Mindfulness and meditation can help focus the brain on tasks at hand.

A beneficial practice for children with attention challenges. 

Meditation practitioners and teachers know that mindfulness is all about present-moment awareness. I have been teaching mindfulness to students since 2016 to calm behaviors, the transition from one activity to another and to be more aware of the body in space and thoughts in the mind. The overarching idea is that with the awareness skill of mindfulness, students who struggle to pay attention or who are anxious in school could notice where their focus is and manage themselves more effectively. The following are but a couple of the many scientific studies showing how mindfulness helps improve focus and attention. 

According to Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Miami, the neuroplasticity of our brain is at the heart of why mindfulness helps with focus. “Attention is your superpower. Attention regulates how you perceive your life, think your thoughts, feel your feelings, enjoy your memories, and daydream about the future.” Dr. Jha and her team taught people with high-stress jobs how to place attention where it matters most using mindfulness. “What we gain from mindfulness [is] the capacity to keep our attention where we need it, in the form we need it… Mindfulness training does indeed have a dose-response effect, which means the more you practice, the more you benefit.”

Another article entitled Your Child’s Brain on Mindful Meditation published in ADDitude, an online magazine for ADHD, explained the results of a Harvard study in which “some areas of the brain, including areas related to emotion regulation, grew during an eight-week mindfulness program. And studies involving both imaging and patterns of activation in the brain have shown alterations correlating with greater emotional control, wellbeing, and happiness.”

Since I have been guiding and practicing meditation with adults and children, most self-report that they feel more in tune with what is going on around them, in their body and in their mind. As they learn to sit in silence and notice what is going on inside and around them, they realize how it benefits their life. 

Please note that meditation is not mental health or emotional therapy. Meditation is, however, an effective supplemental practice that can help generate peace of mind and self-control. The key to a successful practice is time and repetition. To reap the greatest benefit, meditation should be a daily activity of at least 10 minutes and according to Dr. Jha’s study, the optimal amount of time is at least 12 minutes per day. 

The following short practice is inspired by Dr. Amishi Jha’s STOP practice in which we Stop what we are doing for a moment, Take a breath, Observe what’s happening in and around us, and then Proceed with greater focus and intention.

Focus Practice Using Mindfulness

When you notice you are losing focus, whether in class or in a meeting, try this practice and invite your child(ren) to try it with you. By practicing this regularly, children will be able to do it on their own at school.

Let’s say you are in a meeting or classroom and you notice your mind wandering or your body getting jittery. The first thing is to acknowledge that you have lost attention to what is going on. You can’t remember the last thing the speaker or the teacher said, or what you were doing, maybe. The first step in mindfulness is simply noticing that attention has been lost. 

When we notice this, we bring our attention to a mindfulness anchor – commonly the breath. We take one to three deep breaths, intentionally noting the air coming in and going out of the body at the nose, the chest, or the belly. Counting these breaths is also a worthwhile practice to bring attention to the moment.

After inviting a few calming breaths, we bring our attention to the body. Where are the feet right now? Where are my hands? Where am I sitting right now? Bring awareness to any feelings in the body. Then, notice the head balanced on top of the shoulders and, if comfortable, take a few seconds to close the eyes and quickly scan the body for any sensations.

Finally, with the enhanced present-moment awareness this short practice has generated, we make the choice to come back to what is going on right now and what we “should” be doing: listening to a speaker or teacher or working on a project or assignment. We can bring renewed focus and clarity to what we are doing and feel more productive and aware. 

This practice can be done anytime we want or anytime we notice ourselves drifting off task. In time, mindfulness of what is going on right now and what needs to be happening will hone the brain’s focus and attention systems.

Originally published in The Taos News, December 8, 2022

The Impermanence of Life:

Mindfulness and the change of seasons

I received an email newsletter from Ten Percent Happier, a meditation app that offers many types of meditation and teachings. The article shared was entitled, “The Joy and Dread of Autumn” by Jay Michaelson and the topic connected to my heart. It speaks to the impermanence of life and how nature dies with the change of seasons. Michaelson writes, “At this time each autumn, as leaves begin to fall in earnest … I actually feel a desire to somehow paste them back onto the trees.” Reading this I thought to myself, “yeah, that’s how I feel.” 

Surely, fall is a beautiful season and recently my family was in New Hampshire where the sugar maple leaves change to deep colors of red and maroon. Along with the more common yellow and orange, fall’s palette is really spectacular. Even on the ground, the leaves create a gorgeous contrast between the still-green grass and beige sidewalks. It’s as if the forests are on fire with color and the sparks are on the ground. 

“Even if the autumn leaves are riotously beautiful, the bare branches of February are bleak and dour,” writes the author, who says he suffers from seasonal affective disorder. The mind knows that death is near so with the colored leaves soon turning brown, the trees will be bare for the next 6 or 7 months. I realize that I’m a green-season person even though I have an autumn birthday and am grateful to live in a region where there is sunshine all year. So in this conundrum, mindfulness helps me practice with emotions, thoughts and sensations conjured up by the change of seasons. I notice the grasping and aversion felt in my body as churning in the stomach and heaviness of heart. I understand that these feelings are uncomfortable, even depressing. I allow myself to explore the sadness when fall is giving way to winter and remind myself in a moment of wisdom that this is a predictable journey of life and death which is temporary and will in a few months transition again to the seasons of rebirth. I try to make friends with my emotions using self-compassion, reminding myself that the flowers and green leaves WILL return. Apple crisp and pumpkin pie are delicious. Wood burning in the fireplace is cozy and all is well in this moment. It’s the cycle of life.

The following family meditation is done outdoors on a hike or where ever we can find an area to be among trees. We keep eyes open and can choose to either sit or lie down for this practice.

Autumn Family Meditation

Begin by feeling the areas of the body in contact with the ground. Sitting, the feet and legs are touching the earth while lying down, the whole back body will be heavy and grounded.

The leader directs everyone to take several deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth to settle the nervous system and center the body in the meditation space.

The leader then asks everyone how they feel about the change of seasons. Some like it just fine while others may be feeling a little grasping for summer or aversion of fall. It’s a personal thing either way and no need to answer out loud. This is a moment of introspective contemplation. 

Next we do a body scan, moving our attention progressively from one end of the body to the other while noticing any areas that are tense or tight. Those are where the emotions of the change of seasons are physically being felt. 

Looking around, what do we see in the trees and plants around us. What colors are the leaves, branches, plants, vines, etc? Are there signs of life or is everything pretty much asleep?

Using the sense of touch or body sensations, what’s the temperature of the air? Cool, warm, etc. Is there a scent to the change of seasons? Dirt, decaying leaves, evergreens…

What nature sounds are we aware of? Birds, squirrels, a breeze in the trees blowing leaves to the ground? There may be fewer animal sounds when the season is changing to winter.

Once the atmosphere of the practice has been established, we continue to notice the in and out breath and remain in silence, allowing the body and mind to interact with the breath and the environment around us, noticing what our awareness wishes to tune into.

When enough time has passed, we take a few deep breaths together and look around us, mindfully seeing details of nature’s beauty that is a constant in the cycle of life. 

Anne-Marie Emanuelli is the founder and Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center offering workshops, classes and coaching for children, families, individuals and classrooms. For more information please visit the website at MindfulFrontiers.net.


Families Meditate Together

Mindfulness in Daily Family Life: Anything Can Be Done Mindfully

“We have the ability to work wonders. If we live mindfully in everyday life, walk mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and transform the world into a wonderful place.”  — Thich Nhat Hanh from Moments of Mindfulness, 2013

Mindfulness can be brought into our daily activities so that anything we do becomes meditation. Doing the dishes, cleaning the house, driving the car, drinking coffee or tea, and walking with a pet can all be done mindfully. 

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist, wrote extensively about mindfulness in daily life. “Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present, and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car, or take our morning shower.” Thay (as he is referred to by his followers), taught that anything we do can be meditation. 

When we engage in an activity mindfully we slow down and REALLY pay attention with applied concentration and open curiosity. I have noticed that when mindfulness is brought to an activity it becomes really enjoyable and imaginative. When the activity is partaken by a group, everyone has a different experience and it is meaningful to all.

When I teach mindfulness to children and families, we engage all the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. What do we see right now? What do we smell, touch, taste, and hear right now as we are doing this together?

Another thing we can do is recite a gatha or phrase while we engage in an activity and it brings the mind and body together with a calm and clear mind.  Here are a couple of gathas to consider: “Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly. When my mouth is fragrant with Right Speech, a flower blooms in the garden of my heart. Before starting the car I know where I am going. The car and I are one. If the car goes fast, I go fast.” (From Plum Village website)

This month let’s really pay attention to activities we engage in together. The following practice can be used during any activity to bring mindfulness into the shared experience.

Mindfulness in Daily Life family practice

Choose an activity to experience mindfully: Washing the Dishes, Walking the Dog, Driving to School. You choose the activity. The practice is the same.

  • Begin by consciously identifying what you are doing right now together. 
  • The practice welcomes all the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. The leader in the practice asks the questions one at a time, allowing for individual experience.
  • What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? What do you taste? For example, if we are washing the dishes, we identify the dish we are washing and notice its texture, color, and design. What sounds do we hear as the cloth rubs the surface or the dishes touch one another? How does the water temperature feel on our hands? What does the soap smell like and is there a sense of taste? (Sometimes smell and taste are related in the body)
  • Each sense is invited and a quiet moment is allowed for everyone to have their experience. We invite patience and awareness and don’t hurry to the next sense.

Walking is also a great activity to do mindfully. Consider this if you walk a pet regularly. While walking, invite all the senses just as was suggested above.

Published April 21, 2022 in The Taos News

Mindful Meditation Brings Hope in Times of Uncertainty

Contemplative and reflective practices are ways to welcome hope back into our life.

Mindful meditation is an insight practice in which a focus anchor is used. The breath, sounds, body sensations, and walking can all be used to anchor our awareness in the present-moment. Basically, that’s what mindful meditation is: bringing full attention to one thing (the attention anchor) in the present moment. By doing so repeatedly and routinely, the body and mind learn to relax and settle into the moment. We call meditation a practice because it takes repetition and commitment.

Just because someone “tried it once” and couldn’t settle their mind doesn’t mean we should give up on meditation. Like any healthy habit, we have to practice to achieve mastery.

All meditation styles use the breath as a concentration anchor. Counting breaths, following the breath through the four cycles (in, pause, out, pause), and simply being aware of the sensation of the breath going in and out of the body. The breath is used as a focus anchor because it is ubiquitous and we can either harness it or just be aware of its natural rhythm.

Other attention anchors would be sound, sensations, body scanning and eventually, open awareness which is where a meditator doesn’t use just one specific anchor. In this practice, we sit and welcome awareness of whatever comes along: investigating and appreciating thoughts, sensations in the body, and feelings / emotions, without attachment or engagement. Just being aware with equanimity and allowing present-moment awareness is a more advanced and freeing practice to which anyone can aspire.

Body scans are an effective way to release tension in the body and mind and are helpful for those who “can’t sit still.” Body scans use breathing and applied focus to release energy within the body in a systematic way. 

  1. The head to toe scan: This body scan takes the practitioner’s attention one area at a time starting with the crown of the head and ending with the toes. It should take about 20 minutes and can take even longer if the practitioner wishes. Starting at the top of the head, using breath and focus, attention is placed on the crown and then moved down the body.  With awareness, curiosity and mindfulness feelings or sensations are welcomed. As the body scan progresses, attention is placed one area at a time: the face, forehead, eye area, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. The same kind of breathing and focus is placed as attention is moved down the body:  back of head; shoulders; chest; mid back, hips, thighs, knees, calves, ankles and feet, ending with the toes. 
  2. The toe to head scan: This body scan is the same as #1 except for the direction of the focus. Starting with toes, attention and breath is directed upward through the legs, abdomen, chest, shoulders, back of head, face, crown. 
  3. Tensing and releasing body scan: This body scan can be effective at helping a person fall asleep as the body parts being focused on are tensed as breath is held and then released as the breath is expelled. The act of alternately tensing and releasing muscles is an effective way to encourage relaxation. 

With all these body scans, the key is to go slow and to keep the focus on using breath as an anchor of attention. The mind directs its attention to areas of the body while the breath encourages release of tension and relaxation. Body scans are very effective and can be done any time of the day, including to help induce sleep.

Another mindfulness practice for people who have a hard time sitting still is walking meditation.

In the Zen tradition, walking meditation begins with a very slow walk in which the breath is matched to footsteps. Breathing in when lifting the foot and breathing out when stepping down. After circling around a meditation room a few times, zen meditators generally walk more quickly for a few more rounds, allowing breathing to be natural and bringing the focus on the body. I have done walking meditation more casually during daily exercise walks by placing my awareness on the sensation of my feet on the ground, my breathing and my body.  I have also used sounds around me as anchors during the walk, or a mantra or song repeated over and over. 

There’s no easier time than right now to explore mindful meditation. During Covid19-pandemic social distancing and isolation, teachers from different meditation lineages are sharing guidance freely and generously. Even the Dalai Lama shares Buddhist teachings and spiritual rituals online. Additionally, there are many mobile apps that offer guided practices and my educational center, Mindful Frontiers, has a YouTube channel with videos for all levels and ages.

Mindful meditation guides us in navigating difficult experiences with calm introspection and balanced outward equanimity. Whether you’ve tried once and couldn’t sit still or you used to meditate and let the practice go, now is a wonderful opportunity to bring hope into our uncertain world. Start here and now; one breath at a time.

#weekly prompt— Published on March 3, 2021

Mindful Meditation Can Reconnect Families

A pre-bedtime meditation routine for families is a beautiful way to finish off the day.

A fun and effective pre-bedtime meditation is the “Body Scan”. Children of any age can practice the following body scans. It would be helpful at first for the parent to provide guidance until such a time when the child is confident enough to do the guidance for the group or silently for themself.

  1. The head to toe scan: This body scan takes the practitioner’s attention one area at a time starting with the crown of the head and ending with the toes. It should take about 20 minutes and can take even longer if the practitioner wishes. Starting at the top of the head, using breath and focus, attention is placed on the crown and then moved down the body.  With awareness, curiosity and mindfulness feelings or sensations are welcomed. As the body scan progresses, attention is placed one area at a time: the face, forehead, eye area, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. The same kind of breathing and focus is placed as attention is moved down the body:  back of head; shoulders; chest; mid back, hips, thighs, knees, calves, ankles and feet, ending with the toes. 
  2. The toe to head scan: This body scan is the same as #1 except for the direction of the focus. Starting with toes, attention and breath is directed upward through the legs, abdomen, chest, shoulders, back of head, face, crown. 
  3. Tensing and releasing body scan: This body scan can be effective at helping a person fall asleep as the body parts being focused on are tensed as breath is held and then released as the breath is expelled. The act of alternately tensing and releasing muscles is an effective way to encourage relaxation. 

With all of these body scans, the key is to go slow and to keep the focus on using breath as an anchor of attention. The mind directs its attention to the body parts while the breath connects with these parts and encourages release of tension and relaxation. The reason body scans can release and relax is because in meditation, we use the breath as our anchor of attention. As our focus is directed, so does the breath and between attention and breath, the formula leads to relaxation through mindfulness of intention.

The article that follows explains more in detail the kinds of meditation as well as specifics according to age. 

How to teach children meditation: The attention span of a child is much shorter so we do shorter meditation practices. Also, the brain of a child is not yet developed in the frontal cortex area where focus and attention and emotional regulation takes place. When teaching children meditation, directions need to be very simple and imaginative. Since breath awareness is the most basic mindfulness practice, it is where meditation we start instructions for any level of practice. When teaching breath awareness to young meditators, we explain that the breath in the belly is similar to a balloon that is inflated when we breathe in and deflated on the exhale. Using a visual anchor is easier for young children to grasp. Also, young meditators are more likely to feel the breath in their belly than in the other anchor areas such as the chest or the nostrils. In my years of teaching mindfulness in classrooms most students enjoy sitting and focussing on the breath. It’s the first anchor that is taught although it is something they most likely have never done and they enjoy using their imagination as well as the resulting relaxation. Focusing on the inhale and exhale of the breath allows young meditators to get in touch with physical sensations which they may not have ever considered. Closing eyes is optional with young children and at-risk populations and I’ve found that hyper-active children do better lying down than sitting up. With young children and elementary-age students, we start with 1 minute and work towards 5 minutes of meditation.

The benefits of mindfulness for kids: This is where I am especially passionate! Mindful Frontiers, whose mission is to teach meditation skills to families with young children encourages them to incorporate mindfulness into their family’s daily routine. By teaching meditation to young children, meditation teachers believe this stress-reduction skill will be implanted in their brains early and as they grow and mature they will always be able to go back to it in times of stress. It’s a social-emotional learning skill that has long-term benefits. For example, even if a young person lets meditation go during adolescence as they pursue independence and autonomy, someday when they find themselves in a stressful situation, they can remember that as a child they learned this relaxation skill called mindful awareness and they can pick it back up. I would even say that a stressed out teenager who is thinking of suicide or, worse, using a gun to let off anxiety, would remember what it felt to meditate and decide to do that instead. Doing so would save lives!

Specific considerations by age: Toddlers and preschool age kids can listen to a bell / chime and focus on the sound from start to end. This age can also listen to sounds around them, gaze intently at an object, dance mindfully around a classroom. For breath focus, they can notice their belly inflate and deflate with the breath. With practice, a toddler could sit for a minute in silence. 

Older children (elementary school age) can learn to focus on their breath, listen to a bell/chime as well as listen to sounds as meditation anchors just as the younger children. The difference would be the length of time this age could aspire to sitting still. I would start with 1 minute of silent and guided meditation and work up to 3 minutes in about a week and then try to get to 5 minutes within a month. (Mindful Frontiers has  videos on the meditation page targeting this age group). 

Middle-school age and high school age is interesting. The brain of an adolescent is particularly active and believe it or not, the prefrontal cortex is developing at such a fast pace that it is as if they are toddlers again! The same kind of practice is done with this age group. What is different is that I start out with a story, a poem, or a video and then move on to the actual meditation practice. 

— Published February 21, 2021 on Thrive Global

Will Meditating Help You Sleep?

Body scan relaxation practice can help you fall asleep and enjoy deep relaxation.
They are a quick and effective way to release tension in the body and mind. Meditative body scans use breathing and focus to release energy within the body in a systematic way.

The head to toe scan: This body scan takes the practitioner’s attention one area at a time starting with the crown of the head and ending with the toes. It should take about 20 minutes and can take even longer if the practitioner wishes. Starting at the top of the head, using breath and focus, attention is placed on the crown and then moved down the body. With awareness, curiosity and mindfulness feelings or sensations are welcomed.

As the body scan progresses, attention is placed one area at a time: the face, forehead, eye area, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. The same kind of breathing and focus is placed as attention is moved down the body: back of head; shoulders; chest; mid back, hips, thighs, knees, calves, ankles and feet, ending with the toes.

As published:

Will Meditating Help You Sleep?

by Joe Auer | Updated: December 17, 2020

Creating a Meditation Space That is Welcoming and Nurturing

Meditation is a concentration and relaxation practice that originated in devotional communities of Asia, especially in India where Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha lived and taught his followers thousands of years ago. Two of the paths of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism are Right Concentration​ which is the practice of meditation and Right Mindfulness, which is the practice of awareness of body, sensation/feelings, and mind. Both of these are the most accessible spiritual practices to pursue, even without embracing the precepts of Buddhism.

Meditation is all about present-moment awareness

“The practice of meditation is not so much based on becoming a better person, or for that matter becoming an enlightened person. It is seeing how we can relate to our already existing enlightened state. To do that is a matter of trust, as well as a matter of openness.” (Lion’s Roar; Why We Meditate by CHÖGYAM TRUNGPA RINPOCHE, September 2, 2016) With this background perspective, the decision to take up the practice of meditation will require discipline and curiosity. 

The Four-Limitless Ones (Brahma-viharas) as a practice for beginners

Loving-kindness (metta) is the practice that wishes happiness and to all beings. When doing this type of meditation, a person visualizes themselves and others and recites the mantra, “May all beings enjoy happiness” repeatedly while feeling love and kindness in their heart. Compassion (karuna) is the practice that wishes all beings “to be free from suffering”.  This sentiment, the second of the immeasurables, is recited with compassion towards the self and others. The third of the immeasurables is Joy (mudita). The joyful mantra is “may all beings have joy in their hearts”. The fourth brahma-vihara is equanimity (upekkha). This practice wishes all beings to accept life as it is and the mantra “May all beings dwell in equanimity” is an releasing attitude towards life’s experiences. All meditation styles share a common goal: samadhi or the ultimate calm state of present-moment awareness that all is well, here and now.

Setting up a meditation room 

Setting up a meditation room is something a person does because they are serious about taking up the practice and incorporating meditation into their daily routine. Creating the best meditation space is a matter of personal taste and personality. The basic needs of a meditation space are: 

  • a comfortable space: either a corner of a room or an entire room. The amount of space isn’t important as long as it is a comfortable and calm environment.  Windows that let in natural light would add a warm atmosphere to the meditation room. Sparse decoration and neutral colors bring soothing simplicity. 
  • a sitting arrangement: traditional meditation sitting takes place on a zabuton (mat) and zafu (cushion). There are many types of postures and sitting styles to try out to find what is the most comfortable; everyone eventually finds their preferred sitting position.
  • an altar or inspirational centerpiece with items that inspire spiritual connection and introspection. Some items meditators like are incense, crystals, flowers, pictures, statues, prayer beads, spiritual pictures. A meditation bell or singing bowl is a traditional part of the altar.

Meditation room is a space of solace and safety

No matter how much space and what is placed in the meditation room, ultimately the goal is for the space to be welcoming, comfortable and pleasant. It becomes a space of solace and safety and the atmosphere invites the meditator to stay for a while. The longer a person sits and the more regular the practice , the greater the spiritual and physical benefits. 

Flexibility of the space

The meditation room can double as a reading room or personal office where the meditator spends time learning about meditation skills, traditions, history and philosophy. Journaling is an activity that meditators like to pursue in their meditation room. It’s part of the contemplation and introspection that comes with a meditation practice. 

Meditation is an important mental health practice for the world right now

Mindfulness and meditation are the cornerstone of a contemplative and spiritual life. They bring emotional calm and physical well being to our life, something that is very much needed at this time in our collective consciousness. And when a meditator invites their family and friends to meditate with them, the ripple effect is transformational for our society and world. Even younger members of a family can participate in meditation and their life would be so much more positive as a result. 

A meditation space is your personal safe haven

Regardless of how devoted you are to mindful meditation, the space that is created for sitting (zazen) is important.  Whether it is a corner in the bedroom with just a pillow and mat or a separate room in the house with an altar, music, incense and lots of pillows, feeling comfortable in the space will become the container of your meditation practice. It will be where you want to go for a few minutes or hours of calm and mental space. May all beings be safe from suffering and feel joy in their hearts. Namasté.

See complete article as published in Morning Lazziness on October 22, 2020

Yoga And Meditation Are ‘First Cousins’

Yoga and meditation are “first cousins” dating back thousands of years to devotional and intellectual communities in Asia. The histories and characteristics of both meditation and yoga are quite rich and complex.

A fundamental similarity between yoga and meditation is the use of breath. Both pay close attention to how the breath is used to guide practices. In yoga, the breath is used to focus the flow of postures or asanas, while in meditation the breath is an anchor for present-moment awareness. That simple comparison is just one small point and falls quite short of the full array of mutual relationships between yoga and meditation.

Yoga is a holistic discipline that includes six paths or branches, each representing a particular approach to life: Hatha, Raja, Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Tantra. Hatha yoga is the type most often practiced by US yogis. Within some of the branches there are eight “limbs” or subtle disciplines that follow this order: “ethical standards, yama; self-discipline, niyama; posture, asana; breath extension or control, Pranayama; sensory withdrawal, pratyahara; concentration, dharana; meditation, dhyana; and ecstasy or final liberation, samadhi.” (Yoga Journal- The Branches of the Yogi Tree).  The last five yoga limbs share similarities with meditation in which breath awareness, deep concentration, focus of present moment and ultimate enlightenment are practiced. 

The differences between yoga and meditation, other than some historic origins, language and syntax of limbs and branches is beyond necessity for the daily practitioner. To fully explain the spiritual differences is the subject of a lengthy thesis. Suffice it to say that one would be better off understanding how to incorporate them both into a personal self-care and mental health practice. 

Meditation includes many different flavors and traditions. Its history is rich and deep as well and spans thousands of years. Meditation is a spiritual and contemplative practice that has as its origin the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha. A couple of the more well-known teachings include the Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path. Within these are more detailed explanations referred to as Buddha Dharma. These teachings contain sub-categories such as Wisdom, Ethics, Mindfulness​, Concentration​. Both yoga and meditation have a goal to reach enlightenment or Samadhi. Currently, the approaches of meditation that are most commonly practiced in the US are Concentration (Zen & Brahma Vihara), Insight, (Vipassana), Giving and Receiving (Tonglen) and open awareness (Shikantaza). 

It would be impossible for me to choose between yoga and meditation as they are both extremely important for my mental and physical health. Two of my vital daily needs are physical movement (exercise), and self-reflection.  Hatha yoga fulfills the need for physical movement while meditation fulfills the need for self-reflection. Both of these can easily be incorporated into a weekly schedule by either alternating every other day or doing short, daily practices of each.

Ultimately, the choice is a personal one and taking classes in both yoga and meditation before deciding for oneself is highly recommended. Nonetheless, my personal advice is DO THEM BOTH! The overall benefits of incorporating both outweigh trying to decide between them. When it comes to self-care and mental health, a well-rounded practice is the best way to go. 

Namasté and Be Well.

Published in Human Window By Martin Caparrotta Updated on 24 October 2020

Meditation Can Help You To Have Compassion And Empathy For Self And Others

Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Creative Director at Mindful Frontiers

People are often attracted to meditation because of a need for emotional, spiritual or physical healing.

Once a person starts meditating, they generally realize the benefits extend far beyond a healing practice. It becomes a state of being and a lifestyle choice.

I was attracted to meditation a couple decades ago at a time when a physical ailment affected my ability to live life with ease. Not ready to accept surgery, a doctor suggested reading Dr. Christiane Northrup’s groundbreaking book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. Through her book, I was introduced to Caroline Myss, a medical intuitive, who wrote about alternative ways to heal.

Meditation was a practice recommended by these authors and it became my path to personal wellbeing. Eventually, surgery became necessary and I was able to make this choice with equanimity, inner strength and the ability to stay grounded in the only moment of existence: the present.

Fast-forward many years to the chapter in which I was a classroom teacher. Our school had experienced three student suicides in the span of about a year; two were just before the start of school.

Needless to say, it was a very shaky start that year. Meditation came back to mind as a way to deal with grief and it seemed my students might need this calming practice as well.

For a number of years after this experience, mindful meditation became a cornerstone of my teaching practice. Students of many ages and backgrounds have shared mindful meditation together and have expressed the benefits they felt from a moment of calm body and peaceful mind.

Whether it is to get through a difficult illness, grief of losing a loved one, or simply to carve out a daily moment of non-doing, everyone can benefit from meditation.

The benefits are plentiful and scientifically proven. A few of these include the ability to stay calm during emotional experiences, to be less reactive to behaviors, to listen more carefully to conversations, and to have compassion and empathy for self and others.

There’s also the spiritual benefit of sangha that comes from practicing meditation with others, whether in a monastery or a virtual community of meditators. There’s no better time than right now to explore mindful meditation.

During Covid-related social distancing and isolation, teachers from different meditation lineages are sharing guidance freely and generously.

Even the Dalai Lama offers Buddhist teachings and spiritual ceremonies online. These practices guide us in navigating difficult experiences with calm introspection and balanced outward equanimity.

Meditation quiets the mind and settles the nervous system

Children benefit from mindful meditation

By Anne-Marie Emanuelli

Published in The Taos News, Aug 6, 2020

Mindful Frontiers welcomes a peaceful future by teaching families how to meditate, encouraging them to bring this practice into their daily routine.

I have been exploring meditation for two decades and incorporated mindfulness practice into my classrooms at Taos Academy about five years ago. This decision came after three student suicides took the school by surprise and propelled me into a personal exploration for healing grief and anxiety.

Rediscovering meditation was my path to wholeness and I found that students also benefited from present-moment awareness.

Everyone encounters stress and we are living through a challenging time right now. Some stress is necessary, but when it causes anxiety or fear, it may not be healthy. Mindfulness meditation calms the mind and settles the body.

Jon Kabat Zinn, the “father” of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness meditation is what Kabat Zinn introduced to medical centers over 40 years ago.

The human mind is very active and when we are still, thoughts inevitably stream into our awareness. We follow our thoughts into imagining, inventing and creating beautiful objects, ideas and stories. That incredible thinking can also be stressful because some of these thoughts are filled with worry, anxiety and ruminating; stories of what has already happened or has yet to occur.

Paying attention to the present moment in a particular way is a helpful tool to relax; it benefits the brain, body, relationships and is something anyone can do – anytime, anywhere.

There are many types of meditation. Being aware of the present moment by focusing on an attention anchor – sounds, sensations or, most commonly, the breath – is the fundamental principle of meditation.

People around the world have been meditating for generations and it is called a practice because it takes time and repetition to master. Being aware of the present moment and doing it over and over trains the mind and body to relax into stillness.

Meditation quiets the mind and settles the nervous system. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is a bodily system that determines how we respond to emotional experiences. It is made up of the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems.

Although, as the name suggests, the ANS is automatic, we can stimulate the PNS response through meditation. By quieting the mind’s reactivity and calming down our attachment to emotional thoughts, we settle the “fight or flight” reactions of the SNS, thereby stimulating the PNS, which helps our body and mind come back to homeostasis.

There are many meditation practices that can help settle the nervous system, including sense awareness, body scanning and breath practice. The breath has four parts: in-breath, pause-in, out-breath, pause-out. Each part is a space of present-moment stillness, especially the pauses.

“Even just carrying the attention around one cycle of breath without losing focus may begin to give rise to that sense of stillness and help students to appreciate the pleasure inherent in meditation,” says Taos Zen teacher Sean Murphy (“How to Be a Breath Nerd”).

Here’s a breathing practice to try. Find a quiet place to sit such as under a tree, next to a stream or in your favorite space at home. Settle into a comfortable posture such as seated with your back straight and relaxed. You may close your eyes or gaze gently forward with slightly closed eyelids.

Begin by feeling the weight of your body and the sensation of contact with the ground. Notice your hands, legs, shoulders, neck and head. Take your time with this settling. Grounding awareness helps the mind and nervous system feel safe.

After taking a few deep breaths begin to focus on the natural flow of the breath, and mindfully, try to identify the four parts of your breath. If your mind gets distracted, it’s normal. When this happens, just bring your attention back to the breath and continue noticing the four parts, especially the pauses.

Try this for five minutes at first and each day add a minute until you reach 10 minutes. This will be your daily mindful meditation practice: 10 minutes of noticing your breath. When you feel comfortable with this practice, you can try others.

Welcome to your mindful frontier!