Frequently Asked Questions

Over the years, I've received many questions and/or concerns about the course, and a few of the most common ones are below. Clicking on any of the questions/responses below will take you further down the page where the corresponding response is given, and you can return to where you were on the list by clicking on "scroll up to list" at the end of each entry.

General Questions
   Is it okay to take longer than eight weeks to do the course?
   If I have experience, can I go faster and finish in less than eight weeks?
   Can I do the Palouse Mindfulness course with a group of friends/colleagues?
   I have no internet (or it's too slow for videos). Is there a disk-based version?
   Why is it called "Palouse" Mindfulness?
About Teaching and Certification
   Will I be certified to teach MBSR after taking the Palouse Mindfulness course?
   Can I use Palouse Mindfulness materials in my own work or teaching?
   Can I get CEU's (Continuing Education Units) for completing the course?
Common Concerns about Formal or Informal Practice
   I have strong emotional (or physical) reactions. Is this normal?
   I keep nodding off or falling asleep...
   I don't fall asleep, but I keep drifting off, missing whole parts of the meditation...
   I CANNOT stop my mind from wandering!
   I can't physically hold the required position comfortably.
   How do you pay attention to breath without trying to control it?
   I have trouble using breath as a focus in meditation. Is there an alternative?
   In the body scan, I have a hard time finding sensation in parts of my body...
   Can I do the 30-minute practices in several shorter sessions during the day?
   I already have a yoga practice/class. Can that substitute for the MBSR yoga?
   What if I don't have anything to write in the informal log at the end of the day?
General Concerns
   I wake up at 3am with racing thoughts and can't go back to sleep.
   Won't "accepting things as they are" make me passive or ineffective?

General Questions

X
Is it okay to take longer than eight weeks to do the course?
    It's fine to take a break in the middle or to take longer on any given week to do the practices or reading. There is no time limit.  I had one person recently who took 10 months to finish and it was life-changing for her, and this might not have happened if she forced herself to finish in 8 weeks.  Being able to pace the course in a way that works for you is one of the advantages of doing this kind of online course.  The only guidance I ever give about time to do the course is to not try to do it in less than eight weeks (see next question).
[ scroll up to list ]
X
If I have experience, can I go faster and finish in less than eight weeks?
    If you want a certificate and you want to have the full experience of MBSR, I recommend that you practice at least six days between "weeks" and do all the reading/viewing suggested for each week. Having a sufficient number of practice sessions before going on to the next week may be the most important part of the course.
    Even if you are already an experienced meditator, the MBSR course is more subtle than it seems. I often hear from students who already had an established meditation practice, some of them for 20-25 years, who tell me that in the beginning, they didn’t expect to learn anything new, but they were glad that they took time with the course, because their practice was enriched in important ways that weren’t obvious at first.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
Can I do the Palouse Mindfulness course with a group of friends/colleagues?
    This is a wonderful idea. Doing the course with others will increase the likelihood that you complete the course, thanks to the commitment you each make in doing it together. Many others have done this, with some just meeting once to do an introduction to the course, using the materials and videos from the Introduction page, then touching base via email. Others have an intro meeting, a mid-course, and end-of-course meeting, and still others meet weekly. If you are interested in having weekly meetings, a group can be led by someone without formal MBSR teacher-training, but it does require some comfort and skill in working with groups, and organizational ability. See Taking the Palouse Mindfulness course with others. This is based on the experiences of others who have put together their own groups to do the Palouse Mindfulness course.
    Even if you don't have local people to take the course with, you can always join the Online Student Community, which will link you with people world-wide who are currently taking the course.Through this group, students can share experiences and/or ask questions about the practices that are part of the course, or simply stay on the sidelines and learn from others who are taking the course the same time as they are.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I have no internet (or it's too slow for videos). Is there a disk-based version?
    There is a stand-alone version of the Palouse Mindfulness course which can be loaded directly onto your computer from a USB thumb drive.This version does not need to access the internet at all and includes the guided meditations, documents, and videos. It is "frozen" in time and will not receive the periodic updates that the web-based course gets. All the videos in the "Videos" section for each week are included, but some of the videos in the "Graduate Readings" are not.
    I will mail this version to you if you send a request to me through the Contact page. Don't forget to include your physical mailing address and why you need this version (no internet, slow internet, you cannot access YouTube videos from your facility). A donation to cover the cost of the thumb drive and shipping is appreciated ($15 in the U.S., $25 outside the U.S. - see About Contributions), but if that’s not possible for you, I will send it to you free of charge.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
Why is it called "Palouse" Mindfulness?
    I wanted something that would distinguish the course and website from all the others that had "mindfulness" in their names. Palouse ("Pah-loose") is what we call our region of the northwest that includes Moscow, Idaho and Pullman, Washington.  It is characterized by beautiful, gentle, rolling hills that change dramatically with the season. If you'd like to know more about the "Palouse", here's a Wikipedia entry that provides background to the name and geography, and this 4-minute photo collage captures the uniqueness of the Palouse landscape.
[ scroll up to list ]

About Teaching and Certification
X
Will I be certified to teach MBSR after taking the Palouse Mindfulness course?
    The Palouse Mindfulness certificate documents that you have successfully completed this particular 8-week online course. It is not a certification to teach MBSR. This doesn't mean that you can't use what you've learned in your work and/or teaching, it just means you cannot call yourself a "certified MBSR instructor" on the basis of this one 8-week online course alone.
    If you are interested in building on what you have learned to earn formal certification in teaching mindfulness, see the training programs listed on the Mindfulness Training Centers page. Some, but not all, of these training programs allow the Palouse Mindfulness course to serve as a prerequisite for further training.
    That being said, there are many talented people who effectively incorporate mindfulness into their teaching or work who are not certified in a formal way from one of these training centers. They are typically omnivores, finding training from varied sources, from videos, articles, books, or whatever in-person workshops they can find in their area, building on the skills they already have in their own areas of expertise.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
Can I use Palouse Mindfulness materials in my own work or teaching?
    My intention from the beginning was to make all the materials freely available to anyone, and you are welcome to use whatever you find on this site, free of charge, for your own work, research, or teaching. All of the primary documents which are authored by me are on the site as PDF documents, and may be copied. You are also free to modify any of the documents (worksheets, practice sheets, etc.). Almost all of the documents have WORD versions as well as PDF versions, and you can access the WORD version by taking the document url and changing the extension from "pdf" to "docx".  For instance, STOP.pdf becomes STOP.docx.
    It’s even fine with me if you charge something for a course you teach to cover your costs and to compensate you for your time and effort. 
    If you do use Palouse Mindfulness materials, the only thing I ask is that you let people know the source of the materials you use is palousemindfulness.com, and that everything there is available at no cost, so there is transparency about the source and so that they can know there is more material there for them to access.
        Keep in mind that the permissions I have been given to use videos and written material created by other teachers was given to me only in the context of the Palouse Mindfulness course. If you use any of these materials, the original url links, as used in the Palouse Mindfulness course, must be used rather than copying the material to a different site. That is, if you wish to use a YouTube video or a document written by someone other than me, you don't have permission to copy the content itself to another website, without permission from the original author and/or publisher. On the other hand, anything written or produced by me personally can be copied or modified freely as long as it is credited to the source, palousemindfulness.com.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
Can I get CEU's (Continuing Education Units) for completing the course?
    I'm not set up to provide board-approved CEU's, but if you complete the course, you will receive a certificate that indicates that the course takes 50 hours to complete (including reading, videos, practices).  Many boards allow some of the CEU's to be self-study, and if that is true for yours, you can use the hours that way. If your board needs to know how the 50 hours was calculated, see Calculation of course hours.
[ scroll up to list ]

Common Concerns about Formal Practice
X
I have strong emotional (or physical) reactions. Is this normal?
    It's a common misunderstanding that if you are doing mindfulness meditation "right", then the experience will necessarily be calm and peaceful. In the beginning, it can seem like the opposite is happening, and things may feel more chaotic than normal. This is actually a sign that you are beginning to pay closer attention to inner experience, which is central to mindfulness meditation. If you encounter difficult emotions (or physical sensations), you might see if it's possible to just allow them to be there, without trying to push them away, and gently come back to breath or the audio guidance.
    In time and with practice, as Tara Brach says, "you will come to see that strong reactions are like a weather system that swoops in, stays for a while, and eventually dissipates. Embodied presence cultivates a wise and compassionate relationship with the reactions rather than judging, rejections, or drowning in the experience". We will consider more direct ways to deal with difficult emotions or physical sensations in Week 5, but for now, see if you can just let them be.
    If the reactions are so strong that it is frightening, and you feel so fearful and scared that you can't continue the practice, that you don't feel grounded enough to be with it, you may need to make a change in how you are practicing. You can open your eyes, take several full deep breaths, look around the room to orient yourself, and sense what is needed now to settle and calm the mind and body before returning to the practice. If necessary, you can stop the practice altogether, have a cup of tea, take a walk, pet your cat or dog, or reach out to a friend.
    If this continues to happen every time you attempt the practice, and there isn't a point where you feel a "release" or letting up of the emotional or physical reaction, but that it just accelerates or is frightening, you may need to discontinue doing this practice, or possibly even the course. It sometimes happens that these practices can provide an opening to significant and unresolved issues or past trauma. In that case, it may be helpful to get the assistance of a good therapist or counselor before continuing with the course. For more information about strong emotional or physical reactions, see If You React Strongly....
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I keep nodding off or falling asleep...
    This is a very common response to being still and quiet, and happens periodically with all meditators. The short answer is, "don't worry about it", but that's probably not a very satisfying answer, so...
    There can be many things involved here, the most likely of which is that you simply need the sleep. Many of live in a very fast-paced environment, both at work and at home, and are in a pretty much continual state of sleep-deprivation. Another possibility is that when we move from the normal go-go-go mode and we lay or sit quietly, our body "thinks" it must be time to sleep, because we don't have much experience with being both still and alert at the same time. Being externally still, while maintaining vivid inner awareness is a special skill we are developing through the practices of this course.
    Whatever the cause, see if you can get curious about what sleepiness feels like in the body and mind. Precisely how does this feel - where does the sleepiness start, how do you first notice it? Also notice, too, if you have a judgment about falling asleep ("I must not be doing this right"). Mindfulness is not actually about changing your experience, it's about bringing full awareness to it, even if what it is you are being aware of is your sleepiness and/or judgment about it.
    To help keep from nodding off so easily, you can try the meditation with eyes open or partly open, in a soft gaze, while maintaining focus on inner experience. If you are doing a sitting meditation, you might try sitting up straighter so that you aren't leaning against a backrest. That way, if you start to fall asleep, your upper body falling or slumping will wake you up so that you can continue the meditation.
    If you are doing a body scan and opening the eyes doesn't help, you can do it sitting up or even in a recliner. Another option is to create what I call a "forearm sleep alarm". To do this, while laying down on your back, raise your right or left forearm, bending your arm 90 degrees at the elbow, so that the forearm is vertical and in the air, while the elbow and upper arm remain on the mat. With a little experimenting, you can find the balance point where you can maintain this position with gentle attention, keeping your forearm/hand balanced over the elbow. Doing it this way, your arm falling to one side or another will let you know that you've nodded off. If none of these work, you can try doing it in a seated position, in a recliner or a chair.
    If nothing mentioned here works, then it's possible you need the sleep more than you need the meditation. If that's the case, see if you can allow yourself to enjoy the rest that your body so clearly needs.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I don't fall asleep, but I keep drifting off, missing whole parts of the meditation...
    It can seem that there is more "drifting off" into thoughts, feelings, and images than there is "meditation", especially in the beginning. But, in MBSR, we consider everything that comes into awareness to be part of the meditation, even when we are "straying" from the object of meditation, whether it be breath in a sitting meditation, or body sensation in a body scan or yoga.
    When you notice you've strayed, you simply bring yourself gently, but firmly, back to the guidance or the object of awareness. Every time you do this, you are, in fact, "waking up" to your present-moment experience, and is cause for celebration. Dan Harris, the ABC News anchor who had an on-air panic attack in 2004 and the author of 10% Happier says that every time you become aware of your mind wandering, you are breaking a life-long habit of being lost in the past or future, missing what's right in front of you.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I CANNOT stop my mind from wandering!
    Not only is it impossible to stop wandering from happening, meditation includes the times when our attention has strayed from the object of awareness. Every one of us, without exception have minds that wander, at least to some degree, so a key part of the practice here is learning, through practice, that this is normal. In time, there will be less wandering, and when it does happen, you will not be so disturbed by it.
    The more practice you get in dealing with this, paradoxically, the stronger your concentration and sense of peace will be.  Sometimes it’s said that the “wandering thoughts are the weights that train the muscles of the mind”.  A key part of this course is learning to have a kinder attitude toward our own thinking process, and in turn, a gentler, easier, attitude toward and for ourselves.
    It might help to realize that the only way you can know that your mind is wandering (thinking, fantasies, worries) is when you have come back into awareness of the present moment. So, see if you can shift your point of view so that every time you notice you are distracted, it is at that precise moment you are aware of the present moment, and it is actually cause for celebration, not frustration. If your mind wanders 100 times, that means it came back at least 99 times, and each of those is an awakening - 99 awakenings in a single meditation! How can that be bad?!? This is not a trick to make you feel better about a "watered-down meditation", but is really at the core of what meditation is about.
    If you were training a puppy to fetch, and if he wanders all over the yard before finally bringing the stick back, you don't hit him when he returns with the stick, you reward him for bringing it back. Each time you are aware of your mind wandering, you are bringing the stick back.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I can't physically hold the required position comfortably.
    The exact position is not actually critical. It's important you find a position in which you can be both alert and comfortable, and that may mean modifying things somewhat. It's not expected that you be absolutely still during the practices. If you need to shift position, that's no problem, but it's a good practice in mindfulness to first notice the urge to move before actually shifting position, hesitating for just a moment, and then move, if necessary. This makes it a mindful movement and not an unconscious one.
    For "sitting" meditation: If are sitting on the floor, it can help to elevate your hips substantially with cushions or a meditation bench so that they are higher than your knees. If you are in a chair, we normally recommend that you don't lean back on the back rest. Sitting upright in this way is more conducive to staying awake and aware, and has the added benefit that if you were to nod off, you would begin to fall or slump to one side or another, which would wake you. If this is not possible to do comfortably, it's fine to lean back. If no sitting position at all works for you, you can do the "sitting" meditation in a recliner or on your back, on the floor or a bed. It could even be done standing.
    For the body scan: If lying on your back is causing back pain, you can try elevating your knees with a cushion under the knees, or you can try doing it in a sitting position in a chair or a recliner, or even while standing.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
How do you pay attention to breath without trying to control it?
    This is a common experience, especially for those of us who have learned techniques of breath control ("deep" breathing, pranayama, breathing from the diaphram and not the chest, etc.). In this type of meditation, we are not trying to change our breathing, but simply to have a non-judgmental and gentle awareness of it. It may naturally happen that our breath slows or becomes deeper or more abdominal, but it's not because we are forcing it to be that way. It can be said that in this type of meditation we observe the breath the way you might observe the waves at the beach, just letting the waves be how they are, noticing them coming in, spreading out on the sand, going back out - you're not trying to change them, just appreciating them just as they are.
    This can be challenging and takes practice. The breath is a bodily function that can be fully automatic (as it usually is), or controlled. We are learning to pay very, very close attention to something that can be controlled, but doesn't have to be. This learning can transfer to other areas of our life where we might normally try to control something, but it's best to let it be, but in a way that brings full attention to what's happening.
    That being said, if you find yourself controlling your breath, see if you can just let that be, that is, don't fight the controlling.  Make the practice be about noticing how the control is happening.  Are you trying to make breath even? Are you trying to make it full? Are you trying to give it a certain rhythm?  Don't try to stop it, however it's manifesting, just notice the controlling, and notice at what point the controlling exerts itself.  That is your present moment experience, and is just as valid a form of meditation as paying careful attention when you aren't controlling.
    If you stay with this, and don't beat yourself up for controlling things, you might find, just by accident, you have a breath or two that happen on their own, or even part of one, without a significant element of control.  If you don't try to control the controlling, the controlling will eventually fade away.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I have trouble using breath as a focus in meditation. Is there an alternative?
    We use breath as an anchor for meditation because there is always something happening and it tends to bring us into present-moment awareness. Also, it is a process that can happen automatically, or it can be controlled, so by paying non-intrusive attention to the breath you build the capacity to be with something that you could try to control, but you stay in close contact with it without controlling it, just letting it be. This is a skill that is helpful in so many areas of our life, especially those times when controlling isn't actually possible or desirable (e.g., some situations with parenting, work, relationships).
    That being said, there are times when using breath is problematic, either because it seems impossible to be with it without trying to control it (see the FAQ, above), or because breath is not a restful place to be, which can be the case if you have chronic breathing problems (e.g., asthma, COPD). There are a number of alternatives to breath, including sensations in your hands or another part of your body, or sounds, using a simple mantra such as "peace", or an internal image of something or someone inspiring, or a favorite piece of art, or a pet.
    If the problem is that you can’t “find” breath, you can use your hand on your belly as a way of coming into contact with breath, or bring your hand to your nostrils where you can feel the air as it moves in and out, or any of the ways above that don’t involve breath. In the end, the important thing is to have someplace to come back to when your attention wavers, ideally someplace neutral or pleasant. If you haven’t read it or reviewed it recently, the article on Sitting Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn is excellent and might be helpful.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
In the body scan, I have a hard time finding sensation in parts of my body...
    Most of us are not used to paying such close attention to body sensation, and as you follow the guidance, you may feel nothing in particular in some, or even many, parts of the body. It is enough to simply to be attentive to breath or body so that if/when something does present itself, you are more likely to notice it. This, too, is mindfulness, even if you are not feeling any distinct sensation.
    Over time, with practice, you will notice sensations where you didn't notice any previously. It might help, too, to become familiar with the types of things you may be aware of by looking at the list at the end of Jon Kabat-Zinn's description of the Body Scan. Notice that the list includes emotions and thoughts in addition to body sensation. For instance, you might notice you are impatient with yourself or having thoughts about wanting to sense something but not feeling anything. This, too, is mindful awareness.
    As with all mindfulness practices, see if it's possible to be curious and friendly to whatever your experience is, even if it is having thoughts about things not being as you expect or want them to be.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
Can I do the 30-minute practices in several shorter sessions during the day?
    For the purposes of the course, I’d say to try do the 30-minute practices without breaking them into smaller sessions. The spoken guidance will be more effectfive if it’s listened to without a long break in the middle. Also, and maybe more importantly, not breaking the practice up will increase your capacity to “stay” with your own experience, a central part of MBSR. Learning to stay with something even through boredom and impatience is a key part of the course.
   If you “stay”, you may discover that there are periods where the boredom and impatience just unexpectedly dissolve, at least momentarily, and this can begin to unravel the idea that every uncomfortable experience has to be “fixed” before you can feel better. After the course is over, you will be able to choose which practices to do and for how long, but by then you will know from experience which works best for you.
    As with all mindfulness practices, see if it's possible to be curious and friendly to whatever your experience is, even if it is having thoughts about things not being as you expect or want them to be.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I already have a yoga practice/class. Can that substitute for the MBSR yoga?
    It could well be that the yoga you are already doing would be a perfect substitute for the MBSR yoga. Like the MBSR yoga, it may be slow, mindful, and explicitly bring in breath awareness and body sensation, but there are literally dozens of very different kinds of yoga, and it’s hard to know whether what you already practice would be a good substitute. Many experienced yoga practitioners, and even some who were themselves yoga instructors when they began the course, discover that having done a few weeks of MBSR yoga, their experience of doing or teaching yoga has shifted in subtle, but important ways.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
What if I don't have anything to write in the informal log at the end of the day?
    If you can't recall anything that happened related to the assignment, you just indicate that on the log, but in most cases, if you think about it, there probably was something during the day that related to the informal practice, even if you weren't fully aware of it at the time.
    For instance, for Week 3, the informal practice is to recall an unpleasant experience (see the Week 3 Informal Practice log). If, at the end of the day, you can't recall an unpleasant experience, or even a mildly annoying one, see if you can recall any experience during the day for which you can answer the questions in the log (even if it's not particularly unpleasant). If you can't recall what you were noticing then (body sensations, moods, feelings, thoughts), you can write about what you are noticing now (annoyance about not recalling anything, tired from the day, etc.), without worrying too much about what goes in which box. The main thing is that you are bringing awareness to your experience, whether that experience was during the day or now.
[ scroll up to list ]

General Concerns
X
I can't get to sleep and/or I wake up at 3am with racing thoughts.
    This happens often for me, usually when I’ve got some knotty problem or difficult situation, and I wake up at 3 or 4am, worrying about what's going to happen or re-playing what's already happened in my head. I used to try to keep the 3am mind-racing from happening, but I discovered that all this did was add another layer of mind-racing, in the form of thoughts like “I can’t afford to be awake right now – I need my sleep! Why can’t I just sleep now?!? I have to get up in x hours!”.
    Here’s what I have done for the last few years. I can’t say it’s the right thing for everyone, but it’s worked for me. Over time, I’ve learned to just let it be, know that I will be thinking about things through the night because of the importance of what just happened or is about to happen, letting it play like a “B” movie while I just “watch” (a little bit of this is actually useful, playing out the possibilities, like trying to place jigsaw puzzle pieces together, but you don’t want to do that all night).
    After it plays for a little while, rather than trying to make it stop with another set of thoughts (e.g., "I can't be doing this! I need to sleep!"), I gently bring attention to breath or do a mini-body-scan. This usually works for an instant or two and my mind starts racing again, but then, just as we do in mindfulness meditation, I gently but firmly bring attention back to breath or body, not fighting the inevitable return to racing thoughts. After many rounds like this, without knowing when it happened, I will wake up 15-20-30 minutes later and realized I dozed off for that time. Then, the process begins again, alternating between mind-racing and attention to body or breath, and I wake up again some time later. It sometimes happens that I go in and out of sleep every 15-20-30 minutes for many hours, right up until I have to get up, but what I’ve discovered is that if I don’t fight the process, I usually wake up surprisingly refreshed.
    You can experiment to see what works best for you, but think of the whole process as an opportunity for meditation. The most important part of this process is to maintain an attitude of gentleness, being kind to yourself. This is possible, even in the midst of the racing throughts.
[ scroll up to list ]
X
Won't "accepting things as they are" make me passive or ineffective?
    This kind of "acceptance" doesn't mean that we are passive, don't protect ourselves, or give in to abuse. It simply means that you fully acknowledge the current moment (feelings, thoughts, sensations, and perceptions). If you can do this, you will be more effective at taking action in the next moment (if action is called for) than if you deny your inner experience or outer situation.
    Even if it's a situation that requires high energy engagement such as sports, or acting decisively and/or quickly, you will be more effective if there is full acknowledgment and awareness of your actual situation. This is a subtle point and it may make more sense in Week 5 when we talk about dealing with difficult emotions or sensations…
    Also, because you are not fighting with your own inner or outer experience, your actions will be more appropriate to the situation at hand, and will be smoother and more effective. The article, Five Myths of Self-Compassion, addresses a similar issue in the section titled "Self-compassion will make me complacent".
[ scroll up to list ]