Mindfulness Meditations & Mind-Body
UF Mindfulness embraces many different mindfulness practices, meditations, and mind-body practices. Diversity empowers, individuals have preferences. Find out which practice supports your life's journey and helps to realize your highest potentials.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is one of the most widely-known mindfulness training programs in the U.S. developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, M.D., University of Massachusetts Medical Center. It is a 8-week evidence-based training program that aims to help people with pain, depression, stress, and anxiety. According to Kabat-Zinn (1994), mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. One well-known book by Kabat-Zinn (1990) is "Full catastrophe living".
MBSR is a secular form of mindfulness meditation. In contrast, non-secular Buddhist, Hindu, and other traditions understand mindfulness as a life practice grounded in ethics, psychology, philosophy, and teachings, while MBSR is solely focused on the mindfulness practice for health and wellness purposes.
There has been ample evidence-based research published that shows the efficacy of MBSR, specifically reduction of stress, anxiety, and experienced pain. MBSR provides many benefits as an efficient coping strategy to address psychological distress (e.g., anxiety) and chronic pain management.
Attention-based Meditations & Breath Meditations
In attention or concentration meditation practices you focus on a specific object (e.g., breath, candle, body part, a specific sound or image). There will be other objects, such as thoughts, ideas, body sensations, etc., arising in your meditation. Instructions usually invite the meditator to return to your chosen object of meditation - return again and again, and if it takes more than 10,000 times returning to your breath. The aim of this kind of meditation is centering and settling down the chatter mind. Attention-based meditation is like a laser beam focused on something specific implying one-pointedness. Some call this practice "focused awareness" (e.g., Winston 2019) in contrast to "natural or pure awareness" meditation practices. Farhi (1996) described a variety of wonderful diverse breath work practices in her book "The Breathing Book". The Koru mindfulness 4-week training program designed for college aged students teaches breath-focused meditation. For beginners of meditation - aren't we all beginners in some way or another - check-out Jack Kornfield's (2008a) classical book "Meditation for Beginners".
Natural or Pure Awareness Meditations
Natural awareness (Winston, 2019 , pure awareness (Ray, 2018), or effortless mindfulness meditation practice (Kelly, 2019) share in common that the meditator relaxes effort to meditate, broadens attention, and releases focus on a specific object (e.g., breath). When you relax effort in a meditation you gently soften and bring attention to the present-moment experience. It means that we relax effort on our breath or an object, and instead we just be with the thoughts, feelings, or body sensations as they arise. Think of shifting into natural awareness like riding a bicycle. Often we pedal really hard, but at a certain point, we stop pedaling and begin coasting. The bike stays upright, and we ride along, but we are not working so hard. The coasting is dependent upon the earlier pedaling stage, just like effortlessness in meditation is dependent upon the effort you made earlier, particularly the effort to concentrate on your breath or other object. Broadening attention means you shift from narrow focused to broadened attention (awareness), the latter is sometimes called "open-monitoring".
This kind of awareness arises by moving your attention from objects to objectless-ness. Objectless awareness typically arises in longer or deeper meditation when we focus on the awareness itself. There will be objects arising in our meditation, such as sensations or thoughts, but since they are not the focus, they are less distinct and reside in the background, while in the foreground we become aware of awareness itself. So instead of our anchor being our breath, for example, our anchor is awareness itself. Natural awareness is effortless mindfulness out of which creative insights and wisdom arise. In natural awareness we rest deeply and open our mind to what is - "letting go" becomes "letting be". A good source book to learn more about the distinctions between attention and awareness consult Culasada and Immergut (2015) or "The Little Book of Being" by Winston (2019).
Insight Meditation & Wisdom
Breathing, attention-type meditation allows to calm our mind, relax our tense bodies, and reduce emotional reactivity, while natural awareness type meditations open us up to more spacious, open-ended states of consciousness that shift from "letting go" (e.g., dropping distracting thoughts from our mind) to a state of "letting be" where nothing else is needed in the present moment. The latter state of consciousness open toward presence, spaciousness, tranquility, and equanimity.
Even deeper states of meditative absorption allow to experience states of consciousness of "letting arise". What supposedly arises are insights, wisdom, deeper ways of intuitive knowing, joy, bliss, being at peace, and awe. Examples of such kind of meditations are Buddhist insight meditation ("gaining insight into reality"), Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka ("to see things as they really are"), vipashyana meditation (Tibetan Buddhism) to clear the mind and bring forth wisdom, and other nondual meditative practices in which the meditator experiences the essential nature of being (e.g., Advaita Vedanta, Vajrayana Buddhism, Dzogchen). Nonduality asserts that there are no distinctions between form and emptiness, ground and groundlessness, being or not-being, birth or death. The purpose of these kind of meditations is to liberate oneself from suffering and pain as well as delusions, ignorance, and attachments. Instead the spiritual goal of awakening is to realize enlightenment (Lama Surya Das, 1998; Ray, 2008).
Somatic Meditations & Embodiment Practices
Somatic knowing is the capacity to view life from within the body. Meditations that stress a somatic approach are body scans, whole-body breathing, mindful awareness of the whole body, or earth descent. Other somatic-oriented practices that focus on body movements and body awareness are for example yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. The body beholds things directly (van der Kolk, 2014), specifically trauma (Stanley, 2016; Treleaven, 2018). Through somatic awareness we can experience and perceive ourselves more directly and face trauma, neurosis, and our eccentricities. In other words, we shift our attention away from thoughts toward the body that is the human vessel in which we live and experience ourselves with the whole kaboom of sensations, feelings, emotions, and thoughts.
In somatic meditation the meditator immerses completely in the body to subjectively experience the totality of what is as an immediate, spontaneous, nonconceptual apprehension (Ray, 2008; 2016). One becomes fully aware of one’s body and what arises within the body, for example, sensations, tensions, temperature, feelings, and perceptions that may allow to see with more clarity, and perhaps even wisdom.
Somatic awareness involves witnessing “from within” in an ongoing communication between the body and mind, between the inner world and outer world which sometimes is perceived as drama, comedy,
painful, “not meeting my personal expectations”, or fill in the blanks........
............... Body awareness is a complex construct with a variety of facets, such as somatic memory which may hold traumatic memories, childhood and adult experiences, beautiful joyful experiences, and many more. Psychologist experts say that the unconscious is the body as a storehouse of memories engrained in our cells, DNA, nervous system, psychological structure, and neural brain patterns (see Marlock & Weiss, 2015; van der Kolk, 2014). The distinction between body and soma hints at differences between concrete empirically observable things (such as brain patterns, organs, blood, nervous system) and a living body as a source of spiritual insights—soul, spirit, divine, mystical, or something we cannot fully explain and understand. Merleau-Ponty (1945/2012) asserted that the subjective, somatic, and deeply personal “lived experience” contrasts the view of the body as a measurable object (bio-medical view of the body). Embodied somatic meditation allows us first-hand to explore our soma , and embody our body-mind-emotions. In Buddhism, this kind of somatic meditation is found in the Yogacara ("Mind-Only") Tibetan tradition (Duckworth, 2019) and Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist tradition (Ray, 2018).
Zen Sitting Meditation Practice
Zen meditation is rooted in Buddhism. Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki was a Japanese scholar and author of many books and essays on Buddhism, Zen and Shin that were instrumental in spreading interest in Zen to the West. Shunryu Suzuki (1970) stressed the "Zen mind", the beginner's mind, a mind that is empty and free.
Zazen sitting posture, full lotus position, is considered to express oneness of duality. The claim is that our body and mind are not two and not one. Our body and mind are both two and one. We die and we do not die. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless, but in reality there is just one whole world. Zen loves paradoxes pointing to nonduality. Zen masters such as Dogen and others left a legacy of wisdom rooted in the importance of meditation practice called Shikantaza. On the spiritual path to liberation, "silent illumination" is considered the pinnacle state of awakening (Leighton, 2000). The posture of cross-legged meditation practice or sitting on a meditation bench have been popular around the world, irrespective of Buddhist beliefs.
The introduction of Oriental Buddhism to the West, including Zen in the early 1970s in America, have contributed to the emergence of the mindfulness movement and popularity of mindfulness meditation in the U.S. (Gleig, 2019; McMahan, 2008). However, there has been Buddhists voices of critique in regard to misappropriations of Zen and meditation practices, Buddhist metaphysical beliefs, ethics, and dogma in light of secularizing and enculturating them into American culture.
Mind-Body Movement Practices
Walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, pilates, mindful cleaning or cooking, mindful eating, drinking a cup of tea or water mindfully, or gardening are considered mind-body movement practices. These practices share in common that they are intentional, focus attention on the breath, body and movement; and thus, invite us to stay present to the unfolding moment-to-moment experience. Hot Yoga (Bikram yoga) is for body strength and balance, while other yoga traditions emphasize breath, body movement, and presence. Many different yoga traditions are practiced, such as Hatha Yoga (yoga of balance in our gross physical and subtle energetic bodies), Kundalini Yoga (awakens kundalini energies), Raya Yoga (yoga of the mind), Karma Yoga (yoga of action), Jnana Yoga (yoga of knowledge and wisdom), Bhakti Yoga (yoga of devotion), Mantra Yoga (yoga of primordial sounds of the universe), Tantra Yoga (yoga of energies), Ashtanga Yoga (mastery of the body and breath), and many more.
Yoga practitioners also use attention and awareness while performing different postures. It is not the intent in yoga to performing postures absent-mindedly and disembodied while thinking of the daily errand to-do-list list. Rather yoga and other mind-body movement practices like mindful walking aim to enhance embodiment, being fully present to the body's gentle and slow movements in a meditate state of mind. Gentle listening to the flow of body movements are ideal to integrate mind, body, and psyche while touching subtle energies. These practices have shown many benefits including to enhance mental, emotional, physical well-being, and health.
Some of the mind-body practices, such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and whirling derwishes, are rooted in spiritual or religious traditions (e.g., Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism, and Islam), while others are "Western-born" new age practices, such as 5Rhytms, Biodanza, or ecstatic dance, or neo-shamanic rituals. Importantly, these spiritual conscious body movement expressions touch on subtle energies beyond the physical body.
Contemplative Meditation Practices
Centering Prayer is a method of meditation used by Christians focused on interior silence. There are two primary ways of praying from a Christian perspective: Kataphatic, i.e. prayer that uses words, images, e.g. Scripture, icons, song, worship; and apophatic, i.e. prayer that is beyond words, thoughts and images.
In Lanzetta's (2018) book "The monk within: Embracing a sacred way of life" she touches on this internal wisdom that she considers to evoke transcendence touching the divine. Keating (2009) stressed how centering prayer provides intimacy with God. As Thomas Merton (2007) pointed out, contemplation that draws on the meditative tradition of St. John of the Cross awakens a deeply contemplative and mystical dimension in ones life.
Contemplative practices are found in all major religions and spiritualities. The contemporary movement of 'being spiritual but not religious' (Parsons, 2018) expresses how individual creative spiritual exploration through contemplative practices have gained much interest compared to dogmatic religions. The blending and blurring of meditation, contemplative practices, and beliefs (e.g., Jew-Buhs or Christian-Zen meditators) and co-creation of new spiritualities may enrich people's lives.
Transpersonal Psychology, Neuroscience & Consciousness
Transpersonal psychology is a whole person psychology that studies 1) phenomena beyond the ego as context for 2) an integrative/holistic psychology; this provides a framework for 3) understanding and cultivating human transformation. Meditation brings forth states of consciousness beyond ordinary ego consciousness including, but are not limited to, self-expansiveness, self-deconstruction, and awareness of awareness. Fleming's (2021) fascinating research on metacognition ("the thinking about thinking") reveals that self-awareness is pivotal to understand how we relate to ourselves; metacognition also allows us to think about the minds of others and shapes how we relate to other people and the world (e.g., angry, resentful, reserved, compassionate, loving, and/or caring).
Meditative states of consciousness and their effects can be researched with qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods, for example, brain imaging, electroencephalogram (EEG), scales/questionnaires, phenomenology, or interviews of meditators. However, what consciousness really is is still a matter of discussion. Distinctly different models of consciousness have been proposed. Chalmers (1995) poignantly called the "problem of consciousness" the hard problem because it is so difficult to explain. Philosophers of mind, like Dennett (1991) , are rooted in empirical theory defining the brain as a parallel processing system coupled to the nervous system. This view relates to artificial intelligence (AI) that aims to emulate the human brains functioning using machine and deep learning parallel processing for all kinds of applications. In neuroscience, one view is that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, a phenomenon arising from the brain's neural networks. This implies that if the brain or human body dies consciousness ceases to exist ...............
............... Other consciousness theories propose alternative ideas that aim to reconcile science and spirituality (Kelly et al., 2015). Varela et al. (2016) in their classic book "Embodied Mind" proposed embodied cognition and enaction pioneering the connection between phenomenology, neuroscience, and Buddhism. In enactive embodiment it is not the grasping of the brain, mind, or self of an independent outside world (dualistic view); rather it is the bringing forth of an interdependent world in and through embodied action co-creating lived human experience. In Ferrer's (2002, 2017) transpersonal participatory theory, subtle worlds and the world of nature are united because the claim is that subtle states of consciousness, energy, and the physical world of matter (e.g., the body) are only expressions of different degrees, frequencies, concentrations, or density states of consciousness and energy. Participatory theory posits that subtle worlds may exist and that no pregiven spiritual ultimate reality exists (e.g., eternal, all-encompassing Divine). Mind-body practices support the exploration and integration of human faculties (mind, body, heart/emotions, subtle vital energies, and consciousness) (Ferrer, 2017). There is a plethora of energy mind-body practices that bridge science and subtle energy bodies (e.g., Tibetan Buddhism, Reiki energy channeling, kundalini yoga, qi gong, spiritual healing practices, pranic healing, quantum healing, reflexology, and acupuncture). For example, the ancient mindfulness practice of Yoga Nidra ("yogic sleep" or "effortless relaxation") is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping ("resting in blissful awareness") and has been adapted to Western format (e.g., iRest).
Compassion and Loving-Kindness Practices
Self-compassion means to be compassionate to yourself and has been recognized in psychotherapy to be even more important than self-esteem when feeling insecure (Neff, 2011). Self-compassion is the recognition that no matter what is happening in our lives, we are lovable (Desmond, 2015). In Desmond's (2019) book "How to Stay Human in a F*cked-Up World: Mindfulness practices for real life" he explores how new perspectives grounded in compassion and healing can be developed. When things are going well, self-compassion gives us permission to feel joy; and when we are suffering or experiencing any kind of distress, self-compassion is a supportive voice that helps us to find beauty, aliveness, and meaning in life. Self-compassion is particularly important when we are dealing with challenges in our life - when we are struggling, feeling afraid, depressed, angry or lonely.
Compassion refers to "the recognition of pain (in oneself or others) with the desire to relieve it" (Hanson, 2018, p. 9). When we treat others with respect and care, the best in them usually comes out. Compassion means to go beyond the selfish "I-mind" meaning that I, you, and we are all equally important. We can learn and strengthen compassion through compassion and loving kindness meditation practices that tend to enhance self acceptance, resilience, and joy. .....................
................ Tara Brach's (2019) "Radical Compassion" and RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture) practice model, Sharon Salzberg's "Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection" (2017), and Christopher Germer and Sharon Salzberg's (2009) "The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions" exemplify how deliberate practice of compassion and mindfulness can transform your life. Compassion and loving-kindness meditations, for example tonglen and bodhicitta practices, are deeply rooted in Mahayana Buddhism (Chödrön, 2001, 2018; Shantideva, 1992; Williams, 2010). Thich Nhat Hanh (1998, 2012) is one of the most recognized heart-based meditation teachers rooted deeply in Mahayana Buddhism. For Thich Nhat Hanh awakening of the heart, compassion, and loving-kindness is to live life fully. He explains that there are four elements of true love in Mahayana Buddhism - maitri (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksha (equanimity or freedom) (Thich Nhat Hanh, 2004). Zenjy Earthlyn Manuel (2015) stressed awakening through race, sexuality, and gender grounded in loving-kindness and tenderness practices, while Williamns et al. (2016) are proponents of radical and fierce compassion to break through color, race, gender power patterns.
Buddhism offers a variety of compassion and loving-kindness meditation practices that have found its way into psychology and mindfulness programs, including MBSR. Specifically, positive psychology has embraced the positive psychological and emotional effects of such meditation practices. Positive psychology focuses on positive experiences (e.g., happiness, joy, love) and 2) positive states and traits (e.g., compassion, resilience, and gratitude) to foster wellbeing and human flourishing (Ackerman, 2020). The close linkage between psychology and Buddhist compassion and loving-kindness were recognized by Kornfield (2008b) and Welwood (2002). While Western psychotherapy provides the scientific understanding and therapy space, Buddhist meditation practices provide the "How to" practice approach without dwelling on Buddhist dogma or beliefs. After all, compassion is compassion, love is love, joy is joy, happiness is just happiness - and this is true for all kinds of people and places on planet Earth.
Meditations in Nature
Hiking trails, silent walking in the forest, watching waves in the ocean, or bird or butterflies and similar nature experiences can be meditative. The delight in the natural world, the awe and joy we may feel by sensing the wind in our face, the bliss of boundless views over valleys and mountaintops evoke the sense of eternity and humbleness. Meditations in nature evoke to experience us in more expansive ways; as larger than our "small" selves that give purpose and meaning. Connecting meditatively to the Earth, Mother Earth, Gaia as a living organism may evoke deep care for life, all organisms, and humanity. Meditative nature therapies provide a sense of belonging (something larger than our narrow egoic "I"), deep relaxation, and rejuvenation. For some of us who have become too urbanized and disembodied in tech-hype, fast-paced living places "back to nature" can allow to re-connect more deeply to the source of our being or deeper meaning of live.
The Japanese Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing or forest therapy) provides stress-relief and enhances well-being through intentional mindfulness meditation practice in forests. According to Miyazaki (2018), forest bathing provides synchronization of rhythm between ourselves and the forest. Forest bathing enhances well-being that arises out of active comfort, which means to gain something extra through nurturing stimulation of our five senses. This goes beyond just passive comfort that is to eliminate discomfort to fulfill deprivation needs (e.g., thermal regulation to stay warm or eat food because we are hungry).
In William Blake's words: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
Chanting, Visualization Meditation, Journaling & Painting
Chanting is a powerful form of meditation that uses repetitive singing or speaking of words, syllable, or sounds. The chanting of mantras (e.g., OM), sacred texts, or words is a spiritual practice found in many religious traditions. The sounds vibrate in our bodies (and bodies of others if chanting is practiced in community) and brings forth meditative states of consciousness and relaxation with healing powers. Listening to music, singing bowls, or gong baths are meditative because they allow to drop distracting thoughts and fully immerse in sound, becoming sound, being sound. For example, Transcendental Meditation refers to a specific form of silent, mantra meditation.
Visualization of a compassionate person, a desired state (e.g., relaxation at the beach), event (e.g., successful graduation with a Ph.D. degree), spiritual image or symbol is a directive meditative technique focused on a specific goal; or visualization serves to reframe something perceived as negative into something more positive. Painting, especially emotional painting, and the arts in general are creative meditative ways to immerse in deeper ways of knowing and help process our feelings and debilitating thoughts that otherwise keep us ruminating and depressed.
Meditation combined with journaling allow self-discovery through observing and noting our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. In this sense, journaling is a contemplative method that brings forth insights.