For Beginners to Meditation

buddhist water droplets


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"He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever."
- Chinese Proverbs

What is mindfulness?

I think that direct experience is the best teacher for something like mindfulness, so here is something you can try. You will see mindfulness for yourself, with this simple practice. (hint: read instructions first and then try it for 2 minutes)


    Alert - Become still and alert - close your eyes, bringing your attention inward to your breath

    Kindness - Simply observe your breath by bringing a kind, curious attention to the subtle sensations of your breathing, as it moves in and out of your body. (usually at or around the nostrils is best for this simple test).

    Ease - Let go of everything but the breath, as best as you can. Find the beginning of your in-breath, and follow it all the way through to the beginning of your out-breath - follow this all the way through and begin again. Do your best to keep your attention rooted in this sensation of breathing in and out - relax into it without trying to alter the breath in any way.

    Continue with the intention of keeping with this simple practice of observing the breath, one breath at a time. Keep the breath and only the breath in mind. Practice this for 10 minutes and come back to this post when you're done.


Did you keep the breath in mind the entire 10 minutes, without thinking about anything else - or did your attention wander? Where did it wander to? Sound perhaps, or other body sensations, or more likely thoughts about the past present or future, daydreams, planning, snippets of conversations from the day?

Wherever it wandered off to, at some point, you noticed that you were no longer paying attention to your breath - that you went somewhere else - usually without even noticing that you left the breath in the first place.

This is mindfulness. Not the wandering but that moment when you 'woke-up' and realized that your attention was no longer with the breath but somewhere else.

That is, the moment you 'wake up' from the trance of thinking or daydreaming and become aware that you're thinking and that your attention is no longer fully with the breath, that moment right there was a moment of mindfulness.

Most of our lives are lived in the state just before we wake-up and notice - a kind of automatic pilot - being pulled this way and that by the untrained mind, believing whatever it is we may be thinking, hanging on to pleasant experiences for dear life and at the same time frantically pushing away unpleasant experiences - hoping beyond all hope that we can tip the balance of pleasant vs. unpleasant in our favor and then at the end of the day we can maybe call this a pretty good life.

Kind of scary, huh?

Mindfulness offers us a way out. With enough consistent and sincere practice, we can develop this 'wake up' state so that it lasts longer and eventually becomes the norm. Once this happens, we can move on to the practice of the goal of mindfulness - a happiness and well-being that is not dependent on the ever changing conditions of our lives.

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What is MBSR?
MBSR Stands for, "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction."

MBSR was created by John Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts. Adapted from a wisdom practice that has developed for over 2500 years, MBSR is clinically proven and approved as one of the most reliable Stress Reduction Programs available today.

However, it would be a mistake to think of MBSR as a kind of 'remedial' course - "Oh, I'm just a basket case. I have to take stress management." It's not remedial anything. In fact, the skills you develop in MBSR are more akin to Advanced Training in the Art of Living.

Stress is at the root of most of our modern afflictions. We all suffer from it whether aware of it or not. Physical and emotional imbalance is either brought on or exacerbated by stress. How often have you heard or said, "I'm stressed out" as a common reply to "how are you?" Many of us even use it as a badge of honor. Children now say it with as much gravity as any adult.

MBSR is a system that develops and sustains the tools which cultivate health and well-being in our bodies, relationships and the world. If you practice this course sincerely, it will be the most difficult and yet the most rewarding thing you will ever do in your life.

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What is a typical class like? Do we meditate the whole time?
While each class session is different, a typical class will include time for teaching, group discussion about people's successes and obstacles, as well as time for guided group meditation. In the earlier classes the meditations can be as short as five minutes. Over the class sessions, the guided meditations grow up to about twenty minutes.

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Why do people usually come to these classes?
There are lots of reasons that people have given for coming to these classes. The most common reasons revolve around issues of stress/anxiety and trying to feel a greater sense of well being. Many have heard or read about the benefits of mindful meditation and are looking for a class where they can learn about it.

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Do I have to stop thinking to do mindful meditation?
This is a common misconception. We are not trying to stop thinking, we are trying to cultivate awareness of the present. Part of that awareness is being mindful of our thoughts rather than being "lost in them".

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Is this a religion? Do I have to give up my current religion?
While the principles and practices taught in these classes do originate from Buddhist philosophy, the classes emphasize a secular orientation. This is not a "religion" and there is no desire (or need) to dissuade anyone from their current religious faith and beliefs. In fact, most religious people who practice mindfulness simply become better Christian, or Jews etc. As the Dalai Lama said, "Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist.
Use it to be a better whatever you already are."

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Do I have to "believe" in anything to benefit from mindfulness? What if I am a skeptic?
Skepticism is not only welcome, but encouraged. There is no aspect of "blind faith " in these practices. Everyone is encouraged to try these practices out for themselves and see how they work for them. Just as you don't need to "believe" in aspirin for it to helpwith a headache, you don't need to "believe" in the benefits of mindfulness meditation for it to benefit you in your life.

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Is there research on the benefits of mindfulness?
Yes. In fact, the UCLAMindfulness Awareness Research Center has compiled a Mindfulness Bibliography that lists over 94 pages of references to scientific studies on mindfulness. These references describe the benefits of mindfulness in a variety of areas,including pain, sleep, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

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What if I can't pay the full amount? What does "no one turned away for lack of funds" mean?
This means, you are welcome no matter your ability to pay. We of course have business and personal expenses like everyone else, and must make enough money to maintain these in order to continue to provide quality services. However, most people honor this system and do not abuse it. At Mindful Valley we are also aware that some individuals are students, unemployed or have difficulty paying due to financial difficulties that we all face from time to time. Because of the inconstancy of financial stability, if you can't pay the full amount we simply ask that you pay what you can honestly afford for our classes, retreats and practice labs. This is also the definition of "no one turned away for lack of funds."

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Scientific Research

  • Mindfulness Research References - For those who like to "go to the source", this page lists over 60 scientific articles demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness meditation programs and mindfulness.

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Mindfulness in the Media

  • Mindful Meditation: Good for the Brain By Laurie Martin, Psychiatric Times - Associate Editor | February 2, 2011
    Daily meditation over a consistent period of time changes gray matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Researchers examined MRI scans of participants over a period of 8 weeks. Daily meditation sessions of 30-minutes’ duration produced measurable changes in subjects with no previous meditation history. Increased gray matter was discovered in the hippocampus, the learning and memory region of the brain. The anxiety and stress region of the brain, the amygdala, produced less gray matter. In a non-meditating control group, these positive changes did not take place.
  • Harvard Medical Journal - The Benefits of Mindfulness - This article originally appeared in the February 2004 Harvard Women's Health Watch. It describes mindfulness as well as some of the scientific research demonstrating its benefits. For example, one study described there found that increased mindfulness was "correlated with established measures of well-being, including better mood, optimism, more openness to new experiences, and greater satisfaction with life."
  • De-Clutter Your Mind Through Mindfulness - This article, originally published in The Independent (London, UK) describes mindfulness meditation and research related to augmenting the treatment of depression with the teaching of mindfulness meditation, showing that "At the end of 60 weeks, just over a third of those who were taught meditation had suffered depression, compared to two-thirds of the control group."
  • Meditation Calms Mind, Helps Heal Body - This article, originally from the St. Louis Dispatch, describes some of the research supporting the benefits of mindfulness. It also underscores the point that mindfulness meditation is not a religion and how practically minded people can find benefits from it.

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Mindful Valley offers classes in mindfulness and insight (vipassana) meditation throughout the San Fernando Valley including Sherman Oaks, Encino, Studio City, West Hills, Woodland Hills and Eagle Rock.