Summer Exercise Plan: 12 Minute Meditation

Summer is when we Portlanders stash the raincoats, dig out the sunglasses and sneakers, and conquer! It’s exercise time. No more rainy excuses for being a couch potato. It’s time to swim, run, and bike, because that triathlon is just 4 weeks away and we need to be ready.

But exactly how do you reap the maximum payoff from strenuous exercise? According to a recent article in the Times, “To Train an Athlete, Add 12 Minutes of Meditation to the Daily Mix” (21 June 2017, Phys Ed), a new research study found that athletes who practiced meditation for a few minutes a day became “better able to withstand the mental demands of hours of strenuous physical training.”

So no more whining because that finish line isn’t coming any closer. Sit down for 12 minutes and meditate with me, and then go, go, GO!

I’ll be here when you’re finished.


This Troublesome Mind of Mine

It seems one cannot meditate without confronting one’s mind, thoughts, and experience. This may be sad news for some. Once, after asking visitors to my beginning meditation class to share what they hoped to get out meditation, one young woman looked away from all of us, and said in a low, urgent voice, “I want to stop thinking!

I suspect that few of us would want to enter a thought-free state for all time, but the notion that meditation might offer a temporary refuge from thought, or at least, certain types of thought, is certainly appealing. So, naturally, we tell ourselves stories about how meditation will accomplish this for us: how sitting still, being quiet, and following the breath, will create a zone of mental peace and quiet.

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Summer Evenings are for Walking

One thing that I especially appreciate about Portland summers: the long summer evenings. There are just so many extra hours to our “days” during the summer. Which means that, after dinner, I can step out into the garden, or over to the sidewalk, and practice walking meditation.

If you’ve never tried walking meditation, it’s really quite simple. Walking mindfully is just like sitting mindfully: you open your mind to what is going on, note the coming and going of thoughts, and (here’s the new part), open your attention to the sensations of walking. One step after another – muscles tense and relax, each foot absorbs pressure and weight and then releases, perhaps a slight swaying from side to side.

Here are some posts and articles with extra hints:

The Enlightened Mouse

The use of animal models as surrogates for humans in scientific experiments goes back centuries. If animals and humans aren’t that different, the thinking goes, we can learn about human biology by studying the biology of our mammalian relatives. According to “Of Mice and Mindfulness” (Reynolds, NY Times – Well, 18 May 2017), the animal model approach might even be used to learn how human brains respond to various mental states, including meditation.

Previous research on humans had revealed a positive correlation between meditation and the amount of white brain matter in a region of the human brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in regulating emotions. Because humans lead such complicated lives, though, researchers could not say whether meditation caused this change in brain matter.

Enter the mouse.

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Clear away the clouds

“The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down” by Haemin Sunim has been a best-selling book in South Korea since it appeared in 2012 (41 weeks atop the best-sellers list, 3 million copies sold in 3 years). It has now appeared in an English translation by Chi-Young Kim (Penguin, 2017).

Here’s some advice from the book, Chapter 2 – Mindfulness (When You Are Feeling Low):

If you wish to clear away the clouds of your thoughts,
simply keep your mind in the present.

The clouds of thought linger only in the
past or the future.
Bring your mind to the present,
and your thoughts will rest.

Rather than repeating,
“It is awful! It is awful!”
stare straight into the awful feeling.


Examine the feeling.
Can you see its impermanent nature?
Let the feeling leave when it says it wants to go.

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The Brain-Breath Connection

A few months ago I wrote about the virtues of 5 deep breaths (Reset with 5 Deep Breaths, 5 Mar 2017). Now I’m back with scientific news that shows breathing affects brain function in mice. To put it briefly, there are special brain cells that connect breathing with states of arousal: sleep-wakefulness, vigilance, and emotions.

“Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice” (Yackle et al., Science, 31 Mar 2017, p. 1411) summarizes its findings as follows:

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Why Breathing?

As a rule, mindfulness meditation practice involves 3 steps:

  1. choosing something to be aware of (breath, sounds, touch, feelings)
  2. paying attention to this phenomenon
  3. returning one’s attention to it once we detect that our attention has wandered

The first step, choosing, often strikes people as a bit odd because nearly every set of instructions says, “pay attention to the sensations of breathing.” But why? My breath isn’t that interesting: I do it all the time without thinking about it. Worse, it seems to change whenever I pay close attention to it, and it just doesn’t seem that interesting compared to all of the other things I might focus on. So why pay attention to breathing?

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Stress Less Finals Week activity – May 4, Th, noon

Is the 3-headed monster (final paper, final lab report, final EXAM) chasing you? Don’t hide. Reduce stress and restore focus with a meditation break. Reed’s Community Wellness team is sponsoring:

Thursday, May 4, 12-1 PM, at the Eliot Chapel
Meditate to Reduce Stress and Increase Focus:

Learn a simple yet powerful technique of meditation that reduces stress, improves physical and emotional well-being, and promotes calm focus regardless of outer conditions. Conducted by cellist, teacher, writer and meditation practitioner David Eby, who specializes in exploring the benefits of meditation for performance (

Open to anyone (Reedies & visitors), regardless of religious or spiritual background, seeking to access their highest potential.

If it helps, come back to the Chapel the following Tuesday, May 9, for silent meditation, 12-12:40 PM.

There Are No Stupid Questions

I’m “coming out” today. Here’s what I want you to know about me,

  1. I meditate regularly. Often alone. Often with others.
  2. I think a lot about meditation, especially while I’m meditating.
  3. I nap during meditation sometimes. I haven’t found an answer to this “problem” except to stop treating it as a problem.
  4. Meditation feels special, but I try not to fool myself into thinking that it makes me special.
  5. I tend not to talk about my meditation practice (#1) or what it’s like (#2-4), even though its an extremely interesting topic to me and I think I’d be happy to share.

I had a lot of questions about meditation when I first started. Some have been answered. Others persist. If unanswered questions are keeping you from trying, or being satisfied with, meditation, send them my way. Start out, “Hi Alan,” and then follow wherever your fingers take you.

Meaningful Awareness

My mind during a part of last week’s meditation session:

  • in breath
  • a thought: “one”
  • out breath
  • in breath
  • a thought: “two”
  • a thought: “Hey, I’m doing ok, two breaths! I’m really focused today. Nice.”
  • a thought: “thinking”
  • a thought: “gone”
  • (in breath)
  • a thought: “one”
  • (out breath)

My mind was wandering, just like always, and, each time awareness of this wandering eventually dawned on me, I observed the wandering mind (“thinking”), released it (“…”), and noticed its absence (“gone”). That was the story of my meditation session, but the rest of my day was another story entirely …

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