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?
   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 Practice
   A lot of emotion comes up - I get overwhelmed...
   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...
Common Concerns about Informal Practice
   Won't "accepting things as they are" make me passive or ineffective?
   What if I don't have anything to write in the informal log at the end of the day?

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. Having a sufficient number of practice sessions before going on to the next week may be the most important part of the course.
[ 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.  I will mail this version to you if you send a request to the email address given in Contact with the subject “stand-alone version”. Don't forget to include your physical mailing address.  
    This version 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 not some of the videos in the "Graduate Readings" are not.
    A donation to cover the cost of the thumb drive and shipping ($10 in the U.S., typically $25 or so outside the U.S.) is appreciated, 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 is what we call the particular 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 or teaching. All of the primary documents are on the site as PDF documents which 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. 
[ 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
A lot of emotion comes up - I get overwhelmed...
    It's a common misunderstanding that if you are doing mindfulness meditation "right", then the experience will 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 difficult emotions come up, you might see if it's possible to just allow the emotions 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 in her FAQ for Meditation, "you will come to see that strong emotion is like a weather system that swoops in, stays for a while, and eventually dissipates. Embodied presence cultivates a wise and compassionate relationship with the emotion rather than judging, rejections, or drowning in the experience". We will consider more direct ways to deal with difficult emotions or sensations in Week 5, but for now, see if you can just let them be.
    If the emotional reaction is 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 meditation, and there isn't a point where you feel a "release" or letting up of the emotion, but that it just accelerates and 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 and resources, see If You React Strongly....
[ scroll up to list ]
X
I keep nodding off or falling asleep...
    This is a very common response to the body getting still, 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 or is too distracting, another option is to create what I call a "fore-arm sleep alarm". To do this, while laying down on your back, you raise one hand into the air, with the forearm and hand over the elbow which is resting on the mat or floor, and 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, and 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...
    This is very common. In fact, 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, because that's more conducive to staying awake and aware, and also because, 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 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 ]

Common Concerns about Informal Practice
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 ]
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 ]