Recommendations for woo-free mindfulness/meditation
March 22, 2018 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Angel on one shoulder, devil on the other? I think I have Fred Rogers on one shoulder and General Zod on the other. I swing back and forth more than I would like between my kinder/agreeable/respectful side and my contemptuous "This planet must be cleansed with fire" side. I'd like to find a way to practice mindfulness/meditation (not sure I am using those terms right) to tilt my temperament more towards ol' Fred, but I'm wary getting started because I'm resolutely non-religious/non-spiritual and I don't want to sift through a bunch of woo or corny self-help schlock. Still there must be some way for me to find inner calm. Anything you would recommend? Books, CDs, whatever.
posted by DirtyOldTown to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Nearly forgot: bonus points if this is something I can bring my kid in on, as he has a similar temperament.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:49 AM on March 22, 2018

Why not buy a book of quotes from Mr R himself to reflect on?
posted by Ruki at 7:58 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I always suggest UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center’s free online offerings.
posted by sutureselves at 7:59 AM on March 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Headspace is totally non-woo, easy, straightforward,and the streak-factor of the app makes it popular with kids
posted by PardonMyFrench at 8:01 AM on March 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living” is the standard rec here. I bounced off it hard the first time I picked it up (for reasons unrelated to spirituality) but a few years later it was exactly what I needed at that time. And I’m as firmly anti-woo non-spirituality as it gets. So I would recommend at least glancing through that and seeing if it works for you.
posted by Stacey at 8:02 AM on March 22, 2018 [7 favorites]

Mindfulness for Beginners (also by Kabat-Zinn) is great.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 8:04 AM on March 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have been struggling with the same stuff. Art therapy has been helping, as has not drinking.

I try to keep the half life of the autonomic nervous system in mind. I.E. sometimes circumstance or random chance will squirt a bunch of angry emotional chemicals into your brain. Waiting until those chemical subside before making important decisions is really useful.

You can speed up the decay of angry chemicals with slow (5 seconds in, 5 seconds out) breathing. Breath counting meditation has a decent amount of evidence and relatively little woo for this. There are also a variety of phone apps to help you time your breathing.

I have also been asking my friends to call me on it when I'm slipping into burn the world mode, and that also helps.
posted by poe at 8:05 AM on March 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

You might enjoy famous atheist Sam Harris' post on how to meditate. He also wrote a related book called Waking Up.
posted by beyond_pink at 8:10 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you like podcasts, I posted a useful question that got great answers.

Searching for Kindness Meditation has good results.

Kindness and calm are, or can be, habits. You form habits by prioritizing a behavior (thought) then noticing and rewarding the behavior. hen my grown son was in 1st grade, he made a little thing out of ribbon and beads. For every good act, you push a bead. You hope to push all 4 beads every day. If I could find it, I'd post a picture. Remember to be kind to yourself as well as others.
posted by theora55 at 8:19 AM on March 22, 2018

I am similarly woo-averse and I've quite enjoyed this app. They have a little quiz you can take before a meditation where you can tell the app how you're feeling (you rate how you are both physically and mentally on a scale of "Great" to "terrible", and then you can pick up to five emotions you're feeling) and it recommends a couple specific mediations for you. They are mostly guided meditations, but the most fantastical it gets is "Imagine you're standing on top of a mountain, and now imagine all your worries are floating away into the sky..." variety, which admittedly is borderline cheesy but didn't bother me.

They also have a borderline twee thing they do where you get a "sticker" once you reach certain random milestones, but as far as I can see there is no other goal with these stickers other than your own amusement so you can easily just ignore that bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of The Honest Guys. Non-woo and exceptionally well-guided, if you're into that kind of thing. I used them with high school students who really liked the ones where they took you on a walk.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:22 AM on March 22, 2018

Also, I have been using the Vagus Nerve Stimulation (Valsalva maneuver) to for inflammation, and it is also stress reducing. It has (mostly low)risk, don't do it while driving, and if you have heart issues, low heart rate, low blood pressure, talk to a doc. No results on inflammation yet.
posted by theora55 at 8:23 AM on March 22, 2018

And on follow up - other good things about the app I recommended are that the free version has a decent amount of meditations to choose from, and it does indeed have some meditations that are designed for kids. Also, the paid version is fairly inexpensive.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't want to sift through a bunch of woo or corny self-help schlock.

This why-bother and how-to for traditional Buddhist insight meditation contains neither.
posted by flabdablet at 8:35 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy famous atheist Sam Harris' post on how to meditate.

I did enjoy that. But I think a better "tightrope instructions" analogy for Vipassana practice would go more like
  1. Find a horizontal cable that can support your weight.
  2. Stand on one end.
  3. Step forward by placing one foot directly in front of the other.
  4. Repeat.
  5. Every time you fall, note the fall without judgement and return to step 2.
The essential point of Vipassana practice is just to keep doing it without beating yourself up when you notice you haven't been, though it is normal to discover that the beatings will continue until morale improves.
posted by flabdablet at 8:44 AM on March 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding The Mind Illuminated. This book transformed my meditation practice. It is easy to read and follow along with, and there are several online communities based upon the book that can provide support. You don't have to adopt Buddhist beliefs to use the techniques in the book, and you are not pressured to do so by the author at any point.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:51 AM on March 22, 2018

Seconding Headspace!
posted by ellieBOA at 9:29 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy famous atheist Sam Harris' post on how to meditate. He also wrote a related book called Waking Up.

Sam Harris uses his atheism as cover for his islamophobia (example: defending Ted Cruz's recommendation they prioritize Christian refugees over Muslim ones.) Also, he seems to be an on-ramp to the alt-right mindset, or at least the youtube algorithm thinks so. So even though his meditation content is woo-free, your downloads/clicks/attention/etc help that to exist in the world.

I'll recommend: Dan Harris (no relation), an ABC News correspondent who had a panic attack on air and got into meditation afterwards. A self-described skeptic, he's written books in that vein:

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story (2014)

and apparently a new one:

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book (2017)

He has a podcast (also "10% Happier") where he discusses the meditation practices of his guests. (I find it's interesting to hear how real people are fitting it into their lives.)
posted by bluecore at 9:42 AM on March 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Another recommendation for Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Dan Seigel is a neurobiologist who's been writing about some mindfulness stuff related to kids and parenting and might be another resource for you.
posted by lazuli at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been meditating for about 10 years and always recommend it to my coaching clients.
+1 for Headspace
+1 for Jon Kabat-Zinn
+1 for The Mind Illuminated
+1 for 10% Happier
I would also throw in Ken Wilbur and his Integral Meditation, Herbert Benson's Relaxation Response, and even Shinzen Young's Science of Enlightenment.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:38 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Welp, I am absolutely woo-averse and I am doing a probably pretty crappy version of what I understand to be the meditation practiced by the Soto variant of Zen Buddhism.

I sit on a meditation pillow in a half lotus and try to pay attention to my breathing for 20 minutes every day (or as often as I can manage). Whenever I notice my attention has drifted (like about every breath or breath and a half on average 'cause I'm not all that good at it) I try to return to paying attention to my breathing. My rule is that once I'm in the position, I don't break it to scratch or anything. That develops self-discipline which I've been pretty short on for most of my life.

It's basically the same as the Sam Harris description above. (FWIW, I don't think Harris' Islamophobia is the product of his style of meditation. The whole point is non-woo, right? That means it comes without moral/spiritual baggage and the the consequence of that is that meditation doesn't protect you from believing stupid shit.)

My current commitment has lasted a few months so far. That's the best I've ever done. (I usually tend to fall off the wagon in the same way I fall off the wagon about exercising regularly.) And it is paying off. Even given how shitty a job I'm doing at it, I'm much smoother and less anxious. I'm funnier because I'm more in the moment and less self-conscious. I have a lot of really nice interactions with strangers at the grocery store or the coffee shop, etc. I do a much better job of deciding what can slide and what shouldn't.

Here's the book I'd recommend: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki came to California in the late 60s or early 70s. He's very practical and feet on the ground. Woo-less or close to it. Some stuff is obscure/cryptic in the way that Zen has a reputation for - but not much and it's worth trying to penetrate. There's some good advice about meditating. There's an audiobook narrated by Peter Coyote which is good.

Last thing. Get a pillow. The Soto Zen folks think that sitting in the right posture is really important. I don't understand why it's important but it goes better for me when I do. You can search for "zafu" and you'll find a million hits. The idea is to sit in the half lotus with your bum elevated on the pillow and the rest of your lower body on the ground. I use one like this. I don't think it matters too much, though.
posted by kaymac at 5:19 PM on March 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's obvious, but just to say it, -a meditation practice to 'find your inner calm' can be sustained and supported by cultivating small lifestyle choices to create calmness around you.

I would suggest incorporating as much silence/stillness into your life as you can by cutting out noise/content (i.e. tv, radio, news, podcasts, surfing, .......metafilter) and notice what surfaces/dissipates after a few weeks/months. It will likely get easier to get to that 'calm place' when you want to... you'll already be halfway there. Walking/driving in silence or with soft, calm music has helped me do this.

Also consider other lifestyle areas i.e. diet (caffeine, alcohol etc.), regular exercise, creative outlets etc.

All that said, my 'goto practice' is regularly counting up to 10 breaths, down to 1, then up to 9, then 8 etc.
posted by mrmarley at 4:36 AM on March 23, 2018

I hated Headspace and found it woo. I use an app called Calm. It has meditations in several series, like relaxation, anxiety, kindness, walking meditations, etc. It has the absolute nicest user interface of any app I've ever used. Plus it will tell you bed time stories! I really love it.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:19 AM on March 23, 2018

If you have the time to take a class, it's a huge help. Meditation can be really difficult and a good teacher can save you a lot of time.

Try googling "mindfulness based stress reduction" (the name for Jon Kabat-Zinn's meditation practice) plus the name of your town. Around here that gets me programs based at Duke and UNC. I took a class through UNC and it was woo-free. And I'm still meditating.
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:20 PM on March 23, 2018

Can I ask something that may potentially cross a line and come across as rude? Apologies in advance and feel free to tell me to fuck off of course.

Why are you so rejecting of the woo?

(I understand not wanting to expose your kids to things they have not yet developed good defenses against. They might be weirdly influenced by that sort of thing, so you want to make sure you protect them. I get that.)

But YOU. What's the harm if you took a mildly woo-ish course, on the grounds that it's easier-to-find, probably cheaper, and definitely much likelier to be more "authentic"? Because let's call this like it is: mindfulness and meditation are Buddhist/hindu practices that originated in the subcontinent. You want to demand it be stripped of its roots and made more palatable for western-sourced you, all scientific and logical unlike those silly orientals. Of course you won't like me putting it this way. But that's what it boils down to. Meditation without woo is not unlike chicken tikka masala without any of the actual spices, a bindi without the baggage, dreadlocks without the weight of oppression and legacy of resistance.

Let me make another argument purely from the perspective of your self interest. In my experience, the woo courses are filled with much nicer people than the non-woo ones. The non-woo meditation classes are full of Rational Logical white dudes who will not stop pontificating about the supremacy of the Rational Logical ways of western (code: white) people. It's gross.

I've never believed in any of my culture's millions of gods. I have been an atheist ever since I heard of the word at around the age of ten. I have so little patience for woo that I am not only the black sheep of my family but also regarded with suspicion by hippie-leaning white people in America where I now live. But goddamn, I would never seek out a yoga class run by a non-desi person even though the desi person will shove the woo down my throat. I think that if I don't want the woo, I can do pilates or aerobics or something. I don't get to slice and dice traditions and practices that have been passed down for thousands of years! It's disrespectful, and I'm sure it's bad for us. Look what happened when we fucked with traditional diets and cuisines. There's something deeply wrong with this impulse.

Specifically for you, I would recommend the woo courses to start with. Take something run by an actual buddhist or hindu, preferably someone from the subcontinent with roots in the places where these things originated. Listen to the woo. Learn to tolerate it without necessarily accepting it. Sit and meditate. Learn the practice. Then go home and do it any way you want, without the woo. At least you will get your basis right this way.
posted by MiraK at 5:43 AM on March 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

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