that meditation reduces pain, and the effect is even greater than that of placebo. Here are a few examples:

John Kabat Zinn, the pioneer of mindfulness who created Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), published a study in 1985 showing that a 10-week MBSR program resulted in statistically significant reductions in present-moment pain, negative body image, inhibition of activity by pain, and mood disturbance (specifically anxiety and depression). Pain-related drug utilization decreased, and activity levels and feelings of self-esteem increased (2).  In theory, this type of meditation may help to decrease pain by guiding participants to be more versed at experiencing only the physical quality of pain without the mental overlay of negative thoughts and judgment, which subsequently lessens the perceived pain intensity.

Second, a study in veterans with chronic pain by Dr.’s Nassif and Norris showed that during the first few weeks of meditation practice, pain actually increased.  The pain was brought to consciousness and more fully experienced (instead of ignored or medicated). Subsequently, with continued practice, the pain lessened and for some even disappeared by 8 weeks of practice (3).

There are many more examples, but let’s switch gears a bit.

We know that meditation reduces pain… but, how?

 Activation of different neural pathways: A team of researchers led by Dr. Zeidan in 2015 performed a study comparing mindfulness meditation with placebo and showed that mindfulness meditation resulted in greater pain relief than placebo.  It was associated with greater activation in brain regions associated with the cognitive modulation of pain, including the orbitofrontal, subgenual anterior cingulate, and anterior insular cortex.  These are different neural pathways than are activated with placebo (4).

Thalamic gating theory: There is a theory of pain called the thalamic gate theory which hypothesizes that the brain can be in a receptive state to receive incoming pain information (gates open), or can be in a blocked state (gates closed).  This is best illustrated in traumatic injuries, when patients are under stress and often don’t register the pain associated with a severe injury until they are away from the threat. At the time of threat/greatest stress, the pain gates are closed as a protective mechanism to allow the person to escape the threat. Once the threat is gone, the gates are opened allowing the pain to be experienced. Attention on the experience of pain in the body has been shown to be a critical element in activating the body’s ability to heal itself.

Physical changes in brain structure: Another mechanism through which meditation is seen to achieve positive results for pain is through the neuroplastic properties of the brain, as mentioned in my previous blog. The structure of the brain can change through meditation. There is a bulking up of areas that are important for pain processing, resulting in higher pain tolerance (5).

In sum, although the mechanisms aren’t fully fleshed out, we do know that meditation works to lessen, and sometimes eliminate pain. 

If you’d like to implement meditation into your routine for chronic pain, I’d suggest starting with a progressive full body relaxation once per day, like the number one and seven meditations listed here:

Five Benefits of Group Meditation

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a relaxing retreat courtesy of Mind Body Marriage.  It was my privilege to lead a group meditation for the 13 women physicians in attendance. As I’m reflecting on this time we spent filling our cups, a feeling of fresh, renewed energy has filled my heart. 

I was reminded that meditation in a group setting has powerful effects that go above and beyond meditation by yourself. 

What benefits are there to group meditation?

1) Transform your community: Setting positive intentions in a group has the power to make changes within your community and the world.  This principle, sometimes termed the Maharishi effect, was originally brought to light by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960’s. He noted that when at least 1% of a population is practicing a transcendental meditation technique, there is an effect upon the local environment. Nearly 50 scientific research studies verify the Maharishi effect benefits.  For instance, some studies have shown a decrease in crime rate in regions where this technique is introduced.

Individual consciousness affects the collective consciousness.

2) Experience synergy: In the group setting, the interaction of two or more individuals produces a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.  During group meditation, your energy frequency attunes to those around you, and your meditation experience can be elevated. 

3) Receive group support: People who meditate in a group setting report feeling less alone, more connected to others, and more impacted by the silence generated during a session. You may connect with other like-minded individuals who may help you along this journey.

4) Get feedback:  In a group, there are typically meditators of varying experience. This provides opportunities to learn new approaches to meditation and ask questions.

5) Develop a habit: When you are committed to a group, you benefit from additional motivation and confidence to continue a regular practice

Join my free group!

We will meet on zoom every Monday at 5 am CST for a 10-20 minute meditation beginning Monday July 8, 2019. Just go to click join and enter meeting ID 347-110-508 join us.

An Exercise in Mindfulness

Mindfully Applying Lip Gloss

We are taking a momentary break from the science overload of the Exploring the Science Series this week! Enjoy this brief exercise.

For this exercise, you will need a lip gloss or chapstick with screwtop lid like this one:

First, wash your hands. Then, I invite you to set all judgment aside, and try this 2-3 minute exercise. Approach this exercise like a small child, who may have never seen lip gloss before. We are going to explore it with all of your senses. (I do not recommend tasting it though 😉 )

Place the lip gloss container in your hand. Focus on it as if you’ve never seen anything like it before. Focus on seeing the roundish object.  Study the lettering. Scan it, exploring every part of it. Turn it around with your fingers and notice the color and clarity. Notice the folds and where the surface reflects light or becomes darker. Notice the ridge where the top and bottom join together.

Next, explore the texture of the container. Notice the texture and the feel of the container against your skin.  Are you feeling any softness, hardness, coarseness, or smoothness? Run your finger over the lettering.

While you’re doing this, if thoughts arise such as “Why am I doing this weird exercise?” or “How will this ever help me?” then just see if you can acknowledge these thoughts, let them be, and then bring your awareness back to the gloss container.

Next, gently turn the lid to open the lip gloss, noticing if it is smooth or rough as you turn. You may want to bring it close to your ear as you turn to hear the sound it makes as it opens.

Set aside the lid. Take the gloss beneath your nose, take a deep inhalation and notice the smell of it.

Now, gently place your clean finger into the gloss, feeling the sensation at the tip of your finger as it dips in. Notice the effect the warmth of your finger has on the surface of the gloss. Gently bring the gloss to your lips. Simply explore the sensations of your finger and the gloss against your lips as they touch.

Lightly press your lips together. Notice if there are any changes in how your lips now feel. Can you still smell the gloss now that it is on your lips?

Take a moment to congratulate yourself for taking this time to mindfully apply lip gloss.  This exercise is meant to demonstrate that mindfulness can APPLY to anything we do throughout the day, bringing more joy and focus to your present moment experience.

Questions For Reflection:

What did you notice with the gloss in terms of: sight, smell, touch and hearing?

What, if anything, surprised you about this practice?

Did any thoughts or memories pop up while doing this practice?

Were there elements of this practice that you found challenging, difficult, or easy?

Was anything different about the experience of mindfully placing lip gloss versus your usual habit?

If you are interested in learning more about working with me, please visit my website at

Exploring the Science Series: Neuroplasticity

For centuries, and actually until just recently due to the explosion of technology within neuroscience imaging, it was believed that once the brain developed fully throughout childhood/early adulthood, it became an unchanging, static organ with no capacity for physical growth or change. However, in recent and very exciting neuroscience publications, it has become clear that this is not the case, and in fact, the brain actually has the capacity to physically change throughout an individual’s entire lifetime. This plasticity means that neural functioning, once thought to be fixed, can be transferred to different locations within the brain, the proportion of gray matter can increase, synapses (or connections between neural cells) can strengthen or weaken over time. Our brain’s capacity for physical change is limitless.

Like going to the gym and lifting weights to build muscle strength, you can build attributes of your mind that you wish to increase through meditation…like weight lifting for the brain!

Specifically, let’s discuss some of the clinical studies which demonstrate that meditation will result in physical changes to the brain structure. This, by no means, is a comprehensive list. However, I’ve pulled some studies that I find interesting and applicable in the realm of cancer treatment.

Pain is commonly experienced by patients with cancer. Two meditative techniques, Zen meditation, a Japanese tradition emphasizing mindfulness, and yoga have been shown to result in increased gray matter (increased cortical thickness) in the regions of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex and insula.  These regions of the brain are involved in pain, emotions, perception, self-awareness, drug cravings/addiction, and consciousness. The increase in cortical volume in the insula resulting from these practices was associated with greater pain tolerance. Interestingly, the longer the meditator’s or yogi’s experience, the thicker the gray matter became, and this correlated with increasing levels of pain tolerance. (1,2)

Practicing Zen meditation or yoga can help you to have a higher pain tolerance.

Another common symptom during and after cancer therapy? What patients often refer to as “chemobrain”, a brain fog that results in poor short term memory and decreased cognitive processing. A form of meditation called insight meditation, described as cultivating nonjudgmental present moment awareness via sustained attention to internal and external sensory stimuli, was studied and shown to result in thicker cortex in meditation participants than matched controls in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area is involved in planning, complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. The results were most pronounced in the older age-group, which suggests that meditation may offset age-related cortical thinning and therefore have a role in preventing dementias that are related to age-related volume loss. (3). Although the aim of this study was not specifically to study “chemobrain”, it is interesting to hypothesize that similar positive effects on cognitive processing may be seen in patients with cancer who meditate regularly.

Practicing insight meditation may prevent memory loss and improve cognitive processing.

And what about stress? The regions of the brain called the amygdala and caudate are associated with fear response and emotional regulation. A study on patients who practiced regular mindfulness showed decreased volume of the right amygdala and left caudate. This is associated with reduced stress reactivity and helps to illustrate the pathways that link mindfulness with the ability to better handle stress. (4)

Practicing mindfulness improves the stress response.

One thing I’ve always wished for my patients (and all people) is the ability to experience joy despite what might be viewed as negative circumstances. What if I told you that you could create the experience of joy using only internal stimulus of your brain’s reward system?  A type of meditation called Ecstatic Meditation (Jhana Altered State of Consciousness), a Buddhist technique which induces an altered state of consciousness with the short term goal of joy/happiness, was studied for this very purpose. This study used functional MRI imaging and EEG (neuroimaging techniques which show brain activity) to show that after an experienced meditator entered the state of jhana, there was activation in the nucleus accumbens in the brain, the brain’s reward center associated with motivation, pleasure, and reward/reinforcement. The practice induces extreme joy and shows activation in the dopamine reward system. (5)

Practicing Ecstatic meditation allows you to feel more joy.

The Bottom Line: What you practice is what you get.

If your mindfulness practice centers on growing your sense of loving compassion, your brain has the capacity to physically grow in the frontal lobe and thalamus, parts of your brain that handle positive emotion. If your practice focuses on experiencing joy, your brain can bulk up in the reward/joy center. You can focus your practice on the areas in which you would like to see growth or improvement, and likely, that is exactly what you will see.

Exploring the Science Series: The Science of Habit

This is the first official post on my upcoming “Exploring the Science Series.” In these posts, my hope is to highlight the clinical research and mechanisms of action behind the evolving knowledge that we, as a species, are not just bodies capable of thinking, but instead bodyminds. In this multi-week series, I hope to answer the questions: what is the supporting science behind a regular meditation practice? How does it help improve the experience of life with cancer, and life caring for those with cancer?

After reading my previous blogs, you may be thinking this mindfulness thing sounds useful, but forming a new habit can be a BIG challenge!

In this first post of the Exploring the Science Series, we are diving into the science behind habit formation, and what better way to do so than to share what I’ve learned from 2 fascinating books presenting the science of habit formation.

You may not be in the habit of regular mindfulness meditation, or are just getting started. The question is…how do you create a habit where there is no habit? Very smart people have created a career studying this. Today, I’m going to teach you what I’ve learned (so far) about forming a new habit.  Most of this material comes from my personal experience, and the wisdom I gained from these two EXCELLENT books, Switch by Chip and Dan Heath and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

In Switch, the Heaths teach a helpful analogy for forming a new habit. Imagine a giant elephant, making his way down a path, with you as a rider sitting on his back. The rider represents your rational mind, and is the planner. The elephant represents your emotional mind. The path represents the circumstances of your situation. To form a new habit, you need to address all three: the rational, the emotional and the circumstances.  The Heaths teach that in order to form a new habit, you need to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.

To dig into this a little deeper, let’s use this example. Let’s imagine that your goal is to form a new habit of meditating for 20 minutes every day. You know the benefits, but you just can’t seem to get going.

How can you direct the rider?

  • Look closely at the times you did meditate. What worked about that for you? Maybe you planned ahead, maybe it was the time of day, maybe you set a reminder alarm. Analyze the times that worked, and reproduce.
  • Give clear direction. Write out a plan. Script your next moves.
  • Give the rider a goal that “smacks him in the gut.” (in other words, has emotion to it.) For instance, let’s say that you are a competitive person: Instead of a goal of “meditate for 20 minutes every day”, your goal might be “prove to myself that I am up to the challenge of 40 days straight of 20 minutes of meditation per day.” You can use a tracker and make it a competition with yourself, or a friend.

How can you motivate the elephant?

  • Ask yourself, “how can you make this change a matter of identity, rather than consequences?” Our inspiration to change comes from our desire to live up to our identity. For example, if you consider yourself to be an honest person, try telling a friend that you practice regular meditation. This may appeal to your honest nature to live up to the statement.
  • Motivation comes from feeling and confidence (believing that you are capable of conquering the change and that in the end, this change will benefit you). Knowledge is not enough.
  • Know your reasons for wanting to meditate regularly. They must be greater than the activation energy it takes to get started.
  • To grow your confidence, start small and build. For instance, if your eventual goal is 20 min of meditation per day 365 days per year, you might start with a goal of 5 min/day for a week. Once you have that down, you can increase the time, and then the frequency.
  • Also, joining a group of like-minded individuals who are motivated to meditate may help with your confidence and motivation.

How can you shape the path?

  • You could create an action trigger. For instance, find something you do every day, and link meditation to that. One example would be brushing your teeth. Every time you brush your teeth, meditate right afterward. Soon, these tasks will begin to become linked in your brain.
  • You can identify other supportive habits: setting a daily alarm, making sure you are getting enough rest at night, giving yourself selfcare time regularly.
  • You can set up a home meditation space that makes it easy to begin, and the site of which motivates you to meditate.

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg teaches about the cue–>routine–>reward cycle. You can harness this to make meditating a regular habit.

Start by creating a new cue, something that will trigger you to meditate.  Cues typically fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, or immediately preceding action.  Then, clearly define a reward for meditating. This creates a craving for the reward that drives the habit loop.

Here’s an example:

A few years ago, I got into the habit of going to the gym in the morning. When I decided I wanted to meditate more regularly, I decided to tack it on to my gym habit that was already well ingrained. Then, at my gym, there are massage chairs. After completing meditation, I’d spend 10 minutes relaxing in the massage chair.

Cue: going to gym

Routine: meditation after my workout

Reward: chair massage

If you are someone who is motivated by accomplishment, you might benefit from setting up a challenge for yourself. Challenge yourself to meditate 85% of the days in the next 3 months. Download a counter app and keep track of it. The sense of accomplishment in achieving your goal at the end may be enough reward. Or you could reward yourself by going for a pedicure, massage or special meal when you accomplish the goal.

Duhigg also teaches that you need belief for these habits to take hold:

You must believe you can change, and believe that the change you are making is connecting you to the inner purpose of your life that is far greater than the external rewards you will receive.

Lastly, there is the power of group support. If you are interested in joining a group challenge, sign up for my email list at to receive notice when there is an upcoming group or challenge beginning.

My hope is that in this post, you will find some useful tactics to start making meditation a regular practice.

Tool #6: Body Scan

When you are feeling stressed, it is common for the body to carry this feeling in your physical form. For instance, stress can lead to tight shoulders, tension headaches, back pain, increased strain on your cardiovascular system/high blood pressure. This can be subtle and you may not even notice it, or you may notice obvious physical discomfort. Often, we don’t connect our physical discomfort with our emotions, but we know from medical research on meditation in the realm of chronic pain that the two are intimately related.

The evidence is so strong on the connection between mind and body in terms of pain, that the national guidelines for treatment of pain now recommend meditation as the first intervention for pain relief, even before medications. In a later edition of this blog, I plan to discuss with you some of the clinical trials on meditation for pain and proposed mechanisms of action.

Today, I’d like to provide you with this tool, the body scan. You can do this once per day, or several times per day. This will help you to identify where in the body you are carrying tension, and facilitate releasing the tension to reduce pain and psychological stress.

  1. Get into a comfortable position. You can do this seated or lying down. Make a true effort to get comfortable.
  2. Start by taking deep breaths, focusing on the diaphragmatic type breathing described in my previous blog. You want to feel the air being drawn in with the belly, feeling the rise and fall of the breath in the abdomen, less so in the chest and shoulders. This may feel as though a balloon is inflating and deflating in your abdomen with each breath.
  3. Begin at your head and slowly scan down through the body. Notice the forehead. Is there tension there? Are you clenching your jaw? Is the tongue relaxed within your mouth? Are you holding tension in the neck? Continue to bring your awareness to different parts of the body moving down towards your feet. Notice how each area feels. Where are you holding your stress?
  4. When you find an area that is tense, take in a deep cleansing breath, and while doing so, tense up that muscle/region. Upon exhale, release the breath and along with it, all of the tension you are holding there.
  5. Many people initially notice an increase in the intensity of tension/discomfort when they first focus on it, but stay present with it, breathing into the tension, relaxing, releasing and not resisting and the intensity will lessen.

Tool #5: 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer can induce a variety of negative emotions: fear, anxiety, stress, anticipation, but…

Did you know that the physical chemistry in your body that leads you to experience an emotion lasts only 90 seconds?

I first learned of this concept of the 90-second emotion from Pema Chödrön, who explained that if you allow an emotion to exist in your body for 90 seconds without judging or resisting it, it will disappear.

Here are 2 techniques you can try when experiencing a negative emotion, that will help you to take advantage of this 90-second concept.

Dr. Ali Novitsky of Mind, Body, Marriage taught me this amazing technique and I want to pass it on to you, as it is truly a wonderful tool to ground you in the present moment.  It’s easy and portable! When you start to feel a negative emotion come on, simply notice the following:

5 things you see right now

4 things you can touch

3 things you hear

2 things you smell

1 thing you taste

These 5 steps are an easy way to bring you back to the moment and get you out of your head where you may have been overwhelmed with negative thoughts. Simply noticing your surroundings in detail, and redirecting your mind to right now will help to dissipate overwhelming negative thoughts and feelings.

Here is another idea for times when you have the ability to go somewhere alone. When you feel a negative emotion coming on, such as anxiety:

  1. Go somewhere alone and close your eyes.
  2. Relax your body one part at a time, starting with your forehead and moving down all the way to the toes. This can be quick, but just make an attempt to physically relax your body.
  3. Take 3 deep breaths.
  4. Say to yourself, “I notice I am feeling anxious.”
  5. Move toward the feeling mentally. It’s your friend. Get to know it. Don’t resist it.
  6. Develop a sense of curiosity, intrigue and fascination about the anxiety.
  7. Where do you feel it in your body? How does it feel? (It may help to write this down.)
  8. Mentally bring your awareness to that area of your body and describe the color, texture, shape, frequency, vibrations, constance or changing of the physical feeling of the emotion in the body.
  9. The goal is to get to know the emotion, taking the wind out of its sails.
  10. Then get up and move on with your day.

In my cell phone, I created a bulleted list using the reminders app called “Feeling an Emotion.” When I feel a negative emotion overtaking me, I pull up this list and methodically work through these steps. I suggest you give it a try! Once you get versed in feeling emotions in your body, you are more easily able to recognize them coming on and you begin to realize that there are no emotions that you can’t withstand, as they are all just sensations in the body of typically short duration.

Tool #4: Mindful Presence

What do I mean by mindful presence?

This is a skill that can be cultivated, which may be likened to living in the Now.

Often, our minds are wandering. Although we are here now, doing a task, many times we are thinking about what’s next on our list or re-hashing a mistake from yesterday.  One of my favorite authors, Eckhart Tolle, gives an excellent description of mindful presence in his books The Power of Now and A New Earth. In these, we learn that our purpose is to allow conscious presence to flow through everything we do. This is what Eckhart calls “our inner purpose.” Being present in this moment is our inner purpose. Of course, our life seems to demand of us that we carry out tasks: we may have a job to do, treatment for cancer to pursue, obligations to family, church and friends. The goal of living with a mindful presence is to be able to align these “outer purposes” with our inner purpose of being present.

When we are able to be fully present in what we do, everything becomes more vibrant and alive.

Most people have had the experience of seeing a person’s body after death. It can be quite shocking.  What remains is a shell, but it becomes clear that the Being/Person/Soul/Spirit that once made this shell alive is no longer there, the animating presence has gone. Here is an exercise to try which may help you to sense your own conscious presence. Read through this exercise and then give it a try.

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Hold your arms and hands out in front of you.
  3. Without looking at your hands, can you sense where they are in space?
  4. Notice the sensation of a living, animating presence just under your skin. What does this feel like to you? Notice the energy field inside the body, feeling the body from within.

Tuning in to your conscious presence and therefore being more mindful may help you with a variety of concerns, including anxiety, fear, anticipation, and other negative emotions that are based in the future or past.  One way to cultivate a mindful presence is to practice regular mindfulness meditation. Your mind will actually build the skill of being in the moment. In the future, we will talk in more detail about neuroplasticity (physical changes in the brain that have been shown to result from mindfulness meditation.) For now, suffice it to say that studies have shown that meditation can physically grow and rewire parts of your brain to make a mindful presence easier. A second way to cultivate mindful presence is remembering to observe moments with your 5 senses. What are you seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and tasting in this moment?

A sense of mindful presence can be brought to anything you do. You will find that you are much more often in a state of peaceful calm when you make an effort to align your inner and outer purposes. Make it a goal this week to practice being present in what you are doing, even during mundane tasks like washing dishes. Let me know how this goes!

Tool #3: Regular Mindfulness Meditation Practice

Starting a Mindfulness Practice

Let’s make this easy. You don’t have to allow your brain to complicate things.  You don’t have to make it challenging. You just start! Remember, no one is “good” at meditating. You are either practicing meditation, or you are not, and you most certainly won’t begin to experience the benefits of a regular practice if you aren’t doing it.

Remember, the main tenets of mindfulness are:

  • Attention on the present moment
  • Nonjudgement
  • Openness and acceptance of the moment’s experience

As long as you are striving towards these ideals, you are succeeding! Here are the practical steps that I recommend to get started.

  1. Chose a time of day to meditate that you want to test. Make this the same time of day every day for 3 weeks. Then, if this is not working for you, you can re-assess and try other times. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you. (I choose to set my alarm earlier in the morning to get up and meditate before my family is awake…then there is peace, quiet and no distractions!)
  2. Start small. I began with just 10 minutes per day. If you’d like, you can try my 10-day series here, which are about 10 minutes each. Another excellent resource: the app called Headspace which has a free trial and is great for beginners.
  3. At first, you will just want to focus on making it a regular habit. The “quality” doesn’t matter as much. Just practice!

I have found that this is the thought model that many people operate under when delaying a start to their meditation practice:

Circumstance: meditation

Thoughts: I don’t have time for this. I don’t know how to do this. I am not good at this. My brain won’t be quiet.

Feeling: paralyzed

Action: Make no attempts to practice meditation. (inaction)

Result: The benefits of a regular practice are not available to you.

Together, let’s try this alternative model!

Circumstance: meditation

Thought: Doing something calming for myself is something I deserve. (Alternatives: I will never learn if I don’t try. I want to be a person who is open to growth and change.)

Feeling: optimistic, motivated

Action: Start today, being open to where the experience will take you.

Result: Personal growth and realization of all the amazing benefits mindfulness meditation will offer you.

What works for beginning a meditation practice is not so much the quantity of time you are committing or your perceived quality or skill level, it is about trying it out on a regular basis and determining whether your practice is fulfilling for you. Is it enough to make a difference in your life? What needs to be adjusted?

How long will it take to see a difference? Research on the health benefits of meditation shows that practicing for at least one hour per week for 8 weeks may be enough to show significant positive effects on your mental and physical health. In fact, one study by Dr. Deborah Norris at a children’s hospital showed that even just 5 minutes of guided meditation before procedures resulted in profound physiological and behavioral effects.

Making a regular practice a priority is something you will not regret.

Please comment below if you need further help or advice!