FAQ's — About your practice
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Do I have to sit on a mountain? Not unless you happen to live on one. Any reasonably quiet, comfortable place where you’re not likely to be interrupted is fine. Do remember that you can also take your Headspace with you by doing your practice on the Headspace app for iPhone and Android.
We’re so used to applying effort to achieve a particular outcome that it’s easy to ‘try’ to be still — which is the surest way to tense up! As much as you can, try to let go of any desire to be ‘good’ at meditation, and release any expectations of yourself and the process. You’ll find that just letting whatever happens, happen, is (counter–intuitively) the best way to progress.
When you sit to meditate it's actually very common to experience a bit of pain. It might be an imbalance in the body, muscular tension, or even the release of emotional tension from the ups and downs of everyday life.
These feelings obviously become a bit clearer when you sit down quietly and are free from distractions. So strange as it sounds, you experience them because you have more clarity. Sometimes the physical pain or emotional tension can feel a bit more ingrained. Maybe it's an old injury you've had for many years, or discomfort associated with a situation from a very long time ago. This can be more difficult to deal with as you will probably have already built up a lot of resistance to the pain. But whatever the type of pain, it's useful to remember that as a general rule the more aware you are of pain, and the more welcoming you are towards it, the easier it is to manage and the more likely you are to understand it.
It sounds counter-intuitive to welcome pain in this way, but you'll find it much easier to work with if you do. So to begin with, try if you can to get comfortable just sitting with it - essentially making friends with the pain. Pay more attention to your reaction to the pain, rather than the pain itself - that's where the real insight is. If the pain's very stubborn and you're finding it difficult to sit with, then you can also be a bit more proactive and investigate the pain. Where is it? Is it a general area or a vey precise spot? Don't be too quick to make a judgement or assumption, but rather take the time to really investigate. Does it have a particular shape? Is it a dull pain or a sharp pain? Is there movement around the pain or does it feel very static? If this investigative approach is done in the right way and with a natural curiosity, then it can really transform the way pain is experienced.
The easiest way to think about breathing when you meditate is to just allow it to be completely natural. When we meditate we're not trying to breathe in a special way - it's very tempting to think that there is something more to do than that but actually there's not. Generally in mindfulness we're trying to allow things to unfold very naturally so it's about watching the breath and letting the natural rise and fall to take place.
Learning to meditate is like learning any other skill, like driving a car - you don't expect to hit the motorway after your first few lessons! Be patient with yourself, and take it slowly and without expecting too much, too quickly. Also try to avoid judging your meditation. Never look for perfection in your meditation practice, simply keep going from one technique to the next as part of the journey and over time you will see the change. Most of all though, be kind to yourself and remember that we are talking about the body and mind letting go of habits of a lifetime.
Because you’re a human being, and our default setting has become frenetic thought! If we could stop thinking at will, we wouldn’t need to learn to meditate. Just be gentle with yourself. It’s like whack–a–mole — the more you try to quash your thoughts, the more they’ll pop up. Bring your attention back to your breath each time, and with a little practice the sense of calm will begin to increase.
Before standing up, form a clear idea about what you're going to do next. For example, are you going to the bathroom to brush your teeth, to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, or to pick up your keys before leaving the house? It's so easy to just jump up off the seat and lose the calm and spacious quality you've so carefully cultivated. So try to carry this awareness with you to the next activity.
Falling off the meditation wagon is common. It happens to us all. The important thing is to not dwell on it too much and simply start again today.
1) If you have just missed a few days, then it's fine to pick it up from where you left off.
2) If you have missed more than two weeks, then I'd recommend one of the following: a) If you are on Take10, Take15 or Take20, then start at the beginning of the particular programme you left off on. For example, if you last did Day 4 of Take15, start back with Day 1 of Take15. b) If you are on a series pack, such as the Discovery Series, then simply return to the first day of the pack you were on. For example, if you last did Day 7 of Part 4, then simply return to Day 1 of Part 4 of the Discovery Series. There is no need to begin an entire series again if you have only missed a week or two.
3) If you have missed more than a month or so, then you can follow the same advice as above, but it's well worth doing all of Take10 again first, no matter where you are in the journey, just to get yourself back into the swing of things and to make sure it becomes part of your routine again.
By following this advice you can be sure that you will feel confident, clear and motivated when you begin again. It will also feel a lot more satisfying.
Developing greater awareness is about so much more than sitting with our eyes closed once or twice a day. Sure, meditation is essential if we are to find stability in that awareness, but you will see (and feel) so much more if you can take some simple practical steps to integrating that quality of mindfulness into everyday life. Every single moment in the day is another opportunity to be present and aware. However, there are some activities which are better suited when learning. But rather than trying to do all of them at once, perhaps consider choosing just one to begin with and try to ensure that the new habit is really strong, before then adding a second one a week later. You can then just keep adding one more activity each week and before you know it, you’ll have markers throughout the day which will help to maintain that feeling of calm and clarity.
Here are a few of my favourites:
1. As soon as you wake up in the morning. Rather than jumping out of bed, pause long enough for 3 whole breaths to pass quite naturally. It will only take a few seconds, but it will set the tone for the day ahead.
2. When you brush your teeth, make it an exercise in mindfulness. Rather than simply thinking about stuff, direct your attention to the physical sensations, the smells, the taste etc. In time it can feel like a mini-meditation.
3. Whether you drink tea, coffee or OJ in the morning, make it a ritual. Sit down with it, if only for the first few sips. Be aware of the smell, the taste, the temperature and everything else. Savour the moment and realise when the mind has wandered.
4. Stick a blank post-it note or something similar on the back of your front door, to remind you to be mindful as you walk after leaving. Sure, to begin with, it may only last 30 seconds or so, but with practise, it can be much longer. Remembering is the start point.
5. Make the beginning and end of every journey another mindful moment. When you first get on, get in, sit down or whatever it is, be present for 3 breaths. Then repeat again, before you get up, get out or stand up. The natural beginning and end helps to jog the memory.
6. If you work at a desk, apply the same idea as travel. You don’t have to do it in a very obvious way, but just using that natural change in posture to trigger the memory to be present. Every time you sit down or stand up provides a lot of opportunities in the day.
7. If you are at home more often, then try experimenting with ‘opening and closing’. By this I mean every time you open or close a door, that becomes the trigger for mindfulness, of being aware and present. It’s surprisingly effective and relatively easy to do.
8. Every time you eat, there is the opportunity to remember to be present. So always pause before eating, just long enough for one whole breath, and then as you eat, use the taste, smell etc as the focus point for your attention. It makes the food taste better too.
9. Some people find that by putting a little sticker on the back of their phone, it helps to remind them to be present, when the mind is getting lost in thoughts and distractions.
10. Take a moment before going to bed to appreciate something good which has happened in the day. It may sound a bit cliche, but it feels really nice and immediately brings the mind into the present, even if we are thinking about something from the past.
Definitely not — although if you’d like to, go ahead! You also don’t need to wear robes, light incense, or get involved in any of that stuff. Andy will cover this in the early stages of the Headspace Journey, but we do suggest you sit upright in an alert but relaxed position.
We tend to live such stressful lives, it’s little wonder we find it hard to be still. Here are a couple of pointers: Try to find a comfortable, alert sitting position — try sitting at the front of the chair to keep a comfortably straight back, and tuck your chin slightly under to lengthen your spine. Even if you’re feeling restless, commit to finishing the session. Acknowledge the urge to get up without judging or trying to change it, but bring your attention back to your breath (again and again if necessary), without giving yourself a hard time if possible.
Falling asleep during meditation is a very common occurrence and if it happens to you once a while you needn’t be too concerned at all. When we are learning to meditate we are looking for a balance between focus and relaxation and, in that process of learning, it’s inevitable that from time to time we’ll drift a little too far in either direction, sometimes feeling too tense and at other times falling asleep. Learning how to apply just the right amount of effort is a very subtle thing and requires practice. And of course every day is different, so this process of learning is ongoing. There are however a number of things we can do to make it less likely to occur.
Here are a few practical tips for staying alert:
1. Meditate sitting up rather than lying down. It sounds obvious, but lying down encourages a more sleepy state of mind.
2. Avoid meditating on the bed, in the bed, or around the bed. For most people the bed means only one thing, so find a more wakeful environment if you can.
3. Try meditating first thing in the morning when the mind is a little brighter, rather than last thing at night when you are already feeling sleepy before you even begin.
4. Open a nearby window if it’s not too chilly. The fresh air and additional flow of oxygen will help you feel more awake.
5. Avoid eating a big meal beforehand, as this tends to make the body feel very heavy and naturally leads to sleep.
6. It might sound like another obvious one, but make sure you get enough sleep and if you’re not, then take the appropriate action to get enough rest.
Once you’ve created the right environment and given yourself the very best chance of staying awake, you may nonetheless find yourself falling asleep. Once again, this is quite ok and nothing to worry about. You may find that focusing on the very top of your head helps the mind feel a little lighter and more alert. In fact even the simple act of imagining the sun directly above your head can ward off sleep. Some people have asked whether it’s helpful to drink coffee beforehand, as a way of preventing sleep. Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it does somewhat go against the basic premiss of meditation, which is to witness the mind as it is, right now, and find a fundamental place of ease with that state. So, some would say that by artificially stimulating the system we are actually moving away from this basic notion. We are also making it far more difficult to relax, as both body and mind are likely to be quite agitated afterwards.
Each person is different though, so find out what works best for you. The basic rule of thumb is that if sleep continues for weeks on end, there is probably a need to tweak the exercise a little. If that’s the case, then feel free to let us know and ask for some additional tips. But more often than not, it will simply be some residual tiredness coming to the surface when you first begin and that will fade over time.
It’s always a bit tricky to adjust your routine. But look at it this way — it’s less than 1% of your entire day. And it might just be the 1% that shifts the other 99% in a more positive direction. It's also important to consider your motivation behind why you want to spend time getting some Headspace. As Andy suggests:
'It's important to look at the 'why' first and foremost. By this I mean your motivation. For example, we don't forget to eat, or have a shower, or to watch our favourite tv show. The first one is important to us staying the healthy, the second one is important to those around us and the third one is very enjoyable...and this is why we remember and feel convinced to continue. If are not fully convinced about the benefits (and let's face it, it can be tricky to quantify the benefits of an intangible mind sometimes), it is easy to put it off. Likewise, if we are not really clear how it benefits those we love when we feel calmer, then it is easy to brush it off. And lastly, if we view meditation as a chore, rather than a treat, then it will quickly drop off the radar. So...know your motivation and, as they used to tell us in the monastery, remember to meditate as though your life depended on it :)'
Another way to strengthen your motivation is to watch your relationships day to day and see how often a wandering mind, a distracted mind or an irritated mind gets in the way of clear, calm and kind communication. Witnessing this in this way can often inspire us to take out 10 minutes a day or so, as becomes something bigger than ourselves. There are some practical steps we can take too in developing our mindfulness practice. Try attaching it to another activity you already do, like brushing your teeth in the morning. That way, you'll be more likely to do it. I'd also encourage you to try and do it at the same time and same place whenever possible, as that helps too.
There’s a lot whirling around inside you — noticing what you’re feeling can be surprisingly difficult. It’s a new skill you’re learning, so just be patient and see what comes up — there’s no right or wrong answer. Moods are always changing and it’s human nature to experience the complete spectrum, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to experience every single one at some time or another.
That depends on your attitude. While the immediate benefits of meditating are to your own wellbeing, you can actually be doing the people around you a favour. Regular meditation makes it easier for others to get on with you. Whether they’re family, friends, colleagues, or fellow commuters packed around you in a train. You’ll find your meditation helps improve your relationships. If you’d like to get a feeling of how it could transform your life, why not treat your head right with a free 10-minute Headspace session? You can take it online at a time that suits you.
Should I stop my session for the day and start over, ground myself and pick-up from where I left off or should I incorporate it into the practice? Well, in order to answer this we need to know what the interruption is. Personally, I would recommend differentiating between a physical disturbance and a sensory disturbance.
For example, if a child jumps on you, a dog starts licking your face or you have no choice but to answer the door when the doorbell rings, then I would class that as a physical interruption and suggest taking a moment before starting over - time permitting of course. However, if you hear the phone ring but don’t need to answer it, your neighbours turn up the music, or there is any other interruption which is unsettling (but doesn’t actually cause you to move) then you can simply incorporate it into your practice.
So, you may hear the distraction and experience some frustration. Ok, feel the frustration, watch it pass and come back to the breath. If the distraction continues, rather than fighting with it and struggling to come back to the breath, give the disturbance your full attention, whether it’s a sound, smell, sensation or whatever else. By making it your new point of focus, you make use of it and it ceases to become a disturbance. You may well still experience some frustration, but allow that to happen, see it clearly, look into it and understand from where that frustration arises. This way, we are able to bring everything into our meditation practice.
There are two things! The first is the misunderstanding about clearing the mind. Forget about clearing the mind, it is about being at ease with the mind instead. The second is that it is all about oneself. Meditations is not about ourselves. Well OK, maybe a little bit. But it is so much bigger than that. It is about our relationships with those that we love, our respect for one another and our ability to understand and listen to each other. Only then can we experience true peace of mind.
At Headspace we specialise in offering simple, approachable and easy-to-follow content for generic online use. The emphasis of the programme is on prevention and lifestyle, as opposed to management and treatment of pre-exisitng clinical conditions.
This is quite different from one-to-one clinical treatment, or even group work, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which are delivered in a clinical setting. Details of both approaches can be found by contacting the 'bemindful' website created by the UK Mental Health Foundation. If you are therefore looking to use Headspace as an approach to 'treating' a clinical psychological condition such as severe depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, we recommend you talk to a physician about your interest in mindfulness. We cannot make any medical recommendations for individuals, but we do know that many people, with a wide of range of physical and mental illness, have experienced considerable benefits by making mindfulness part of their everyday healthcare plan. Once you have the backing of a healthcare professional, you might then like to explore the different options available. These could include one-to-one treatment, MBSR group workshops, as well as online programmes such as Headspace. It will be very much up to you as to what you find most helpful. Please also note that if you do ever experience any extreme psychological or physical reactions to your Headspace, we suggest you pause your practice immediately and seek professional medical help.
As we are unfortunately unable to provide any detailed or medical guidance regarding questions, you might like to check out the following resources which may offer some further resources regarding mind health. Please note that these organisations are broad as we are unable to provide any tailored resources.
We hope this helps, and thanks again for getting some Headspace.
Andy's Answer on this topic... I think most people would agree that the sheer volume of technology and digital chatter these days tends to interfere with our peace of mind. It's worth saying that the tech itself is not the problem, but rather our relationship with it and how we choose to use it. So we need to experiment and find out what works best for us. For example, bright screens late at night will inevitably stimulate and waken the mind. At the same time, I would discourage an all or nothing approach to tech and instead find a way of enjoying the benefits of technology in a way that work for you.
Have a question for Andy about your practice?
We recognise that training the mind can sometimes be challenging and we do our best here at Headspace to provide all the necessary tools, support and guidance to make your meditation and mindfulness practice both enjoyable and beneficial in equal measure.
The first place to check is our 'Andy's Answers' section on our online community. Here Andy has answered a number of questions which have been sent to him previously. If you do have a question about your practice which can't be answered using our online community or FAQs page, please just email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Andy receives a high volume of emails, he is unfortunately unable to respond to them all. Because of this, we pick a handful every week and will get back to you with an answer from Andy. When getting in touch, please also just let us know if you're happy for your anonymised question and answer to be used on our 'Ask Andy' community section which can be found here. Please also note that if you do ever experience any extreme psychological or physical reactions to your Headspace, we suggest you pause your practice immediately and seek professional medical help. Thanks for your patience, and we hope this helps.
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