Start your own daily mindfulness practice with this self-directed, online program.
Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
This online, self-directed program is designed for those interested in cultivating mindfulness in their daily lives. This is an educational resource, not a form of therapy.
Mindfulness has been shown to have multiple positive benefits when practiced regularly. Researched benefits include:
- Reduced stress
- Improved memory and concentration
- Increased emotional regulation
- Reduction in rumination (the tendency to dwell on certain thoughts/events)
- Greater relationship satisfaction
Practices and links to guided meditations will be introduced throughout the sessions; the goal is to cultivate mindfulness daily. For those interested, the text Mindfulness: An eight week plan to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman was used in creating this program, and is highly recommend.
Reflective worksheets are provided for tracking practice and gaining insights.
Please be aware:
Mindfulness is not a quick fix to daily problems and can create more stress in the process, as you are learning to hold your attention on aspects in your life that may be difficult. Things you may wish to distance yourself from through distraction or avoidance can surface.
Mindfulness teaches us to lean towards the difficulty in our lives, to view negative thoughts as mental events in an accepting, non-judgmental and non-critical manner. Please ensure that you listen to your body, and if the practice becomes difficult, feel free to take breaks and look after yourself.
Mindfulness is not recommended for some individuals who have had recent trauma, or are in the process of grieving.
If upsetting thoughts or memories arise during your practice, and you require immediate assistance, contact the Distress Centre at 403-266-4357. If you're a UCalgary student, you can connect with Student Wellness Services at 403-210-9355 for support.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes, but in having new eyes. - Marcel ProustClass One: Waking up to Auto-Pilot
Mindfulness begins when we recognize our tendency to function on auto-pilot. In auto-pilot, we go about our days, habitually reacting to things without present moment awareness or conscious intention. We often daydream, think, analyze, judge and react without taking a moment to pause and recognize what’s happening in our minds or bodies. Once we become aware of what’s happening for us in the present moment, we can learn to step out of Doing Mode, where we’re daydreaming, multi-tasking, planning, analyzing and judging. We can find more balance by stepping into Being Mode, where we’re noticing what’s happening right now, with a sense of non-judgmental curiosity.
We gain the possibility of greater freedom and choice over how we respond to daily challenges when we are mindful of how our thoughts, emotions and body sensations arise from moment to moment. From a mindful stance, we can recognize and let go of automatic thoughts and emotional reactions that may not be helpful to us. Instead, we can cultivate a new way in leaning towards challenges and stress, creating more flexibility and space for acceptance, kindness and patience.
The aim of mindfulness is to promote self-awareness so that we can respond to situations with choice, rather than on auto-pilot. We can cultivate this mindful self-awareness by practicing meditation – noticing where our attention is, what is pulling for our attention, and deliberately redirecting our attention back to the present moment when it wanders into thinking and storytelling.
This week, you'll begin by using your body as an anchor point for your attention, bringing awareness to sensations of breath and body, observing sensations in the here and now, moment to moment.
I have been through a lot of difficult things in my life, some of which have actually happened. - Unknown
Class One Practice
- Practice the guided Meditation of Body and Breath every day for the next six days. The simple act of re-directing your attention back to the breath is the goal for this week. See if you can practice this meditation without having any expected outcomes. We are not looking to achieve a special state of relaxation or calmness. Instead, we are training our mental muscles to pay attention and notice what is present.
- Record your experiences, reactions, discoveries and challenges on the Homework Log, as this will help with the inquiry process.
- Choose one routine in your day and make a deliberate effort to bring moment-to-moment awareness to that activity. It could be walking, brushing your teeth, eating a meal mindfully or taking three-minutes to breathe. The activity you choose doesn't matter, as long as you are bringing your full awareness to what you're doing.
Williams M. & Penman D. (2011). Mindfulness: An eight-week plan to finding peace in a frantic world. New York: Rodale Books. Chapter 5.
Mindfulness is about adjusting our perception to view difficult events differently; our emotions do not want to be ignored or suppressed, but acknowledged and understood. - UnknownClass Two: Body Scan
How you see things determines how you relate to them. In your practice of paying attention to the body and breath, you may have noticed how constant our internal narrative is. We’re always thinking, creating stories and making meaning. The narratives in our mind influence our perception and reactions to the events of our daily lives. As you begin to practice meditation, you’ll notice the mind tends to wander. This is a normal experience. Noticing where the mind has wandered to, and gently directing our attention back to the practice, requires commitment, patience and self-compassion.
A powerful influence that takes us away from being fully present in each moment is our automatic tendency to judge our experience as being not right. We often think an experience shouldn’t be happening, isn’t good enough or isn’t what we expected or wanted. Judgments can start thoughts of blame, disappointment, regret, what needs to change or how things could/should be different. We might lose awareness of the present moment, and may limit our ability to be intentional about what we want to think and do.
We can regain our freedom if, as a first step, we acknowledge the reality of our situation, without the tendency to judge, avoid, fix or wish things were a certain way. Mindfulness is about training ourselves to view the present moment as it is, without adding layers of thoughts, emotions or judgments in the interpretation of an event.
The Body Scan Exercise provides an opportunity to practice bringing a curious and open awareness to the way things are each moment, without doing anything to change it. There is no goal, no special state of relaxation or calmness to be achieved. In not trying to change the present moment, we allow things to just be as they are.
The cycle of suffering happens when we continue to seek happiness in all the wrong places. What keeps us unhappy and stuck in a limited view of reality is our tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to seek security and avoid groundlessness, to seek comfort and avoid discomfort. - Pema ChödrönClass Two Practice
- For the next six days, practice Body Scan meditation. Regardless of what happens, see if you can complete the entire meditation and record your experiences in the Homework Log. Notice the tendency to judge whether the body scan was a success or failure – try your best to observe these judgments without engaging with them. As best as you can, be kind and gentle to yourself during the practice. Perhaps showing the same kindness and gentleness you would to a close friend, but direct it at yourself. Appreciate the effort you’re putting into your practice.
- Choose two routines in your day and make a deliberate effort to bring moment-to-moment awareness to that activity.
- In addition to keeping track of your daily practice, submit one entry per day into the Pleasant Events Calendar. Use this as an opportunity to become aware of the thoughts, feelings and body sensations around one pleasant event each day. Notice and record, as soon as you can, in detail (using the actual words or images in which the thoughts came, and the precise nature and location of bodily sensations).
Williams M. & Penman D. (2011). Mindfulness: An eight-week plan to finding peace in a frantic world. New York: Rodale Books. Chapter 6.
Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it. -Sylvia BoorsteinClass Three: Non-judgmental Stance
So much of our daily lives are spent thinking about the past or imagining the future we miss the present moments that make up our lives. By attending to and noticing the ways things are in the present moment, we begin to recognize the joy and love that we can miss.
The mind has a tendency to label every experience in our lives as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. If you pay close attention, you can see how judgmental our minds can be. We experience wanting to avoid what the mind labels as unpleasant, cling to what is perceived as pleasant and ignore what the mind judges as neutral.
A large part of mindfulness practice is being aware of this process, and how it causes stress and difficulties in our lives. We can begin to question our patterns and opinions, recognizing they are thoughts and not truths. The moment you notice a thought is occurring is a moment of mindfulness. Celebrate the power in noticing this.
By incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives, we can attend to what arises in our stream of awareness without the need for emotional reactions, judgments or auto-pilot behaviours. This doesn’t mean that you won’t experience suffering or sadness when difficult things happen. Instead, you’ll notice the energy consumed from patterns of avoiding, dwelling, self-criticizing and judging.Class Three Practice
- Practice Sound and Thought Meditation daily for the next six days. Please record your experiences, reactions, discoveries, and challenges on the Homework Log, as this will help with the inquiry process.
- Practice two Three-Minute Breathing Spaces each day.
- Choose two routines in your day and make a deliberate effort to bring moment-to-moment awareness to that activity (i.e. Walking Meditation).
- Complete the Mindful Pause Reflective Worksheet.
Williams M. & Penman D. (2011). Mindfulness: An eight-week plan to finding peace in a frantic world. New York: Rodale Books. Chapter 7 and 8.
Things that are worth learning are often difficult. What is worth more than learning to love and accept yourself? - UnknownClass Four: Loving Kindness and Self-Compassion
In practicing mindfulness, we cultivate a sense of curiosity and openness to all experiences. In doing so, we discover new ways to relate to stressful internal or external events. Pain and suffering are universal experiences. By becoming more aware of the thoughts, feelings and body sensations that arise in each moment, it allows us the possibility of freeing ourselves from habitual, automatic ways of reacting.
In general, we react to experiences in one of three ways:
- With boredom, where we leave the present moment and go off into daydreaming or engage with external distractions.
- With clinging, perhaps wanting things to stay the same, or dwelling on problems to fix, control or solve.
- With avoidance, distracting or distancing ourselves from difficulties or pain.
Mindfulness offers us the opportunity to notice when we have drifted away from present moment awareness, learn to respond with loving kindness to our wandering mind and to gently guide our attention back to present moment experience.
Consider that we’re often driven by a need to be perfect and invulnerable in order to avoid emotional pain and to feel ok about ourselves. It’s exhausting, considering nobody's perfect. During the formal practice of Loving Kindness, the goal is to direct positive emotions and qualities to whatever arises in your stream of awareness. This can include yourself, others, animals or nature. This practice is a sort of training, where we learn to show ourselves kindness, acceptance and support when difficult things happen.
Unconditional compassion and acceptance does not mean giving up, resignation or passivity. It means noticing the present moment, without judgment, defence or self-criticism. The goal is not to eliminate unpleasant feelings or thoughts when they arise, but to become more aware of them.
Think about a cut on your finger; how does your body heal? When the right conditions are established, the body heals from the inside out. So what environment is needed for the mind to heal? The answer is, one without blame, shame and self-judgment. One of self-awareness, acceptance, kindness and compassion.Class Four Practice
- Practice guided Befriending Meditation daily for the next six days. Record your experiences, reactions, discoveries and challenges on the Homework Log, as this will help with the inquiry process.
- You may also start to combine different meditations to prolong your practice. Create a playlist, and try listening to Breath and Body, Sounds and Thoughts and Befriending Meditation all in one sitting.
- Choose two routines in your day and make a deliberate effort to bring moment-to-moment awareness to that activity. Try to incorporate Loving Kindness into these activities as well.
- Complete Loving Kindness Reflected Worksheet optional activity and readings.
Note: If you're finding it difficult to accept these well wishes to yourself during the Befriending Meditation, know that the intention of wishing well upon yourself and others is enough. If you find your mind being drawn to painful memories or experiences, you may always return your attention to the breath and body, and use this as an anchor to ground back to the present moment. Become aware when your mind shifts from cultivating a sense of kindness, to creating a story based on your experience. If this happens, notice that your attention has drifted and gently guide it back to the practice.
Williams M. & Penman D. (2011). Mindfulness: An eight-week plan to finding peace in a frantic world. New York: Rodale Books. Chapter 10 and 11.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
- Jellaludin RumiClass Five: Mindful Acceptance
Last week you cultivated a sense of kindness toward yourself by practicing relating differently to the sensations of pain and suffering. By allowing things to be, just as they are, without judging or trying to make it different, we gain a new way of relating to our difficulties. Acceptance is a major part of recognizing what, if anything, needs to change.
Once we recognize our habits of mind, emotion and behaviour, we can begin to see how we get stuck. We get caught in a cycle of clinging or avoiding. However, what we resist often persists.
When we begin to notice the ways we cope through clinging or avoiding, we aren't judging these coping patterns. In fact, they've supported our survival at many points in our life. Mindfulness helps us recognize how these habits may not be helpful in certain situations. Rather than react in auto-pilot to everyday challenges, practicing mindful responses allows us to respond wisely.
When we are faced with stress, emotional pain or difficulty, it is natural to try to avoid and push these emotional experiences away. We try to solve it, ignore it or suppress it with distractions. When difficulties come arise, the brain reacts by viewing them as the enemy. Thus, we initiate an automatic reaction to avoid, distract, fix or solve.
By cultivating acceptance of the suffering and pain in your life, we open up space for healing. Often emotions and thoughts cannot be fixed, avoiding them takes time and energy away from what really matters. Acceptance allows things to be as they are, and opens up new possibilities and wiser reactions.Class Five Practice
- Combine different meditations to prolong your practice, and practice every day. Create a playlist, and try listening to Breath and Body, Sounds and Thoughts and Befriending Meditation and Cultivating Self-Compassion all in one sitting.
- Record your experiences, reactions, discoveries and challenges on the Homework Log, as this will help with the inquiry process.
- Choose two routines in your day and make a deliberate effort to bring moment-to-moment awareness to that activity. If you find yourself criticizing yourself during any activities, see if you can mindfully pause, then move on to incorporating Self-Compassion and Loving Kindness to yourself or others.
- Complete Acceptance Worksheet.
Williams M. & Penman D. (2011). Mindfulness: An eight-week plan to finding peace in a frantic world. New York: Rodale Books. Chapter 9.
The real meditation is how you live your life. - Jon Kabat-Zinn
This final class reviews all the concepts covered in the program, and provides tips on sustaining your mindfulness practice. Consider this week something to carry forward.
Class Six: Daily Integration
Mindfulness practice isn’t something to do or get done. It’s not a task to complete or a self-help guide. It isn't a way of fixing the past, present or future. Mindfulness is a way of being in the world. It gives us the opportunity to look for learning in every difficulty. Mindfulness does not treat our difficulties, but fosters a deeper and kinder self-awareness, which underlies all of our perceptions and experiences.
Trying to achieve a relaxed state or a calm mind defeats the main intention of practicing mindfulness. Instead, try adopting a perspective of practicing with no goals or objectives in mind. Stillness and peace isn't achieved when the mind is calm or when our world is still. Stillness and peace arise when we accept things just as they are, moment by moment.
In Class One, you learned how to focus your attention on a single object, your breath. Every time you became distracted, you brought your attention back to that object. You learned about being on auto-pilot, and how a wandering mind is natural and normal. By becoming aware of how much the mind wanders, it provided you the opportunity to shift into a more intentional way of being, and to strengthen your attention muscles.
In Class Two, you experienced the ability to direct your attention to your body through the body scan meditation. By forming a closer connection with your body, you became attuned to the messages it sends you, and how closely connected the mind and body are. You experienced what it’s like to intentionally shift your attention to different areas, and practiced letting go when moving on to the next.
In Class Three, you discovered how to relate to sounds and thoughts differently. Both occur automatically, without much of our control. You experienced how you may observe sounds, thoughts, and physical sensations, noticing a tendency to analyze, judge, or engage with them. You practiced to viewing thoughts as automatic mental events that can arise and move along, without requiring an automatic reaction or elaboration.
In Class Four, you recognized that pain and suffering are part of the human experience, and cultivated loving kindness of yourself. You expanded well wishes not only to yourself, but also to those close to you, and then to all people. You recognized that all people have a universal wish to be happy and healthy, and free from pain and suffering.
Class Five provided a different way of relating to difficult events. You noticed how our automatic habitual patterns of thinking and reacting can result in clinging and avoiding. Just by noticing, it allows us to make a shift toward accepting things we can't change, and plan how to react wisely to the things we can.
Class Six is the rest of your life. Focus on incorporating mindfulness into your daily life so these skills will be there when you need them the most. Think of it like practicing for game day. When challenging events happen, you’ll have the skill and resilience to live with them.
Find what works for you. Mix up different mindful activities, guided meditations and self-guided meditations. Look for opportunities around Calgary to meditate, practice yoga and join mindfulness groups. Start a meditation group with friends, download a smart phone app. Practice every day – all the researched positive benefits of mindfulness require continual practice.
Williams M. & Penman D. (2011). Mindfulness: An eight-week plan to finding peace in a frantic world. New York: Rodale Books. Chapter 12.