Introduction to Mindfulness with Meditation Doctor Andy Puddicombe

Puddicombe Week 24

This discussion is now closed. Please be aware that posted questions or comments will no longer be responded to.

I had a meditation teacher once who always used to say, “We’re all essentially quite neurotic. Enlightenment is simply a reflection of how well we know that neurosis.” It’s an interesting idea and one that I’m frequently reminded of. I sometimes wish that people could see what goes on in the clinic, to be reassured that far from being completely crazy, they are actually surprisingly normal. I think that sometimes there can be a temptation to assume that we are the only one feeling a certain way. It can be hard to believe that other people would indulge or suppress thoughts and feelings in the same way as us. After all, the patterns in our mind feel so unique and personal. We tend to live so internally (in our own heads) that we forget that very often other people are experiencing exactly the same thing.

Sometimes when I point this out to people they say “Yeah, but mine is especially bad...you will never have met anyone with anxiety/depression/anger/addiction/insomnia as bad as me!” And of course it’s true to say that we’re all on a sliding scale with these emotions. But it’s extremely rare that I meet someone who is truly off the scale altogether. And this is important, because in acknowledging that we all struggle with thoughts and emotions in a very similar way, we start to feel a little less isolated. At the same time, we also start to develop a greater sense of empathy.

It’s the nature of the mind to be a little crazy sometimes...or even all of the time! But remember, meditation is not about trying to dial back the craziness. It’s about understanding the craziness—knowing it, watching it, having some perspective around it so that you can relate to it in a way that feels comfortable. Of course, when you learn to do this, some of that craziness may start to settle down a little and perhaps even disappear altogether. But that part of the process is really out of our control, so it’s probably not worth spending too much time dreaming about it.

So next time you feel as though you might be losing your mind, try taking a closer look by stepping back (contradiction in terms intended) and watching the madness of the mind with a bit more perspective. Remind yourself that if you’re experiencing it, then someone else is also be experiencing it—of that you can be certain. I think there’s something very reassuring in that. It helps us to take things a little less seriously, perhaps to even laugh at our own madness once in a while.

 

If you’d like to share your own thoughts with me via Twitter, then please feel free to follow @andy_headspace. 

Andy Puddicombe is a registered clinical mindfulness consultant and a former Buddhist monk. He is the author of Get Some Headspace and is the founder of Headspace, a project that aims to make meditation accessible and easy-to-learn.  To check out Headspace and try our free 10 day trial (Tricycle readers get 25% off a yearly subscription), you can click here.

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Andy Puddicombe's picture

Dear All,

As you may have seen in last week's Tricycle blog, I am just finishing my time here as the resident Meditation Doctor...but I'm sure another one will be along very shortly to answer any queries.

I would like to thank everyone for their questions, comments and feedback on the forum over the last 6 months and I very much hope it has been beneficial in some way.

In the spirit of what we've been discussing, tomorrow I am heading off on a short meditation retreat. I will obviously be without internet, so this will be my last post as the Meditation Doctor.

Please feel free to get in touch via Headspace in the future (www.getsomeheadspace.com).

Very best wishes,

Andy

samathapractice's picture

Hi Andy

I having been meditating on a regular basis now for some 3yrs. I became interested in concentration practice (samatha) last year with a view to developing my concentration which could then be applied to mindfulness while highly concentrated (metta, samatha and panna).

I find that when I formally sit that a physical feeling of energy pulsates and leads to a heavy feeling in the area of the third eye and as I try to let go I seem to drop down in consciousness like coming down in a step like fashion . This feeling of pressure can be very intense at times and I just try and be with it not interfering . Is this a result of piti/sukka as in the 1st and 2nd jhana factors? I am still able to maintain this after I have risen from my sit throughout the day and of course it will lessen depending on what I am doing but I am always aware or mindful of this. Consequently, when I sit later in the day I am very quickly back into it.

This has taken sometime to develop and has become part of my meditation practice and has certainly intensified. At first I wondered if it was trapped energy as I had an experience on retreat of intense pain in my right knee where the energy seemed blocked.I applied equanimity to and just let it play out whereupon it was like someone had opened the flood gates and I had this great surge of energy release. Suffice to say the pain ceased immediately. My point being is can this happen in the forehead area with the energy release.

I have spoken with other yogi's and some have experienced this phenomena while the vast majority have not.

Your thoughts would be most welcome.

Metta

Chris

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your message and thanks for your patience in waiting for me to reply. I am quite familiar with some of the experiences you describe and would be happy to discuss them with you further. It occurs to me though that this might be better done via email rather than on an open forum, as some of advice may well be specific to you and your practice at this stage. There are also a few more questions I'd like to ask before offering any thoughts. If you like to send an email to info@getsomeheadspace.com I'll be in touch asap.

Thanks again and warm wishes, Andy

sdporter32's picture

Hello,

What is a thought? Can a thought be transformed or given its momentariness and impermanence, is it not possible to transform a thought?

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi,

Thanks for your patience in waiting for me to reply.

I have no idea of your experience with meditation, or whether you currently have a regular practice, but I suspect that both of these questions would benefit from a direct experiential type of enquiry, rather than a simple definition from someone like myself.

That said, as you've asked, I'm very happy to share a few thoughts...

The neuroscientists I've spoken to in the past usually describe a thought, in very simple terms, as electro-chemical reactions. The truth is, whilst science has really moved forward in terms of understanding how the brain interprets and facilitates thought, there is still no understanding of consciousness or mind itself. And given that thoughts arise directly from consciousness (or emptiness) then clearly there is a rather large gap in terms of scientific understanding.

I think we can probably go one step further though and distinguish between conditioned and non-conditioned thought. I would suggest that the latter is nothing less than the manifestation of life itself, creativity, or whatever you like to call it. Whereas the former is a mental construct based on a previous experience which is repeated over time.

If we take this enquiry a little further we might ask ourselves what is it that knows a thought? What is it that observes? And is the observer separate from the observed, from the thought? And is it possible for the observer, the process of observation, and the observed, all to become one? These are key questions and very helpful lines of enquiry if you'd like to pursue this topic in your own practice.

As for whether a thought can be transformed, this depends very much on what you mean by transformation. But in short, I would say yes, within the light of awareness all thought can be transformed and there are some excellent texts on how to go about it. One of my favourite is the Lojong text by Geshe Langri Tongpa. The commentary by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche is especially good. It's called the Great Path of Awakening if you're interested in checking it out.

Warm wishes, Andy

kjseen's picture

hey hi Andy

what is your view on meditation for depression? for anxiety?

Im a psychiatrist in NYC; and have recommended your free APP to a number of patients. I think they especially like the cartoon animations (i love them, and would appreciate more of them!) because there is no cultural 'baggage' that scares people.

Its been my clinical experience that meditation really helps anxiety, but for those in the throes of bad depression, including suicidal thinking, that venturing into the mind without the assistance of a teacher, or sangha, can really 'freak them out' when they become still more aware of suicidal ideation and self criticism

I maintain that meditation is really great for anxiety, and for those already partially in recovery from depression

perhaps my perspective is skewed, because Im an MD; and i practice holistic psychiatry; by the time people get to me they are very ill; unable to work, sometimes out of hospital, etc. i try to give both medication and meditation where possible!

thanks for your inspiration

i find it very amusing to have a monk in my iPhone; ie. your voice coaching me along to meditate on the one device i find the most vexing: my i.phone..

thanks

kristina

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Kristina,

Yeah, it sounds pretty funny when you put it like that...a monk in your iphone!:) It's great to hear that people enjoy using the app - lots and lots more cartoons coming in the next round of development btw - and thanks for recommending it to your patients...and for the kind words too.

First of I all I would like to defer to your expertise in this area and it's fascinating to hear what your experience has been. As you know, my own training was monastic rather than clinical.

That said, as part of Headspace I am very much involved in the medical research investigating the effects of meditation on the mind, and regularly see patients at the clinic who are referred for mindfulness as an intervention for treatment, or as part of a treatment programme, for both anxiety and depression. So I'm happy to offer an opinion based on that experience.

Obviously we're talking about a very broad scale here, from those who experience mild yet unsettling episodes, all the way through to those who are paralysed by overwhelming emotions and are hospitalised as a result. I have seen both ends of the scale and have found meditation to be an extremely beneficial intervention in pretty much all cases...even in the most extreme. And when I say beneficial I am obviously talking about some kind of alleviation of symptoms rather than a complete cessation. Although I have seen this too.

Clearly, in some cases, medication is absolutely necessary. I've seen many people who are on anti-depressants or anxiety-stabilisers and, often to peoples surprise, have even referred back to their consultants so that they can be prescribed such treatments.

Whist meditation can help to develop stability of mind, it's important to have a degree of stability to begin with if we really want to understand what is happening. In many cases, when the habitual patterns of thinking are excessively overwhelming (and it needs to be quite extreme), I've found a combination of medication and meditation is the best approach, as you suggest.

As for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, I think that it is not really the job of the sangha to manage this situation. Of course, we should be there to support the person, but if the thoughts are suicidal then I think it is always best to leave that to the professionals such as yourself. It's worth adding that I've found that with close supervision and guidance (overseen by a clinical psychiatrist) often mindfulness can still help even when the thoughts are this extreme. Whilst it's true that the patient becomes more aware of their suicidal thoughts, as long as those thoughts are put in context, and that context is constantly reaffirmed, then it can still work well.

I hope that's helpful in some way. if you're interested in the scientific research in to how mindfulness can help both anxiety and depression, there's a really good round up of it all on the science page of our website www.getsomeheadspace.com

Hope that's helpful Kristina,

Warm wishes, Andy

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi,

Just a short note to say that I'll be travelling a lot this month, with very little access to the internet, so apologies for any time delay in getting back to your questions.

I look forward to seeing those of you who might be coming to any of the events!

Warm wishes in the meantime, Andy

BenTremblay's picture

"registered clinical mindfulness consultant"?!

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Ben,

Yeah, the phrasing is ambiguous, but is in no way intended to be. I get called all kinds of things:)...and this is just one of them.

To be very precise, I work as a mindfulness consultant, in a clinic, registered with the UK Care Quality Commission. Because of this, I often get called a clinical mindfulness consultant - not through choice I hasten to add. I have already spoke to Tricycle about the potential confusion and asked them to adjust the wording accordingly.

So, in short, although I see referrals directly from physicians and clinical consultants, my own training is monastic rather than clinical. I would never have been smart enough to train as a doctor, so I'm very grateful to Tricycle for giving me the title as a bit of fun for a short while.

Did you have a question about meditation at all?

Best wishes, Andy

Sukha's picture

This is very helpful Andy. I feel 'heavy' pretty regularly, and although I usually notice it and try to take steps to lighten up and see the bigger picture by being mindful, etc., oftentimes the heaviness is simply too much for me to lift and just falls right back down on me. I look forward to trying these out and seeing if they're up to the task :)

One question: I'd like to re-read some of your past articles. Can you tell me where to find them?

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Sukha,

Thanks for your email and I hope the tips prove useful in bringing about a greater feeling of lightness in your life. Let me know how you get on.

Good question about the previous articles...I'm not too sure, but I'll find out for you and post a link. In the meantime you might like to check out the blog section of www.getsomeheadspace.com where you'll find lots of other similar articles from the past year or so.

Warm wishes in the meantime, Andy

wideawake's picture

Andy, What a great thing you've launched! Love the animations, your goal of making meditation accessible to everyone and creating an easy way for people to try out meditation. I have already shared with a few and will certainly share with many more. Will curriculum continue to evolve and advance, making it appropriate for long time meditators and those who have been at it for a while?

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi there and thank you so much for the kind words. It's a big team effort at Headspace and I'll be sure to pass on your feedback when I go into the office today.

We are just about to go into the next phase of development which will enable people to have a little more flexibility with the journey.

At present the programme leads people through 365 days of teaching and meditation, introducing different types of meditation techniques, as well as focusing on particular themes. Some of these will be very useful even for those with more experience.

But the next phase will offer even more teachings, more personalisation and emphasise a greater sense of community. Hopefully this will mean that even those who have an established longterm practice will benefit from the project.

Thanks again for the feedback - and for spreading the Headspace word too!!

Warm wishes, Andy

PS - apologies it's taken me a few days to reply...I've been away and offline:)

zwatkins's picture

Thank you for the pointers Andy. I have a pretty steady practice of one hour daily. I have a particular problem with moments when I don't have time for the full one hour: for example, when I wake up late and won't be able to sit for one hour before I have to leave the house, then I go through a mental discussion with myself to convince myself that "I'll do an hour tonight when I get back". But I never do the hour when I get back because I find myself too tired after the long days that I keep. I do probably spend 15-20 minutes on those mornings and/or during those days repeating to myself that I will do the hour meditation later. It just seems that if I can't do a whole hour in the morning then I end up not doing anything. Any thoughts?

Zara

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Zara,

Thanks for your message. I'm not sure if you'll be relieved to know or not, but this is something I hear from so many people.

The reason I always advise first thing in the morning is that it means we actually do our meditation - it gets done, no questions asked. Otherwise it just becomes one more thing to put on our to-do list for the day and we might even end up getting stressed about needing to do it:)!

There are obviously a few practical things you can do to ensure you get up on time - like having your alarm clock on the other side of the room so that you have to get out of bed when it goes off - but I should imagine you've already thought of that.

Whilst I know some people will disagree, I personally feel that the compulsory 'one hour block' a day model is not right for everyone anyway. Certainly, we need some structure to our practice and as part of that it's helpful to have a defined period of time to sit for, at the same time each day.

But we have to be flexible. This is simply the reality of modern day living. If a child in the house wakes up and starts screaming, then we have to get up from our meditation and attend to the child. Likewise, if our boss is waiting for us at work and will fire us if we're late, then we have to get off our cushion and leave the house.

So, I would suggest that you commit to an hour a day, but with a little more flexibility. Always sit first thing in the morning, no matter what, even if you only have time for 30 minutes minutes. You then aim to make up the remaining time throughout the day. It might be 10 minutes at lunchtime and 20 minutes when you get home. Either way it will feel more bite-sized and less imposing.

Of course, you will still want to have longer, uninterrupted sessions - as there's real benefit to that too - but it sounds as though this is happening fairly often anyway. Interestingly, by mixing these longer sessions with more bite-sized chunks throughout the day every now and then, you may well find it easier to maintain awareness throughout the day and will quite possibly experience some new insights too.

Hope that's helpful Zara. Will be interested to hear how you get on, so stay in touch and let me know. All best, Andy

wendy Chris's picture

hi Andy,
I hope I have entered this in the right space.
I have had a meditation practice for the last 10 years. From the beginning I have attended retreats every year, well up until this year anyway. Now I am finding that I don't want to go on retreat because its just hard work. . I still practice but nothing much happens. I still want to keep going because it is part of my life. Although honestly the motivation is currently low. I know while writing this that I have set up some expectations ( mainly that of progress), but wonder if there is are some well recognized cycles for mediators? With metta Wendy Chris

zwatkins's picture

Thank you for the wonderful response Andy. My summer work has been slow so I have had plenty of time for the one hour meditations, but I am also looking forward to trying the new mindset of bite-sized sessions when I get busy again. Great advice!

Rocci's picture

I have found that if I approach my meditation practice as what I truly believe it to be, that is training to live mindfully all the times I am not meditating, then I am more motivated to maintain my practice. I have spent years with an inconsistent practice; sometimes very disciplined other times abandonning my discipline for weeks or months at a time. In the last several months, with this realization, I have maintained a very disciplined practice.

The other thing that I think helps tremendously is a sangha. There is a reason that it is one of the jewels. The sangha is so important to my practice, it is my once a week cannot miss appointment around which all other conflict revolve.

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Rocci,

Yeah, I agree. In fact I'm surprised it's something which hasn't come up more often on the forum. I think we can't underestimate the value of that community...and the opportunity to both support and be supported in our practice. It provides so much...structure, discipline, friendship, learning, shared understanding...among many other things of course.

One thing I often hear from people who practise alone at home is that it's only when they meet other practitioners and realise that they are experiencing the same obstacles, that they really begin to relax in their meditation.

How this traditional idea of sangha translates to an online community is particularly interesting, and will no doubt become increasingly important. I know it's something that Tricycle are obviously keen to explore and in many ways are pioneering with this website. We're currently working on some very innovative ways to create an online community at Headspace too...so I'll be sure to post updates around this as and when they happen.

Warm wishes in the meantime, Andy

johnstrydom's picture

Hi Andy. Thanks for your brief but useful comments on feeling tired. I have been feeling tired for 25 years, and lost my job 18 years ago because I couldn't keep up. The tiredness hasn't changed much since, but my perception of it has. I still don't like it and it is a great handicap (I can sometimes not sustain a conversation beyond 5 minutes and therefore I live a life of isolation), but over the years the tiredness has led me down a path of personal exploration that I would never otherwise have known. Some day I might even be thankful for it!
Kind wishes,
John

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi John,

Thanks for sharing your experience. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been (and must continue to be) to live with, and manage, that level of tiredness.

The way you have turned it into an opportunity to explore and better understand the mind is truly admirable and the fact that your perception has changed as a result is testimony to your approach and the efficacy of the teachings.

I wish you well on your journey and in your future explorations John - as you say, who knows, maybe one day you really will look back and be genuinely grateful for that which set you on your way...

Warm wishes, Andy

salve-ex-silva's picture

Hi Andy,
can you tell us "how to do" a standing meditation?
Salve

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Salve,

Sure thing. If you're looking for a formal exercise then you can find this as part of the Headspace Journey at www.getsomeheadspace.com

But I'm assuming this is for use in everyday life, as opposed to a formal meditation practice?

If that's the case, and you're looking at how to use situations such as standing in a queue, when using public transport, or simply when pausing to take a rest, then there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

Begin by taking a few deep breaths.

If you are experienced and comfortable resting in awareness, then of course there is little more to do than that.

But if you are less familiar with that idea, then it's a good idea to begin by checking in with physical sensations. A useful way to feel more grounded and to step out of thinking is to focus on the sensation between the soles of the feet and the ground.

This doesn't mean 'thinking' about the feeling, but rather simply being present with it, noticing if the weight is evenly balanced on each foot, or whether you feel the pressure more acutely on the toe, heel, inside or outside of the foot. In short, being genuinely curious.

You can then continue to focus on this sensation, using this feeling as an anchoring point to return to when you realise the mind has wondered off, or you can replace it with the sensation of the breath, or even a neutral visual object or sound somewhere close by.

The principles are not radically different from being mindful whilst seated in everyday life, but knowing how to stand mindfully does of course provide additional flexibility.

Hope that's helpful Salve,

All very best, Andy

salve-ex-silva's picture

Thank you Andy, but I'm looking for a formal practice of standing meditation without taking all the Headspace Journey (which is surely great).
Salve

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Sure thing Salve...here you go...

Step 1
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Just as with sitting meditation, the body should be upright and yet relaxed. Try just flexing the knees very slightly and ensure the weight is distributed evenly on either leg. I would always recommend that you do standing meditation with the eyes open, or at least partially open, maintaining a very soft gaze throughout.

Step 2
Begin by checking in with the physical sensations of the body. The easiest way of doing this is to scan downwards from head to toe, just noticing any areas of discomfort and allowing them to soften a little as you bring a very gentle focus to those areas. The scan should take between 30 seconds and a few minutes, depending on how much time you have.

Step 3
Next bring your attention to the breath. You don’t need to breathe in any special way, but rather simply notice where in the body you feel the movement of the breath, the rising and falling sensation. If you can’t feel it, then you can place your hand on the stomach to make it more obvious. Take a good few minutes to become aware of this feeling and to notice how each breath is different from the next.

(Note: If you don’t like focusing on the breath for any reason, the sensation of the soles of the feet on the floor are an equally suitable and effective object of meditation)

Step 4
At this stage you might like to partially close the eyes, as you begin to count the breaths as they pass, counting 1 with the inhalation and 2 with the exhalation. Do this up to a count of 10, before repeating the exercise. It’s quite normal for the mind to wander off, but as soon as you realise you’ve been distracted in some way, just gently bring the attention back to the breath and pick it up from the number you left off on. You can do this for as little as a few minutes or for much longer if you have the time, inclination and experience.

Step 5
Finally, just allow the mind to be free. Without any sense of control or effort, just let it do whatever it wants to do for 30 seconds or so, even if it wants to think. And then just gently bring the attention back to the body, back to the physical sensations in the body, before fully opening the eyes, shifting the weight in the legs a little, and then taking a well-deserved stretch.

Warm wishes, Andy

abbeydl79's picture

Hi Andy...

On that case... I certainly no longer need a doctor's note when I fell sick. Just kidding... but I heard this meditation was very effective especially when one facing a stress problem. I'm sure will try this out very soon. Glad that you're sharing this great info.

Best Regards,
Abey.

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Thanks Abey, and it's a pleasure!

Yeah, whilst we may well still need to visit the doctor for some things, meditation has been shown to be an excellent tool for the prevention, management and treatment of stress and stress-related symptoms. But that's just the beginning. The real potential for meditation is of course far, far greater and I very much look forward to hearing how you get on.

Warm wishes, Andy

jennrh's picture

Hi,

I'm working to establish the kind of stable meditation practice you seem to be talking about -- by which I guess that, for me, "stable" means "regular." one thing I'm noticing about change and it's relationship with regular practice is that the regular practice seems to provide the possibility of change -- because the awareness/observation sometimes leads to insight, which leads to action? Because if you're observing, you're not reacting, owning, defending? Not sure -- but I certainly see that meditation is more than a tool to treat symptoms; it changes who you are in the world, or at least, how you behave. A bit scary, and welcome, all at the same time. The headspace program keeps me motivated, and coming back -- thanks!

Jenn

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Jenn,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I'm really pleased you've found the program engaging enough to stay motivated and to keep coming back. One of my all time favourite tweets I've had was from a woman who said "no matter how many excuses I come up with as to why I shouldn't meditate each day, there has not been one time when I haven't felt better afterwards".

Ok, so I guess there are a few double negatives in there:), but it's so true, right? When we sit, as you say in your message, we learn to witness, to observe, to become less reactive and more considered in our response. Sure, that doesn't mean we always get it right and sometimes we might get sucked back in to the dialogue, but hopefully, slowly, over time, we gain greater stability in maintaining that position of witnessing thoughts, with an open, kind, non-judgemental awareness.

Let us know how you get on with the rest of the Headspace Journey and thanks again for checking in.

Warm wishes, Andy

tusk2112's picture

A belated congratulations to you and your bride! Thank you for this passage on being kind to yourself. I have become much better lately at catching when I am berating myself, but I realized that just today I had been doing it again, so I came to the Tricycle site looking for some calming thoughts and words. Lo and behold, this passage was just what I needed, just when I needed it. Ta.

Timothy

Andy Puddicombe's picture

It's a pleasure Timothy, and I'm very happy you found it useful. It's such a simple and fundamental part of living life - nevermind of meditation - and yet it's something we all so easily forget. So always good to have a reminder! Many thanks for the congratulations btw, and very best wishes to you in all that you do. Andy

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi there,

I'm now back from my honeymoon and will be around to answer any questions you might have.

Look forward to hearing from you - and thanks for the congrats MantraGirl...it was a beautiful wedding!

All best, Andy

mantragirl's picture

Congratulations Andy...Best wishes to you and your wife-to-be !!
:0 MantraGirl

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi All,

I'm getting married this week, so will not be online very much. Hopefully I'll be able to check in with you briefly in the middle of next week, but I'll then be taking my wife-to-be out of London, and into the countryside, for a short honeymoon.

Please do feel free to leave any questions here whilst I'm away, and I very much look forward to catching up with you soon.

Very best wishes in the meantime, Andy

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Nico,

Thanks for your email...and thanks for signing up to the Headspace Journey too.

In many ways Take10 and Take15 are not so different - other than the extra five minutes of course.

The big difference is the importance of cultivating an altruistic mind-set for your practice, being clear about your motivation for practice and also clear about how that can benefit those around you. But as you're already on Day 10, these ideas are hopefully already familiar to you.

In Take10 you would have been asked to gently focus your attention on the breath and count both the in breath and the out breath. In Take15 you are still equally aware of both, but you are only counting the out-breath. So, in many ways, nothing has changed, right? You are just counting a little less.

Whilst I don't know of course, it sounds as though you may be applying a little too much focus and intensity to watching the out breath, which will inevitably lead to the symptoms you describe.

Ultimately, there is no need to count at all, and if you find it easier to be equally aware of both, then it is quite ok to stay with that for now. For some people the counting really helps and for others it is a distraction. Likewise, some people find it easier to have a broad awareness of both the in-breath and out-breath, whilst others find it easier to focus in on a particular element.

The most important thing to remember is that the breath is autonomous. It has got you this far in life and doesn't require any extra help during meditation:) All we are doing is watching the natural rhythm of the breath and using that as a support for meditation. And if it ever gets too much, just let it all go and return to the breath once the body and mind have settled a little.

Hope that's helpful for now Nico, but please do let me know how you get on.

Very best wishes in your practice, Andy

veilel's picture

Hi Andy,

I started meditating a year ago.
Just sitting. Not concentrating. Just relaxing.
I learned about Headspace through tricycle and decided to give it a try.
After my Take 10 program I decided to sign up.
I am on day 10 of Take 15.

In Take 15 we have to start concentrating on the out-breath.
I am unable to :(
As soon as I start looking at my breath it seems to get forced in some way and as such I am unable to breath naturally.
I start sweating, my heartrate raises, I get very nervous and am completely unable to focus.

When I stop counting the breath and stop focusing on it all the above symptoms go away after a while.

Can you give me any advice on this little problem ? :)

Best of days,
Nico

Dessertcircus's picture

Thanks Andy...I've actually had a full week of sleeping through the night WITHOUT having to use melatonin or other sleep aids! That's the first time since Dad died! I think that may be a sign that my mind is calming down a bit and ready.

Blessings!
Sandy

Andy Puddicombe's picture

That's fantastic news Sandy! Warm wishes, Andy

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi,

First of all, thanks for sharing what I'm sure must be some very personal and painful feelings. It must have been an extremely difficult time for you and I'm not at all surprised that you've found it hard to re-establish a regular meditation practice.

If you think about it, meditation asks us to sit with our thoughts and feelings exactly as they are. When we feel good, this is relatively easy to do, but when we feel bad, it's the very last place we want to be. After all, why would we want to sit with painful thoughts, emotions, and even physical sensations?

But when these emotions go unacknowledged, then they remain unprocessed, and we are unable to let go of them. Seeing them, acknowledging them, feeling them (no matter how painful they might be), understanding them for ourselves, understanding them for others, are all key to eventually letting them go.

I think often it is tempting to want things to move on a bit quicker than the natural passage of time. So we might start to think that certain thoughts no longer have a place in the mind, or that we should be past certain emotions. But actually both the body and the mind are very good at regulating the process of letting go and, within the framework of meditation, know exactly how to unwind, in their own time and in their own way.

I don't know if you have any community close by who might be able to support your meditation practice(?) Certainly it's at times like these that a sangha can be especially helpful. But if you don't have that for any reason, then simply take the first step. You don't have to commit to an hour a day or anything like that. Try just sitting for a few minutes at first, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go as they please. In fact, don't even 'try' and 'meditate'...just allow the mind to do whatever it wants to do. Simply giving it this space can be very useful, and as long as there is some sense of awareness, then it is a very useful exercise.

You could then commit to maybe doing 10 minutes a day, or even twice a day. If you feel as though you keep drifting off and need a little extra support then you could even try a guided meditation like the ones we have at Headspace - or from someplace else if you have a favourite teacher. But as I say, the first thing to do is to take the first step, to just sit, with yourself, without distraction.

And funnily enough, when you do that, even though the emotions can be painful, there is a feeling of freedom at the same time...the feeling of letting go.

I hope that's helpful and very warm wishes on your journey.

Andy

Dessertcircus's picture

Hi Andy:
I lost my father in a car accident 8 months ago. He lived for 17 days and I was able to spend every one of those days with him in the hospital, giving him Reiki. I was just getting started in a meditation practice when the accident happened. Since Dad died, I haven't been able to get back into my meditation, nor have I been able to sleep more than 4-5 hours at any one stretch. My mind ruminates about what he looked like lying in the hospital bed, how he felt, what he was thinking, etc. I'm caught in that horrid cycle of no sleep/mental deterioration. Any suggestions to help me get back into my groove again?

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Jenn,

Thanks for getting in touch and great to hear that you're enjoying the daily meditation practice.

In answer to your question, the sensation you describe is surprisingly common and I suspect nothing to worry about at all. Obviously if you are worried then it is best to check it out with a medical doctor, but my experience of teaching meditation - and of practising it myself - has been that the breath can manifest in many different ways. Sometimes it can feel very steady, at other times quite erratic and, likewise, sometimes it can feel more obvious in one part of the body, and less obvious in another.

Thankfully, this very rarely reflects any kind of physiological or functional problem, but instead reflects a growing awareness of the subtleties of breathing. The important thing is to maintain a gentle curious attitude towards watching the breath and not to assume that it will always be the same. By doing this, you may well notice that it differs slightly from day to day, or even breath to breath.

The thing you can always fall back on if you feel at all worried, is that your breath has got you this far in life, presumably without any cause for concern at all, and so there's a pretty good chance that it's working just fine - even if it doesn't always flow in the way you'd expect!

Be interesting to see if the same pattern emerges after one of your longer/harder runs too. Maybe check it out next time you exercise.

Wishing you well in the meantime, Andy

jennrh's picture

Hi Andy,

I'm halfway through "Take 10" and I am already finding I look forward to those 10 minutes. I'm not so good yet at the 'same time, same place' part, but the ability to take the program with me on my iPhone is a huge plus -- no excuses not to stay on track! I've signed up for the program and am excited about making this year my 'learn meditation year (finally)!

One question so far: when you talk about bringing focus to the breath and where I felt it, I had a strange experience. The left side was rising and falling noticeably more than the right side. I am healthy; no respiratory or any other issues -- in fact, I'm a middle distance runner so not even a history of anything like asthma or bronchitis -- but there it was: the left side was definitely rising and falling more than the right side. I've wrestled with mentioning it, since I don't appear to have any functional difficulties, but I thought you might have some insight into how I can, well, get both sides breathing together.

Jenn

sharmila2's picture

Dear Jenn
Just FYI the asymmetry of breath is pretty common experience as your mindfulness develops - all sorts of other wierd patterns get noticed too. There really are no medical conditions that would manifest with that particulAr symptom as the only problem (I'm a physician) so I wouldn't worry about it - just look at it as an interesting phenomenon and congratulations on developing an astute mindfulness

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Glenn,

Thanks for your post. Tricycle have asked me to keep the forum to Q&A's specifically about meditation for now. But they have all the details you asked for on file and I'm sure they will be happy to share with you.

Was there a question about your practice you wanted to ask?

Wishing you well, Andy

gwallis's picture

Hi Andy.

Can you say more about being "a clinically registered meditation consultant"? What do the terms mean? How and where would one go about it? Anything else that might shed some light?

Thanks.

Glenn Wallis

Andy Puddicombe's picture

Hi Linda,

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts - and also for the kind words.

I think you are absolutely right when you say that there is the potential for confusion when mindfulness (or any other form of meditation for that matter) is recommended for sleep. There are a couple of points worth mentioning before I get to that though.

Interestingly, most of the scientific research investigating the link between sleeplessness and mindfulness has required individuals to develop a regular meditation practice first thing in the morning. Now this often surprises people, as they assume that the meditation will be prescribed just before sleep at night, perhaps as an aid to the actual process of falling asleep. But the link is a little less direct, in so much as when they train their mind in the morning to be 'awake' they become more aware (more wakeful), which in turn impacts the quality of mind throughout the day, which then in turn appears to affect the quality of sleep. It's early days of course, but this finding seems to be quite consistent across the different studies.

In terms of using mindfulness as an aid to relaxation or sleep (in a more immediate context), I think it's very important to distinguish that practice from the core daily training of being more awake! So, personally I would usually recommend a mindfulness 'based' exercise. By this I mean something which draws upon your mindfulness training, but which differs enough so not to be confused with your core practice. I would also suggest doing it in a different place from your cushion and in a different physical position - whether that's lying down or otherwise.

As for sleeping less as we get (ah-hem) older...I think this is very common and I am quite sure it's not all down to a reduction of intoxicants. We are all different of course and what suits one person may not suit another. It can be useful to examine whether we are not getting enough sleep to feel healthy and well, or if we 'think' we are not getting enough sleep, based on the quantity of time we used to need. Needless to say, when we are not getting enough sleep (at any age) it is quite normal to feel a little cranky or achey. I always encourage people to get plenty of exercise and to stretch regularly, alongside their daily meditation practice. I'm sure you're already doing this, but if not it might be worth considering.

But ultimately, sleep is about quality rather than quantity, and this is where we should focus the attention. Buddha always said that if we wanted to sleep peacefully and restfully, we should practice loving kindness meditation. Personally I've found this extremely helpful advice over the years.

Wishing you well in both your practice and your sleep,

Andy

fairway Linda's picture

Thank you very much! I think that sleeplessness and fatigue and feeling not all quite there is one of the hidden problems of our time. Personally I think Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia are a bunch of nonsense, but boy do I sympathize with those folks that think they have a disease since they feel so lousy. Thanks to Sir Andy, for your helpful advice! - Linda

fairway Linda's picture

Dear Andy, If we use meditation as a relaxation tool, and even as here, to go to sleep (a noble goal, more on that below) how do we know that we won't fall asleep every time we get on the cushion? Sitting, or I should say, medditation, for me is often a very wakeful exercise, whatever my posture.

But sleeping: as we age (ah-hem!) we find ourselves sleeping more and more poorly. I now sleep about six hours a night when as a younger person I was often asleep for ten or eleven. Did I drink more then, and do other things, well, yes. And now am I crankier and more ache-y during the day? Of course. So for me, a reduction in the amount and quality of sleep seems a bit out of my control. Thoughts? Many thanks, you seem like a kind young person and I wish you well. - Linda

deepurple's picture

Just completed the introductory animations which I thought were on the money! Then went on to Day 1 which I found very relaxing. Recently I have been trying to meditate in environments far from my yoga mat, such as public transportation and waiting with a room full of seniors to file our income tax! Yoga teachers often point out that it is easy to meditate on your mat in class or in a quiet space of your choice but one needs to meditate in the 'real' world.