Meditation Exercises

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Mindfulness Meditation Exercise

This section gathers links, articles, and ideas on the mindfulness meditation. If you are thinking about doing the mindfulness exercises for one of my classes, this is the place to start.
First, listen to the [NPR story] on mindfulness meditation.  As that story suggests, many people exploring this topic are looking for evidence of the difference that meditation makes in a person's sense of well-being.  Mindfulness is a general term for a heightened awareness of the present. It can also refer to practices which promote this awareness.
The best way to assess this is by experimenting with techniques for increasing mindfulness in general and (in the happiness class especially) developing attentiveness in areas such as pleasure and gratitude. Then you can make your own assessment of the value of these techniques in raising subjective well being or happiness.
If you are coming to this exercise from a Philosophy of Human Nature class, then the main curricular goal you should have is to assess mindfulness in relation to claims by philosophies which promote it, such as Buddhism.

First Mindfulness Exercise:  A Sitting Meditation Focused on Breathing

Find a quiet room (a church or chapel works) as a setting for your meditation.  Pick a time of day when you are not too tired or hungry and when you do not have to rush to an appointment immediately after meditating.  If you are very tired when you meditate, you might fall asleep!  If you have to go to class or some other appointment immediately after meditating, you might be distracted and not relax during your mediation.
Sit upright in a comfortable position, either on a chair or the floor. If you are sitting on the floor, you may want to support your back against a wall. Initially, you should settle your body into a sitting posture, making yourself comfortable. Feel the weight of your body and notice the places where there is either body to body pressure or body to floor pressure. Adjust your posture to distribute your weight.
Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing.  Take normal breaths. If possible, keep your mouth closed and breath through your nose. You might want to selectively contract and relax muscles in different parts of your body, working up from your feet.  Take your time with each muscle group. Slowly tense the muscles and relax them, perhaps in tune with your breathing (e.g. one to two breaths to tighten, likewise to relax). Avoid retightening the muscle group as you move on. Continue to return your focus to breathing when it wanders. In succession, tighten and relax the muscles in your feet, your lower legs, your thighs, your buttocks and abdomen, your chest, arms, neck, face and head.  Stretch your neck all around your collar bone to relax it. This should all take time. Don't rush. As you become quietly aware of your body, return your attention to your breathing. For a variation on this pre-meditation exercise, consider trying just the pre-meditation exercises in Media:YogaMeditation0001.pdf this document. You could some stretching before you sit down as well.
Note the time and begin your meditation by focusing on your breathing. As you start your meditation, many thoughts will occur to you to distract you from your attention to your breathing.  Within a minute or so you will probably find yourself thinking about something that you need to do or something that is coming up in your life. You'll remember that you have to get groceries, finish a paper, call someone, etc.  Acknowledge that you are thinking about these things and then make a conscious choice to turn your attention back to your breathing and your body. Be prepared for your mind to periodically take you away from your breathing and back to your affairs, worries, hopes, and chores. If something keeps intruding (like an appointment that you keep remembering that you need to make or a task that you suddenly remember), you might want to update your to-do list next time before you start meditating. You can, of course, open your eyes and jot the item down. But remember, the goal is to quiet the mind. In any case, it is more likely that you will remember all of these details better after a good meditation, so you might just chance it.
The goal of focusing on breathing is to quiet the mind. The mind is sometimes referred to in meditation circles (and, originally, in Buddhist writing) as a "chattering monkey," distracting you from our own experience and elevating your anxiety with a steady stream of thoughts about various things you need to do in your life. In yogic philosophy, the goal of meditation is the restraint of the modifications of consciousness. Quieting the mind makes sense as a preparation for mindfulness, but that's one more thing you should assess from the standpoint of some experience. Becoming more mindful involves heightening your awareness of your present experience and, presumably, both enjoying it more and seeing things in a less distracted way. "Mindfulness" advocates are sometimes criticized for focusing on the present, but they claim that you will benefit from approaching the future with a calm and orderly mind.
I recommend that you make meditations daily for this assignment, if you can, but at least try to meditate 4-6 times a week. If you can go right up to 20-30 minutes great, but if you need to work your way from 5-10 minutes up to a longer meditation, that's fine too. The point is to get a lot from your meditation so that you actually look forward to spending time in a meditative state. For this assignment you should commit to about 4 weeks of meditation and turn in one journal each week describing your experience in relation to the goal.

Variations in Meditation

You can explore variations of many kinds in your meditations. Maybe the simplest variation is to do some stretching or Yoga poses before you meditate. The more your can settle your body, the more you can settle your mind. Some people find it helpful to meditate after physical exercise.
You do not always have to be focused on the body and the breath. There are sound meditations, concentration meditations (in which you keep your eyes open and engaged in a relaxed focus on an object), meditations to build particular kinds of affect like compassion, gratitude, kindness, etc. There are audio meditations you can use from the UCLA Semel Institute site for varying the focus of your meditation. (Thanks to Diana Winston at UCLA for making these available.) Like yoga poses, as you learn a new focus for a meditation, you can repeat that focus at your own choice in your own experience. I encourage you to try a compassion building meditation at some point. Like anything else, you'll find that you have preferences based on your experience.
While the initial exercise above is a sitting meditation, you may also want to try a lying down meditation: Savasana. (Thanks to Lisa L. (Happiness Class 2007) for this.

Other Resources

Explore a variety of resources about mindfulness as you are having the experiential learning of actually meditating. These resources are good for students who want to do formal writing about these exercises.
Here's a site with some audio mediations that a student recently found helpful (SP08). The Meditation Room

Exploring Buddhist exercises and thought

Read the wiki page on "Vipassana"
Google "practical vipassana exercises" to get the 60 page pdf, "Practical Vipassana Exercises," Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw. This text form the Buddha Dharma Education Association might require some discusssion, but it's really very clear. My understanding is that a basic goal of Vipassana (or "insight") meditation is to observe carefully the way we are interacting with the world through our physical sensations, specific intentions, memories, and anticipations. In effect, by developing these observational skills and the self-awareness that comes with them, you will be in a better position to make assessments of your experience.
Check out this wiki article: [Theraveda Philosophy]

Mindfulness research centers

U. Mass Medical Center has a famous mindfulness meditation research program:[1]

UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior: This site has some free audio meditations that students of mine have found helpful. -Alfino

Recent Search

Here's are some [selected articles] from a recent search of PscyInfo and Newspaper Index on "mindfulness". Try your own (especially if you are doing the assignment for "formal" credit.