Mindfulness Mondays with Daron: Frequently Asked Questions
Mindful awareness is so deeply human that you really don’t need anyone to teach you how to do it. However, it’s so counter-instinctual and paradoxical that you probably need someone to convince you it’s worth doing (habitually) and that you’re not doing it wrong when you try.
This page serves as a resource for getting your questions about mindfulness answered. It will grow organically based on the common challenges people run into. We encourage you to contribute by asking questions during and between practice sessions.
It helps to remember that mindfulness practice is about developing attention-related skills over time rather than experiencing special, temporary mental or emotional states. It’s not a way to escape the challenges of life, but a set of tools for engaging more fully with the inevitable messiness of life.
When people take up an exploration of mindfulness practice, they often report remembering ways they paid attention during childhood and strategies they’ve developed along the way. These discoveries are significant because they reveal that your base level mindfulness and ways to personalize your exploration to fit your personality, interests, and challenges.
A fundamental challenge is that it’s really easy to convince yourself that you’re doing mindfulness wrong when you’re doing it right. As with any skill development, it takes time and practice to get better at interpreting your experiences of engaging with mindfulness exercises.
When you run into an obstacle, you can be sure that others are running into something similar. Let’s get as many of them out on the table so we can all learn how to navigate them.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to the natural capacity we all have for being present.
When we’re present, we’re able to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell the details of our current experience. We can also notice that we’re thinking or experiencing emotional reactions.
In contrast, when people report not being present, they usually mean their mind is somewhere else. They might be remembering past experiences, imagining future events, or trying to figure something out in their minds.
When we’re present, we can observe our moment-by-moment experiences with less internal friction.
Internal friction appears when we try to make pleasant moments even better or unpleasant moments less uncomfortable. There are endless strategies we’ve all developed for thinking and acting in ways to try to turn what’s currently happening into what we wish were happening instead.
For example, worrying can feel like exerting control, but it can also generate a slew of worst-case scenarios. Making vacation plans can make you feel less satisfied with the vacation you’re currently taking. A pint of ice cream can take the edge off an unpleasant emotion, but you tend to regret consistently consuming beyond your reasonable caloric budget.
With mindfulness practice, you can expand the range of circumstances in which you’re able to stay focused and composed in the present. It erodes your tendency to undermine pleasant moments and escalate unpleasant ones.
Mindfulness provides a variety of ways to exercise our attention using your ordinary sensory experiences to gradually transform how you relate to your life as it unfolds.
What’s the difference between making sense and sensing?
Mindfulness is a practice of coming back to our senses. Literally.
As we go through the day, our attention tends to be anchored in our imagination. We think and plan and solve problems and make decisions — all important and necessary, by the way — while our sensory perceptions — sounds, sights, feelings in our bodies — hang out mostly unobserved in the background — unless they’re signaling some kind of trouble.
When you notice a sensory experience closely for a few seconds while letting your imagination hang out in the background, you’re exercising your attentional skills with mindfulness.
This five-minute video walks you through a direct experience of this shift.
You don’t have to try to stop thinking. That never works anyway.
You don’t even have to try to be in the present.
The researcher Ellen Langer says “noticing new things puts us in the present.”
When you take in a sensory perception, your attention is anchored in what’s happening right now.
Part of what makes mindfulness difficult to talk about is that each repetition is so simple, but it’s not easy to take even short breaks from making sense of things — to practice sensing them directly instead.
Children spontaneously explore the world in this way, but adults — we have to practice coming back to our senses the way we did more naturally when we were young.
Not because it’s good for us, but because it’s actually really satisfying to notice what doesn’t insist on our attention sometimes — to really notice what it’s like to be alive.
What sensory perceptions are explored in mindfulness?
Ordinary sensory perceptions are the raw material of mindfulness practice.
They’re what we’re exploring whether we’re practicing formally (meditation) or informally (noticing perceptions in the midst of daily life).
They include the sensory perceptions we think about when we talk about our five senses:
In the context of mindfulness practice, we can expand the idea of ordinary perception to include an awareness of our real-time mental and emotional experiences.
Mental images (the visual side of thinking)
Mental talk and tunes (the auditory side of thinking)
General affect (mood)
Check out these guided exercises to explore some of the basic sensory category options.
I think of mindfulness practice as developing a richer sensory palate.
By making a habit of teasing out specific flavors, people can develop their cooking and wine tasting skills. When they do, their experience of eating and drinking becomes richer.
By savoring the ordinary elements of human perception habitually, you can become a connoisseur of being alive.
Check out these short guided exercises to explore
What does one repetition of a mindfulness exercise consist of?
One repetition of any mindfulness exercise consists of two parts:
Selecting a sensory perception to notice
Noticing it closely for a handful of seconds
First, there is an initial noticing. We try to be very clear about what it is we’re observing. Sometimes we let our attention be drawn to a sensory experience. Sometimes we intentionally draw our attention to it. In either case, we take a short time to be as clear as possible about where we’re about to spend the next few seconds.
Second, there is a period of allowing the attention to rest on its selected target. It’s important to practice in this way without evaluating what we’re noticing or getting caught up in its meaning. Try your best to allow what you’re observing to be just as it is for a few seconds.
In mindfulness practice, we sometimes use a mental or spoken label to help us concentrate.
Consider the many activities that require people to develop a way to stay mentally orientated.
Musicians and dancers count measures of music in their minds to learn a new piece, stay oriented within it, and to keep track of their cues.
Nurses mentally tick off heartbeats while waiting for their thermometers to register a temperature.
People working out at the gym count the repetitions of an exercise.
Swimmers come up with methods for counting out components of a particular stroke or for attempting to remember which lap they’re on.
When noticing sensory details, we can use specific labels (inhale, exhale, right hand, both feet, itch, hunger, boredom, bird singing) or generic labels (see, hear, feel).
Another common technique in mindfulness is to use a label to acknowledge a distraction from whatever exercise you’re doing.
For example, if you’re noticing the physical sensations of breathing (inhale, exhale, in, out, etc.) and you realize you’re thinking about something else, you could use a general label (thinking) or a specific label (worrying, planning, remembering, etc.) as a way to gently recognize where your attention is and to invite it return to the attention exercise you’re currently engaged in.
Can you recommend a general approach to sneaking mindfulness into my day?
The narrative is our default attentional mode. There is nothing wrong with living your life as the main character in a story, but there is something liberating about also feeling at home in the direct experience of living regardless of the circumstances.
Here’s an exercise you can experiment with throughout the day in order to travel more freely between both worlds:
PAUSE TO NOTICE SOME ASPECT OF YOUR CURRENT EXPERIENCE.
It's simple, but not easy. Let’s break it down.
Just take a few seconds in the middle of any activity or thought. This is the trickiest part: remembering to do it.
You could be walking or standing in line or waiting for a red light to change or sitting in a meeting. Anything you do standing, sitting, or lying down will work. Nobody needs to know. In fact, plan on keeping it to yourself until you’ve done it a few hundred (or thousand) times.
Drop whatever story you find yourself in. Not forever. Just for the next few seconds. Even if you have a few minutes to practice, work with units of a few seconds at a time and string them together. Each brief unit of noticing constitutes one repetition.
You can stop or slow down or keep doing what you’re doing. You can even keep thinking what you’re thinking. The difference will be that you’re deciding to devote at least a few seconds to closely observing some part of it directly.
...some aspect of your current experience.
This can be any sensory experience: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling. What makes this part challenging is that we tend to skip right to the evaluation of whatever we notice: do I like it or not like it, is it beautiful or ugly, good or bad. We’re disrupting this default mode by trying to get more acquainted with the process of noticing itself.
It’s as if you were exploring these questions:
What is it like to see?
What is it like to hear?
What is it like to smell?
What is it like to taste?
What is it like to touch or feel?
But instead of trying to answer these questions using words, try to experience the answer directly through your senses.
You’re literally attempting to sense the answer without any obligation to describe it.
It’s fun. Kids do it all the time. Adults forget.
This exercise might seem too simple to be meaningful. We’re much more familiar with the story-problem mode of attention. See if you can develop the habit of simply remembering to pause to notice aspects of as many ordinary experiences as possible.
Even though each individual repetition only takes a few seconds, the impact accumulates over time to support feeling more at home in your life just as it is right now.
Try to avoid the suppression of thoughts and feelings. Every instance of noticing develops the attentional skills required to transform your relationship to thinking and feeling.
Try to listen to your own verbal thinking as sound or seeing the visual side of your imagination at play.
Try to avoid limiting your exploration to relaxation and pleasant feelings.
Try to stay open to sampling a wide variety of physical and emotional sensations.
Fatigue is like this...
Smiling feels like this...
Feeling rushed (anxious, irritated, bored, disgusted, etc.) is like this...
Laughing is like this...
Crying is like this...
Interest (joy, wonder, gratitude, hope, etc.) is like this…
Embarrassment is like this...
If there's not a precise name to describe a particular sensation, just let it be vague. The labeling step just helps you aim your awareness.
This moment is like this...
Try to avoid making sense of any experience when you’re paying attention differently in this way. You’ll know when this is happening because a story or question will be forming in your mind. This is totally natural and to be expected. Gently return to getting acquainted with the aspect of experience you are investigating. You can return to the narrative form of attention when you are done exercising. Think of this as reading magazines at the gym. There is no penalty for doing it, but it doesn’t count as working out.
What is mindfulness meditation?
If someone tells you they love sports, you might ask them if there are specific types of sports they like. You might also be curious to discover whether they enjoy watching, participating, or both.
Meditation is another term that refers to a variety of contemplative practices. The term is too broad to be meaningful without clarification.
Mindfulness meditation refers to specific contemplative practices that explore the moment-to-moment experience of our natural human perceptions. The specific perceptions can include ordinary sensory perceptions as well as mental and emotional perceptions.
One repetition of any mindful awareness exercise involves noticing ordinary human perceptions as they play out in the present.
Informal mindfulness practice refers to pausing in the midst of your routine to engage in one repetition—or a few repetitions—of this type of noticing. It involves temporarily allowing the impulse to make sense of your experience play out in the background while prioritizing the impulse to sense something directly.
Formal mindfulness practice is commonly referred to as mindfulness meditation. It involves selecting (1) a category of sensory experience to notice directly (2) for a predetermined duration of time.
- Hearing sounds around you for a minute or two
- Noticing the physical sensations related to breathing for 5 minutes
- Watching leaves blowing in the breeze for the time it takes to walk around the park
If you taste a bite of your meal now and then, you’re practicing mindfulness informally. If you decide to taste your whole meal, you’re practicing mindfulness formally (using the amount of food to determine the duration).
When you notice an emotional reaction to a news headline or Tweet, you’re practicing mindfulness informally. When you listen to a song or watch a television news segment while exploring your emotional reactions as they appear, you’re practicing mindfulness formally.
You don’t have to meditate in order to practice mindfulness.
This probably sounds confusing because the marketing of mindfulness tools focuses almost exclusively on meditation.
However, according to Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer who has been researching mindfulness for decades, “Meditation is really just a tool that leads to post-meditative mindfulness. Although it’s a good tool, it’s a tool nonetheless, not the end.”
When you notice a perception that’s available right now, you’re practicing mindfulness.
When you practice mindfulness meditation, you’re developing the capacity to decide where to direct your attention at any given moment. You’re working on becoming more present in the future.
Both habits lead to experiencing our lives more fully.
How can I know if I’m doing a mindfulness exercise right?
When we begin practicing mindfulness, it feels like something that’s impossible to do right. As we practice, we start to realize that there’s really no way to do it wrong.
Give this realization time to sink in. See if you can help it along by considering other skills (like driving a car) that took a while to become automatic.
Developing focus often feels like noticing that you’re scattered.
By deciding what to pay attention to, we’re developing the ability to focus — which always involves allowing other sensory perceptions to play out in the periphery of our awareness.
When you’re able to rest your attention on a perception you’re practicing mindfulness perfectly.
When you realize your attention has completely meandered away from the intended category of perception you’re also practicing mindfulness perfectly.
It’s counter-instinctual, but the value of these two possibilities is equal. Your ability to focus is being developed by both whether you realize it during any particular practice session or not.
Becoming clearer about perceptions often feels fuzzy and vague.
By trying to be as clear as possible about a perception, we’re developing an ability to make nuanced sensory distinctions. This is happening even when our best efforts to be clear are quite fuzzy and ambiguous.
When the sensation is clear, enjoy!
When the sensation is fuzzy, that’s what clarity looks and sounds like and feels like in that moment.
Cultivating equanimity often feels like
By attempting to allow a sensory perception to play out for a few seconds without interfering with it, we’re developing the attentional skill of equanimity.
Instead of being a passive response, it’s paradoxically more engaged. A real-life example is the composure a circus performer cultivates when learning how to walk across a tightrope.
When you allow a sensation to play out with little to no inference, you’re developing equanimity.
When you realize that you are subtly or not so subtly trying to push an unpleasant perception away, you’re developing equanimity.
When you realize that you are subtly or strongly trying to hold onto a pleasant sensation or make it even more pleasurable in some way, you’re developing equanimity.
Try not to make a riddle out of equanimity. It’s not something we can ever think our way through. It’s a relationship to any given sensation that we can observe.
Equanimity is a skill that’s developed experientially. It’s a kind of gradual calibration.
One way to play with this is to consider the variety of sensations you encounter on any ordinary day that doesn’t involve any observable level of resistance:
Taking a show when the temperature is just right
Sipping your coffee when the blend of bitter, sweet, or creamy is right within your personal sweet spot
Noticing the touch of your clothes on your skin (when they aren’t tight or uncomfortable in some way)
Listening to a song you like
Reading a book you’re enjoying
Savoring an exhale
For an extra challenge, you can intentionally fiddle with the temperature of the water in your shower, watch news you disagree with, or listen to music you don’t like to boost your equanimity.
Is a consistent meditation practice required in order to become more mindful?
You don’t have to work out in a gym for your body to get healthier.
You don’t have to meditate to benefit from mindfulness practice.
Every single effort counts.
Any time you decide to pay closer attention to the sensory details of what’s happening in any given moment, you’re working on becoming more mindful.
When mindful shifts of attention become habitual, you develop your ability to focus on, to notice the richness lurking in ordinary moments, and to respond to the messiness of real life with greater skill and ease.
This takes time, but every single effort to notice something closely without trying to change it contributes to your capacity for savoring pleasant moments more and fighting with unpleasant moments less.
Your efforts can include informal practice during the day, setting aside a few minutes for formal practice (meditation), or both. Formal practice strengthens informal practice but it is not required.
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has been studying mindfulness for over forty years. She doesn’t even investigate meditation as part of her research. She says...
“Some people meditate to become more mindful. Meditation is really just a tool that leads to post-meditative mindfulness. Although it’s a good tool, it’s a tool nonetheless, not the end. There are other ways to work toward mindfulness.
One is to simply notice new things. When we notice new aspects to something we thought we knew well, we come to realize that we didn’t know it as well as we thought we did, and then naturally we give it more attention.”
Whenever possible, try to avoid making mindfulness practice into an additional source of pressure or stress.
If you decide to meditate, great! Experiment! Enjoy!
Let it be something you want to do or get to do rather than one more thing you should do.
Can you recommend some general mindfulness practice guidelines?
Here are a few ways to help you establish a sustainable exploration of mindfulness.
Practice more often than never.
At the beginning, the most important thing to aim for is practicing at all. So instead of trying to meditate for ten or twenty minutes a day, which are common recommendations, shoot for more than never.
What makes it so hard to practice mindfulness for a few seconds or minutes most days?
I don’t think it’s about finding the time. I think it’s that we really don’t like to put down the impulse to make sense for a few seconds.
It’s also really easy to forget to do it at all.
This reminds me of something comedian Maria Bamford says when her friends tell her cooking is so easy — “It’s not easier than not cooking!”
Part of remembering to practice is realizing you forgot to practice. When you realize you forgot, instead of going down a rabbit hole of self-recrimination, take a few seconds to notice what it feels like to forget. Try to remind yourself that this is also what it feels like to begin to remember to work on a new habit. Boom! You practiced.
Prioritize practice over reading or thinking about it.
The leader of the first silent meditation retreat I attended suggested that we practice mindfulness more often than reading or talking about it.
If you have a few minutes to read about mindfulness practice, set a timer and practice for five minutes before you read. This will probably help you focus better and get more out of what you read anyway.
It’s also a reminder that you’re developing a skill rather than trying to understand a concept. If you want to learn to play the piano, reading books will never substitute for moving your fingers around on the keyboard.
Keep it to yourself.
Mindfulness practice can gradually transform the way you relate to yourself. It does this by changing how you relate to thoughts, feelings, and the world around you — including other people.
There’s something about treating it like a secret mission that can be a big help.
It takes up too much energy to try to explain to people what you’re trying to do. It usually doesn’t make sense when we try.
Plus, when you tell your friends you’re trying to be more mindful, they might offer to remind you when you don’t seem to be trying very hard.
If you keep it to yourself until you’re getting some momentum or beginning to appreciate the benefits, it will help you keep the focus where it needs to be — on making it a habit.
It’s fine to discuss your exploration with other people who are also exploring, though. Without having to explain it, comparing notes can feel inspiring and supportive.
Try to avoid policing other people’s lack of mindfulness.
When we realize how beneficial mindfulness can be, it’s natural to spot people around us who could stand to be more focused and regulate their emotions better. However, pointing this out rarely ends well for anyone involved.
The power move here is to focus on your own practice. When someone is behaving in a way you consider to be mindless, see if you can notice the sensations related to your emotional response.
Turning your emotional reactions into mindfulness challenges can be a counterintuitive way to develop your own emotional intelligence.
Instead of trying to convince other people about the value of mindfulness, you can teach them indirectly by letting them observe the changes it leads to in your life.
Is there a way to evaluate my progress?
Here are some common, but understandable questions to steer away from when possible. Trying to determine...
- if practicing mindfulness is a good use of your time
- if you’re practicing often enough
- the quality of a mindfulness practice effort based on how often your attention wanders or how relaxed or anxious you feel
- if practicing has resulted in any benefits right after you practice
- if practicing is generating any benefits while you practice
Instead, periodically schedule time to reflect on any subtle changes compared to a year ago, six months ago, or three months ago. Have you noticed that you’ve been…
- savoring pleasant moments a little more
- fighting a little less with unpleasant moments
- getting a bit of traction with healthy habits
- starting to erode habits and behaviors you usually regret
- feeling a little closer to the people you care about
- recognizing hints of common ground with people who hold contrasting views
The details will vary and you’ll eventually begin to personalize this kind of reflection based on your own challenges and interests. Be on the lookout for subtle shifts that set the stage for greater composure and engagement.
Here are some examples to get your wheels turning...
- realizing opportunities to be more present after a situation plays out
- realizing an opportunity to be more present while a situation plays out
- noticing interesting details during ordinary moments
- catching yourself starting to react automatically
- catching some awareness of internal pressure
- structuring your workday
- prioritizing what’s important over what feels urgent
- easing up on yourself when you’re pushing too hard
- nudging up your engagement when you’re easing up too much
- listening more closely to others
- verifying your interpretation of someone’s words or tone instead trying to figure it out without checking
- asking whether people need you to empathize or help solve
Can you recommend any good books on mindfulness?
Here are some of my favorites and why I recommend them.
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Goodreads, library)
This one is considered a classic. It’s written by the person who kicked off the interest in evidence-based approach to mindfulness over forty years ago. It’s packed with practical insights you can start to explore right away. The chapters make it the kind of book you can pick up at any time, open to any page, and find something to shift your perspective in subtle but powerful ways.
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, by Dan Harris (Goodreads, library)
When I listened to this one as an audiobook while running, I literally stopped in my tracks repeatedly because the author’s perspective reminded me so much of my own. It gave me hope that there could be a demand for a non-dogmatic approach to mindfulness. I appreciate his skepticism and humor — two things that can really contribute to keeping your exploration of mindfulness fun, practical, and surprising. His high-profile work in television news has given him an enormous platform to reach people who have avoided the hippy vibe meditation struggles to shake off. The 10% Happier app and podcast are also excellent resources.
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-To Book, by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren (Goodreads, library)
This follow-up to 10% Happier investigates the obstacles real people run into when trying to establish a consistent mindfulness practice. Dan and my friend and colleague Jeff hit the road to talk to folks across the country about ways to navigate the inevitable obstacles to being more present in a distracting world.
Mind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience and Reveal Your Extraordinary by Meg Salter (Goodreads, library)
This book by another friend and colleague is both personal and practical (maybe you’re picking up on some themes that are important to me). While 99% of the books about mindfulness focus primarily on breath awareness exercises, Meg’s book covers the multisensory approach that I practice and teach. This highly flexible and customizable approach provides a rich foundation for my individual coaching and the practice groups I lead.
Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace by Sharon Salzberg (Goodreads, library)
Beloved mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg, who is famous for encouraging people to explore compassion and empathy as part of their contemplative practice, shares strategies for sneaking mindful awareness into the workday. I’m a big fan of attention exercises that are quick, private, and doable anywhere.
Mindfulness Meditations for Depression: 100 Practices for Solace and Self-Compassion by Sophie Lazarus (Goodreads, library)
You don’t need to be clinically depressed to benefit from this collection of practical mindfulness exercises. Psychologist Sophie Lazarus (another friend and colleague) shares ways to navigate challenging emotions in the spirit of self-compassion. There are exercises for when you’re feeling overwhelmed as well as exercises to get better at recognizing when you need to slow down or ask for some extra support.
You Belong: A Call for Connection by Sebene Selassie (Goodreads, library)
It’s difficult to convey what makes mindfulness practice so power, but it really does go far beyond reducing stress. We’re social creatures living in a complicated and divided world. We have a tendency to dehumanize each other and to feel like we don’t belong. I appreciate Sebene Selassie’s efforts to remind us that feeling more connected to others and to aspects of ourselves is something we can all work on.
Stop Missing Your Life: How to be Deeply Present in an Un-Present World, by Cory Muscara (Goodreads, library)
Cory is another kindred spirit who uses humor to steer readers into the serious work of inhabiting our lives more fully instead of waiting for better or more comfortable versions of our lives to appear. I like to recommend this one to younger adults because of the examples he shares of bringing mindfulness into things like dating and career decisions.
Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication by Oren Jay Sofer (Goodreads, library)
This book is loaded with doable ways to leverage your mindfulness skills to improve your communication skills. Oren Jay Sofer encourages the reader to get curious about what they’re feeling and to practice trying to convey their observations, emotional reactions, and needs more clearly. The exercises and related abilities described here have endless applications as we do our best to hear other people more clearly and to feel heard and understood by them.
What are some good mindfulness meditation apps?
There are so many meditation apps now, that I recommend trying the free trial versions of a couple that appeal to you before deciding to subscribe to one. If you do decide to subscribe, try to include periods of unguided practice in your routine.
Insight Timer insighttimer.com
This is one of the few apps that offers access to its extensive library for free. I like the ability to customize timed sessions without using guided instruction. There are more features for subscribers, but I know many people who have been using this one for years without subscribing.
One potential drawback is that the library offers an overwhelming variety of content—not all of it grounded in a common-sense or evidenced based approaches. It tilts toward relaxation, positive thinking, and more overtly spiritual approaches. However, if you’re willing to invest a bit of effort to customize your experience, you can find a ton of great resources to support your exploration of mindfulness in the styles that resonate with you.
This app is based on the flexible, multisensory approach to mindfulness that I practice and share. It begins with an introduction to the basic practice themes and options. I have contributed exercises to this app. If you sign up at brightmind.com/daron you can save 50% off the annual subscription price (I’m compensated for the guided exercises I contribute, but don’t receive any money for referring people to the app).
People I talk to love this app. If you want to emphasize relaxation, this might be the one for you. Even the ads for this one are beautiful and relaxing. They are aggressively trying to steal market share away from the highly successful Headspace app by recruiting celebrities and popular musicians to produce content. If you do use this app, look for this new series from my meditation teacher kindred spirit Jeff Warren: The Daily Trip.
This app was first to the market and actually drives the competition among meditation apps. They have earned a solid reputation for being accessible and supporting people who are trying to establish a daily mindfulness meditation practice.
The app is always exploring new ideas and offerings. I’ve heard good things about their theme-based packs on topics like anxiety and insomnia. Check out their Sesame Street Moster Meditation exercises for children and celebrity-curated playlists.
This refreshing meditation app designed for the black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) community, offers instruction from diverse teachers with experiences and perspectives from a variety of cultures and traditions.
Smiling Mind smilingmind.com.au
This free meditation app from Australia includes programs designed for adults and children. They’ve also got a separate app for expectant parents called Mind the Bump.
Ten Percent Happier tenpercent.com
I mentioned this one in the annotation for the book 10% Happier, but this app is so practical and attentional-fitness-friendly that it’s worth mentioning it again. Look for no-nonsense, lighthearted guidance from teachers like my friend and colleague Jeff Warren.
Waking Up wakingup.com
Sam Harris tends to attract controversy for his opinions about politics and religion. However, his mindfulness teaching efforts are stronger than most of the examples I run into out there. I try to use his tendency to stir up controversy as a reminder to stay in my own lane. If you’re able to keep this in mind, this is by far one of the strongest meditation apps I’ve ever tested. His book of the same name is outstanding, too.
Instead of only emphasizing the ways that meditation can be good for your health, the app emphasizes liberating insights into the nature of human experience through paying closer attention in the types of ways I encourage.
The app has an introductory course and lots of exercises of varying lengths. It’s also full of fascinating conversations with a variety of guests from the world of psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. There’s even one with a favorite poet of mine, David Whyte. One of my favorite features is the optional daily “Moment” notification. Each one lasts between thirty to ninety seconds, and I haven’t heard one yet that made me roll my eyes.
No other app comes close to the rich variety of resources as this one offers. It’s also pricier than most, but they offer a risk-free experience and promise to fully refund your money if you don’t find the app valuable.
Where can I learn more about brain science related to mindfulness?
MINDFULNESS AS A SET OF TRAINABLE ATTENTION SKILLS
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson ( Goodreads, library)
The empirical understanding of how mindfulness practice changes the structure and functioning of the brain continues to grow. It’s a relatively new field and the topic is freighted with religious and cultural associations that muddy the way it’s discussed and promoted.
This book is an attempt to move the conversation away from the superficial exploration of temporary altered states of consciousness and toward an emphasis on the attentional capacities that can be developed through consistent practice.
Dan Goleman has written several bestselling books about emotional intelligence. Richie Davidson is a psychology and psychiatry professor who heads the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Mindfulness by Ellen Langer (Goodreads, library)
For several decades, Harvard University psychology professor Ellen Langer has been researching the consequences of mindlessness and the benefits of moving our habitual reactions off of autopilot. Her research bypasses meditation and instead looks at the impact of disrupting routines and perspectives.
See also: The Power of Mindful Learning
MINDFULNESS FOR EMOTIONAL REGULATION
Study involving 68 female undergraduates explored the impact of mindfulness practices on regulating unpleasant emotions. Students who practiced mindfulness demonstrated greater impact on regulating their emotional responses.
Lin, Y., Fisher, M. E., Roberts, S. M. M., & Moser, J. S. (September 07, 2016). Deconstructing the emotion regulatory properties of mindfulness: An electrophysiological investigation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00451
MINDFULNESS FOR CONCENTRATION
This study looked at the impact of mindfulness practice on the study habits of college students. Students with the heaviest multitasking and multimedia task-switching habits experienced the greatest impact of building in mindful pauses while studying.
Gorman, T. E., & Green, C. S. (July 01, 2016). Short-term mindfulness intervention reduces the negative attentional effects associated with heavy media multitasking. Scientific Reports, 6, 1. https://www.nature.com/articles/srep24542
MINDFULNESS FOR SENSORY RICHNESS
Presentation by Dr. Jud Brewer on how contemplative practice can influence science and how science can impact contemplative practice. He describes the smoking cessation program he developed and how real-time feedback from fMRI can help clarifying mindfulness exercises and assessing their impact.
Brewer, J. (2015, July 20). Mindfulness and neurofeedback. MIT Media Lab. https://youtu.be/wil45EaQvUE
This study suggests a multi-sensory model for identifying the neurobiological components of mindfulness to better understand the neural mechanisms involved in mindfulness practice.
Vago, D. R., & David, S. A. (October 05, 2012). Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART): A framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00296
This short video illustrates the power of giving meditators real-time feedback related to their attempts to practice a mindfulness exercise. While the costs would make it impractical to try to scale, the lessons learned can help clarify the expectations of the exercises.
YaleNews. (2013, August 2). Your brain on meditation: Practice makes perfect [YouTube video]. https://youtu.be/sOVHgn3ggvE, https://news.yale.edu/videos/value-seeing-mind-meditation
MINDFULNESS FOR EQUANIMITY (COMPOSURE)
This study compared the impact of three different stress interventions. The results indicate that building objectivity into each repetition of a mindfulness exercise appears to have an impact on biometric indicators of stress, specifically on blood pressure, cortisol levels.
Lindsay, E. K., Young, S., Smyth, J. M., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Acceptance lowers stress reactivity: Dismantling mindfulness training in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 87, 63–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.09.015