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This article offers step-by-step instructions for nine insight meditation exercises, as well as a detailed explanation of mindful eating, hints on dealing with problems such as wandering mind, sleepiness, disturbing mental images, unpleasant emotions, and more. Although these Buddhist meditation exercises come from the traditions of the Burmese teacher Mahasi Sayadaw and the Thai teacher Chao Khun Bhavanapirama Thera, you don't have to be a Buddhist to practice them. To know an object during vipassana meditation means to experience it with bare, nonverbal awareness. If you can watch your abdomen rising and falling one time, you can practice insight meditation.
If meditation seems very difficult or you lack self-discipline, try this strategy: decide you will meditate just one minute per day. The instructions for noting secondary objects apply to all the meditation exercises in this article. In the beginning your mind will often wander during meditation, spinning out thoughts about the past and future. When no thoughts or other secondary objects distract you, your attention should stay with the primary meditation object. But it should be understood that in any two consecutive moments the meditation object may be different. Put your hand in your lap, noting "placing." Now you are back in the original meditation posture.
Slowly move the body into the new posture, noting "moving." Break the entire action into several smaller movements, stopping fully after each one. By practicing insight meditation we gradually realize there is no bodily position comfortable enough that we can always maintain it. Generally speaking, when feelings arise during meditation they should be observed and labeled with a mental note. If an image occurs, try to focus on the primary meditation object again (such as the rising-falling motions), ignoring the image.
Insight meditators usually alternate a period of sitting with an equal period of walking meditation, especially during an intensive retreat in which vipassana is practiced many hours per day.
Here we'll describe how to change from sitting to standing in a step-by-step manner, enabling you to maintain mindfulness. Once the body is upright you should observe the standing posture for a few moments, noting "standing." This means to focus awareness on the position or shape of the body, being aware of how it feels. Whether you are standing, sitting, or lying down, apply this step-by-step technique whenever you change posture during vipassana practice. Below are a series of drawings that illustrate the reverse process, changing from standing to sitting, in even more detail. Begin by standing with your feet together, arms at your sides (alternatively, you may hold your arms in front of the body, one hand clasping the wrist of the other). Once you are standing, hold your hands in front of your body, one hand gently clasping the wrist of the other. Since mindfulness sometimes gets "bored" or slows down when observing the same object for a long time (especially during a meditation retreat), changing to another primary meditation object can help mindfulness maintain strength and continuity.
What you should be aware of is not a visual image of the posture, but the kinesthetic experience or "feel" of it.
There are a couple of Pali words worth remembering, because you will hear them over and over again in discussions about vipassana meditation. Everything we've said about observing the sitting posture applies to all the other bodily postures as well. Intermediate or advanced meditators may practice this exercise for the entire meditation period, or for a few minutes before practicing the rising-falling exercise. As soon as you're aware of an emotion during meditation practice, label it with a mental note.
The insight meditation method is a middle path between 1) suppressing an emotion and 2) indulging it by expressing it in words or actions, trying to feel it more deeply, or thinking about it further. After noting the emotion for one or two moments, let go of it and gently bring your attention back to the primary meditation object. Sleepiness may bother you more during an intensive meditation retreat than in your daily practice.
But we should understand that during vipassana practice we won't always be able to focus on a "real" or "correct" meditation object, even if we try hard to do so.
The way of focusing on objects in vipassana practice differs from that of concentration meditation, and it's important to understand the difference.

So when we say, for example, "be aware of the rising motion," what should be observed is, "knowing rising," or "the-act-of-knowing-rising." That is true for all meditation objects, not just the abdominal movements. Although not all meditation objects will have such clearly distinct phases as a single step does, we can use this example as a paradigm of how to observe other objects, too, even mental events. Please don't misunderstand: we don't mean you have to change to a different meditation object every single moment. Most of us have seen jugglers at festivals or street fairs, and their touch-and-go skill is a perfect example of how to focus on objects in meditation. In this exercise your attention switches back and forth between two primary meditation objects. During a typical standing meditation session the practitioner will hold a posture or set of postures for a period of time.
The most common posture has the practitioner hold out their arms as if hugging a large tree. On the surface, exercising like this may appear to be underwhelming and of seemingly little training value, but anyone who has tried standing meditation in earnest will agree: it is a rigorous and thorough discipline for cultivating health, well-being, and martial power.
In order to hold the standing postures for any meaningful length of time, skeletal alignment must be prioritized over relying on common muscular force.
Standing meditation has a very strong calming effect on the autonomic nervous system of the body, which can improve our emotional balance and ability to deal with stress.
Standing meditation is a technique for cultivating and circulating chi, the bioelectric energy which the body depends on to function.
Standing meditation is one of the cornerstones practices of both internal and external martial arts. Although vipassana is a very simple method, many aspects of meditation only become clear by actually doing it. If you need to change posture because of discomfort, do so slowly and mindfully, observing the intention to move before shifting the body. In meditation these movements are called, respectively, "rising" and "falling." They never cease to alternate as long as you live. If you want to meditate longer than an hour, it is best to alternate this exercise with walking meditation. If a secondary object makes only a faint impression on the periphery of your awareness and does not strongly hook your attention, ignore it and continue observing the primary meditation object. It doesn't matter whether a thought is good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant; the conventional meaning is irrelevant in meditation.
That doesn't mean you have to observe one object exclusively for the entire meditation period.
If you are sitting, get up and practice walking meditation or do the hand motions exercise. The basic walking meditation exercise is similar to normal walking, only slower and more deliberate. This means to focus awareness on the posture of the body as you stand (for a more detailed description of how to observe posture, see Exercise 4). Here you will observe a stationary object—the sitting posture itself (strictly speaking, however, movement is still present, because the mind moves). If it's difficult to be aware of the whole posture at once, place your attention on one area, such as your hands in your lap. The method is simply to observe the posture for one moment, let it go, and then immediately bring the mind back to the sitting posture again. For example, you might repeat the word "Buddho," or another mantra (a mantra is a special word or phrase repeated aloud and focused on in concentration meditation). In the context of vipassana meditation, some mental forms are "real," such as the intention to move the body, or a feeling of aversion or desire.
Having identified the appropriate meditation objects, we need to understand precisely how to observe them. Even though we won't be able to do it clearly at first, our eventual aim during meditation should be to observe every object in this manner, knowing it with mindfulness from the instant of its arising all the way through to its ending, right in the present moment. Students sometimes get confused because we say a meditation exercise such as the sitting posture can be practiced as long as forty-five minutes.
There are many variants of this central posture which can include different arm positions, hand positions, grips, weight distributions, and footwork. This means that any habitual tension or chronic bad posture held by the practioner must be released in order for the bones of the body to realign into their natural, supportive positions.

You can use your own words, but the spirit of the aspiration should be something like this: "By this practice of insight meditation may I reach the end of suffering. The practice of mental noting helps keep the mind on the meditation object and prevents you from getting distracted.
The same applies to the motion of the feet in walking meditation, the movements of the hands in Exercise 3, and so on. The strategy is simple: When you catch yourself thinking, silently say the mental note "thinking" for a moment or two, and then gently return your attention to the rising-falling movements (or whatever primary meditation object you were observing). Letting go of the previous meditation object happens automatically every time we focus in the present again. As a result of meditating, you begin to see that uncomfortable bodily sensations arise much more often than you had thought.
With your mind you are going to look repeatedly at the body's posture, as it appears in the present moment.
Letting go of the previous moment happens by itself every time the mind focuses on the posture again.
And even though you use the mental label "sitting," remember to focus on the actual posture, not the word itself. So we have only: the sitting posture (material form) and the thing that is knowing it (the mind). Emotions are valid meditation objects, too, objects of the fourth foundation of mindfulness.
Although for the sake of communication we can talk about observing the sitting posture for three-quarters of an hour, what we are actually doing during that time is knowing sitting for a moment and letting it go, knowing sitting and letting go, knowing and letting go, over and over again.
In all the exercises except walking meditation your eyes can be either open or closed (in walking meditation your eyes must be open). Then thoughts will get stirred up—distracting, delusive thoughts about how difficult or boring meditation is. Just keep observing the primary meditation object and ignore the thoughts, which will fall away on their own. This may seem obvious, but there is a difference between the vague, intermittent awareness of posture we have in daily life, an awareness interrupted by talking or thinking of a thousand things, and an attention that is wholly focused on that pose. As objects of the mind they have no more nor less importance than bodily movement or posture.
But even if you don't end up meditating longer, keep practicing one minute every day, without exception, and your attitude will gradually change.
The meditator keeps taking consecutive "snapshots" of the posture, each one lasting roughly a couple of seconds. And when the body sits, the mind experiences the posture as a group of temporary sensations, different from when the body is standing or lying down. Whether good or bad in conventional terms, all objects are treated equally during meditation practice. Soon those thoughts will force you to stand up and walk away from the cushion without having finished your meditation session. In short, a secondary object is anything you're aware of that is not the primary meditation object.
After one or two moments of noting "hearing," return your attention to the primary meditation object and forget about the sound. The meditator is aware of the whole posture each time with the aim of understanding that this is all there is to "sitting"—only a momentary group of sensations, nothing more. Be careful to follow the meditation techniques correctly so that mindfulness and concentration stay as balanced as possible.
Furthermore, in between moments of knowing the sitting posture there may be times when we notice a secondary object such as a thought, a sound, or an itch, whenever those things pull our attention away. All we need to do is label the event with an appropriate mental note, such as "memory," "planning," or "imagining," and lightly bring the mind back to the main meditation object.
This is one of many aspects of meditation that only truly becomes clear with practical experience.
During a single meditation session mindfulness may jump back and forth from one object to another many times.

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