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by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
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"When you are in a state of mindfulness you are actually more aware and able to engage in tasks..."
How Do I Do Deep Meditative Relaxation?

There are numerous methods that can help individuals achieve the same outcome. Below are several common methods and ways that you can begin your practice.

1) Deep Relaxation. The best way learn deep relaxation is to listen to a recorded exercise. You may download two different free exercises from this site to begin your practice. The exercises are about 20-25 minutes long and all you need to do is find a comfortable place to sit or lie down and follow the instructions. When you are first learning deep relaxation, a common error is to try too hard to relax which leads to increased tension rather than relaxation. So, don't try torelax but just listen to the exercise. Don't worry if your mind wanders—just allow yourself to refocus on the exercise.

Over time, the more you practice the relaxation, the better you will be able to experience the deep relaxation. If you should find yourself becoming bored with the same exercise, you can vary the imagery by just allowing yourself to create your own imagery. For instance, if you download from this site, the imagery describes seeing two doors at the bottom of the staircase and you walk through one door and find yourself in a meadow in one exercise or in a mountain cabin in the other exercise. Many people ask me what's behind the second door. The answer is that I don't know because the second door is there if you want to go through it and create your own pleasant scene.

2) Mindfulness Practice. The best way to describe mindfulness is when the brain is focused on the immediate experience rather than on distracting thoughts that are either irrelevant such as “What am I cooking for dinner tonight?” or may be future-oriented worries such as “What if I blow it in the presentation tomorrow?” or past-oriented critiques such as “That was stupid. Why did I say that?” In fact, mindfulness takes us away from these types of demands or criticisms. The present-oriented focus tends to be more attractive to the brain even if the present moment isn't particularly pleasant. Therefore, as we practice mindfulness the brain will choose to be in the state of mindfulness more frequently.

For example, if I'm running late in the morning I can try to speed up my morning routine and focus on demanding thoughts “I'm late! I've got to hurry!.” However, I've found that this approach not only doesn't seem to make me any faster, but it stresses me and is likely to slow me down because the lack of focus causes me to misplace things or drop things and I end up spinning in circles. However, a mindful approach is to acknowledge the demanding thoughts without getting caught up in them. Instead, I can tell myself “Just focus on what you're doing. Don't worry about the time.” As a result, I'm less stressed and probably got ready as quickly as I was able.

Most of us experience the state of mindfulness naturally at times. For instance, if you've ever watched a beautiful sunset for 10-15 minutes and noticed the changing colors and felt connected to the world around you without distracting thoughts, you were probably in a mindful state. Or, for some people, they may find themselves being very focused or mindful when engaged in certain types of work or activities. In fact, in sports, when they describe being in “the zone” they are referring to a mindful state in which the athlete is focused only on the activity itself and responds automatically.

So if we can experience this state naturally, why is it important to cultivate mindfulness through practice. The first reason is that many people do not experience enough mindfulness in their day to make a difference. The second reason is that for those who do experience plenty of mindfulness, the mindfulness may be contained in such a way that it's not useful to them throughout the day. What I mean is someone who may be mindful while fishing but as soon as they are away from the lake, they become agitated and irritable with others because they don't take the mindfulness state with them.

Therefore, the practice of mindfulness allows us to experience mindfulness throughout our daily routine and can be especially important during tasks that we may dislike. For instance, I've never liked doing dishes and would usually be thinking about how much I hated doing dishes and being rushed so I could get away from them which made the experience more unpleasant. One day I found myself spontaneously in a mindful state while doing dishes. I was focused on the act of wiping the dishes, feeling the water run over my hands, and the movement of my muscles has I lifted each plate. At the end I thought “Wow, that was really pleasant.” This was before I had ever learned about mindfulness as a practice, but I discovered that my mental state had more impact upon my experience than the actual task that I needed to do.

A simple method I like to use to help people get started with mindfulness practice is to tell yourself “For the next couple of minutes I'm going to focus on being mindful.” The nice thing about this exercise is that you can do it anytime, anywhere so the common excuse of “I don't have time to relax” isn't applicable. When you are in a state of mindfulness you are actually more aware and able to engage in tasks so you can do this while driving, while having a conversation, while waiting in line, while working, or anything else you do in the course of your day. All you do is take a couple of minutes and focus completely on your immediate experience, what you see, hear, taste, smell, or feel.

The reason I tell people to start with a couple minutes is because the practice of mindfulness can be quite difficult at first. Within 5-10 seconds of starting the exercise you are likely to be distracted by your usual future-oriented demands/ worries or your past-oriented critiques. That's okay. In fact, that's even desired because it gives you the opportunity to practice the second (and I think, the most important) part of mindfulness which is learning how to acknowledge your thoughts but refocus on your immediate experience. It's sort of saying to yourself although you don't have to actually use words, “That's okay, but right now I'm focusing on this.” Initially, you may have to do that many times during a two minute practice. That's okay and normal. Try not to get frustrated because frustration interferes with mindfulness since you are now thinking of you frustration rather than the object of your focus. Instead, very gently refocus your mind.

Although you only do this for a couple of minutes at a time, I encourage people to practice the technique many times throughout the day. The more you practice, the more your brain will become receptive and accustomed to mindfulness and you will notice your brain returning to a mindful state on its own. Therefore, the idea is not about achieving mindfulness, but just practicing it and then letting your brain do the rest on its own.

3) Qi Gong. I have found that many people do well with a more active form of relaxation. The ancient Chinese practice of Tai Chi assists people in achieving a deep state of relaxation through movement combined with breathing and focus. However, it takes many years for people to become sufficiently skilled at Tai Chi to begin to obtain benefits. Therefore, I encourage beginners to practice Qi Gong (many different spellings: Qi Chong, Qigong, Chi Kung) which is using simple Tai Chi movements to enter a state of deep relaxation. You may watch examples of these movements and then practice each day or you may follow along with the instructions for a deep meditative Qi Gong exercise that I present on my site.

Do I Have to Practice Everyday?

To obtain the most benefit from deep meditative relaxation daily practice is ideal. However, any practice that you do will benefit you. I often recommend that people do some of all the different styles of relaxation, especially at first, to find what works best for you and what fits best into your lifestyle. The nice thing about these methods is that you obtain immediate rewards in the form of relaxation, calmness, a sense of well-being. However, the long-term rewards of practice as described above are even more beneficial.

Arias, A.J., Steinberg, K., Banga, A., Trestman, R.L. (2006). Systematic review of the efficacy of meditation techniques as treatments for medical illness. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicince, 12, 817-32.

Biegler, K.A., Chaoul, M.A., Cohen, L. (2009). Cancer, cognitive impairment, and meditation. Acta Oncologica, 48, 18-26.

Chiesa, A. (2009), Zen meditation: an integration of current evidence. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicince, 15, 585-92.

Chiesa, A., Serretti, A. (2009). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicince, 27, 1-14.

Epel, E., Daubenmier, J., Moskowitz, J.T., Folkman, S., Blackburn, E. (2009). Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1172, 34-53.

Grant, J.A., Rainville, P. (2009). Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects of mindful states in Zen meditators: a cross-sectional study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71, 106-14.

Lagopoulos, J., Xu, J., Rasmussen, I., Vik, A., Malhi, G.S., Eliassen, C.F., Arntsen, I.E., Saether, J.G., Hollup, S., Holen, A., Davanger, S., Ellingsen, O. (2009). Increased theta and alpha EEG activity during nondirective meditation. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11, 1187-92.

Manzoni, G.M., Pagnini, F., Castelnuovo, G., Molinari, E. (2008). Relaxation training for anxiety: a ten-years systematic review with meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 2, 8-41.

Moore, A., Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Conscious Cognition, 18, 176-86.

Stoelb, B.L., Molton, I.R., Jensen, M.P., & Patterson, D.R. (2009). The efficacy of hypnotic analgesia in adults: a review of the literature. Contemporary Hypnosis, 26, 24-39.

Intro to Meditative Relaxation--page 1

What are the health benefits of deep meditative relaxation?--page 2

How do I do deep meditative relaxation?--page 3

"One of the most salient aspects I've noticed about unhappy people is that they are desperately trying to avoid negative emotions and in the process they feel miserable."


by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.


For many years when my husband and I were first together I would ask him "When are things going to get better?" We were dealing with the usual stressors that couples face: not enough time, not enough money, and the inevitable random events such as family conflict, deaths of loved ones, illnesses and injuries. In addition, for most of our early years together I was in school and struggling with the balancing of demands of advanced education, part-time work, and a family. But I had the belief that we were working towards this perfect life that one day would emerge shining a rainbow of happiness forever over us. My husband, inclined more toward the practical, just answered my question of "When are things going to get better?," with "Another six months." That answer typically pacified me for awhile because I thought I could handle any amount of stress for six months. However, a point would occur when I once again I asked my husband "When are things going to get better?" Once again, he would answer "Another six months." This scenario occurred fairly routinely for many years.

However, fortunately during this time I had experiences that began to teach me about my expectations of life. In particular, when I was completing my internship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center I had the opportunity to work on the spinal cord injury unit. That experience forever changed my thinking. In particular, I was struck by the differences in attitude among the patients. My job was to psychologically evaluate each patient. Some of those I evaluated had a recent spinal cord injury and some were returning for follow-up visits. Every patient on that unit, however, had a life-changing injury. Never would they walk again and some couldn't use their hands or even needed assistance with breathing. Every one of them had sustained major changes and losses in their life. Some of them not only lost the physical use of their body, but they lost a girlfriend or wife who couldn't handle the situation, or a job that was part of their self-identity. Yet, what I noticed was that no matter what the losses were or the length of time since the injury, the patients could be divided into two categories: happy or miserable.

Those who were happy reported thinking such as "Yeah, this sucks, but I still have dreams. There are still things I can do. And I'm going to focus on those things." Those who were miserable made statements such as "This is so unfair. My whole life is ruined. I will never be happy." In obtaining the life histories of the patients, I saw that those who were happy had full and active lives, they had friends and jobs and were involved in activities. Whereas those who were miserable, often did nothing but stay in bed with little social contact and had more problems with bed sores and other ailments due to the inactivity. I was informed that even though spinal cord injury in itself does not reduce life expectancy, those who gave up tended to die at earlier ages from complications. READ MORE: page 2

How can we be happy when bad things happen?--page 1

How is the attitude of happiness a choice?--page 2

How is the attitude of happiness different from positive thinking?--page 3

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