Helpful books about mindfulness and meditation

Janka Livoncova Mindfulness & Meditation Leave a Comment

There are so many books about mindfulness out there and I get asked a lot for book recommendations when I teach mindfulness courses. While in the course, I encourage everyone to devote all their free time to the practice of mindfulness instead of reading about it. You will not learn mindfulness by reading about it, but there are some wonderful books to read to support your practice. Reading inspiring book will encourage you to practice when motivation to practice is low (and we all go through these periods :),  it will increase your confidence in the practice and therefore motivate you to do it every day, it can also help you clarify the experiences you notice while practicing. Having said all that, I also believe that reading books is no substitute for having a good meditation teacher to support and guide your practice.

Here are some books that I appreciate and recommend:
1. Place to start
Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment – and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD
Fully Present by Susan L. Smalley, PhD and Diana Winston
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Coming To Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD

Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl, PhD & Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Heal Thy Self by Saki F.  Santorelli, EdD

3. Going deeper
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening by Joseph Goldstein
Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation by Larry Rosenberg
The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic by Mark Coleman

4. Science of Mindfulness
Buddha’s Brain: The Practical neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, MD
The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being by Daniel J. Siegel, MD


Ten Reasons for a Daily Meditation Practice

Janka Livoncova Dharma, Mindfulness & Meditation Leave a Comment

Are you considering starting a daily meditation practice? Maybe these ten reasons will convince you that it is worth your time and effort.

  1. Meditation is about cultivating mindfulness, awareness and concentration.
  2. Daily meditation offers us a sense of connection to all things, and allows us to recognize the importance of being present.
  3. Meditation enhances our creativity, improves our memory, and sharpens our focus.
  4. Stress reduction: Though more then just a relaxation technique, meditation has the wonderful side effect of reducing stress, quitting our minds, and bringing a sense of peace to our daily lives.
  5. Meditating regularly can lead to an increased sense of empathy and compassion, towards others and towards yourself.
  6. Meditation can help free the mind of distractions. A recent study showed that meditation could help treat ADD, OCD, anxiety disorder, major depression and other disorders marked by distracting thoughts.
  7. Meditation can give us more control over how we respond to our thoughts and emotions, so we don’t have to feel as if your minds are our own worst enemy.
  8. Meditation may help us cope with pain. A new study reports that meditators have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state compared to non-meditators.
  9. Meditation can be an excellent tool for self-discovery and in becoming aware of our unconscious behaviors and habits toward gaining insight into oneself, others and the world.
  10. Ultimately, meditation is about transformation, waking up to the beauty and reality of the present moment, and finding happiness in our lives.

Still not convinced? Check out these research papers (on this page click on Specific benefits of MBSR -science and research papers).

Yoga Practice for Spring Season

Janka Livoncova Yoga Leave a Comment

Welcome Spring Season!
spring equinox smallThe keynote of this season is creation. It is the drive to move our lives upward, like seed pushing forth out of the earth into the air. Spring brings out excitement and wonder as all life begins the movement of its vital forces from below the earth to the surface. Spring is a time of rebirth, sudden growth and rapid expansion. Movement surges to the surface, bursting through the confinement of winter. We all feel the need to get longer and expand. Spring is also a time for contacting your true nature and giving attention to self-awareness and self-expression.

If you would like to lear more, read this wonderful article by Vasant Lad and try the following sequence to help you transition from winter to spring with grace and ease.

Constructive Rest: cover the front body with the blanket, organ relaxation & pranayama (breathing into organs) 10 min
Hug the knees: rolling side to side, feel the roundness of the back body
Constructive Rest: spinal movement (like Cat/Cow)
Puppy Sequence: Side Puppy Pose — tread the needle — Adho Mukha Svanasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Vinyasa or Uttanasana

Vinyasa or Tadasana
Virabhadrasana Sequence: Vira 1 — Vira3 (let the arms fly beyond the head) — Garudasana — Hip Stretch — High lunge — Vinyasa (or rest on your belly) — Bhujangasana (exhale let the gravity absorb any resistance, inhale up into the twist, exhale center or to the floor 6x)
Balasana: knees wide, relax the organs
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Repeat the Sequence on the other side & finish in Tadasana
Trikonasana Sequence:
Trikonasana (letting the spine lengthen out of the hips) — Ardha Chandrasana — Vira 2 — Prasarita Padottanasana
Repeat the sequence on the other side & finish in Goddess Pose (after Prasarita Padottanasana)
Vinyasa or Balasana
Balasana Sequence: Puppy Pose — supported (knees on the floor) Urdha Mukha Svanasana or Bhujangasana — Salambhasana — Urdha Mukha Svanasana or Bhujangasana — Balasana — Ustrasana or rest in Balasana (attention on the breath) 2-3x
Hip Sequence: Upavista Konasana (massage the inner and outer leg), exhale let the weight of the pelvis sink down into the ground — 3 Hip Openers (preparation for lotus) — Baddhakonasana
Bastrika Pranayama 1-3 rounds of 7-11 breaths, 1 sec. each breath
Constructive Rest
Side Twist

Savasana 10 min
Meditation 10-15 min

From Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna:
“ I am the Soul in the body, the Mind in the Senses, the Eagle among birds, the Lion among animals. Among all the trees I am the sacred Bodhi tree, and of the seasons, I am Spring”

Waking up to the truth of suffering…

Janka Livoncova Dharma Leave a Comment

IMG_0734I became a student of suffering in my early teens.  There were many opportunities to see and feel the dissonance between what I was being told is the “Truth” and my own experience. I still remember some of the many embodied experiences of suffering I experienced as a child and young teen. The communist regime in former Czechoslovakia I grew up in, was very keen on denying it. As a result, I spend many years confused and unsure about my experience of life, which later on, was another layer of Dukkha I had to understand.

One of the communist regime ideologies that were pushed on us was  “we are all the same, equal and life is fair for everybody”. It was very hard to implement in schools, but the teachers tried very hard. We were punished (physically as well as verbally) for being different, for thinking and behaving outside the norm. I was punished often and a lot, because at home I was encouraged by my father to always speak my truth despite the price.

In the name of sameness and equality, we were asked (girls and boys) in school to perform equally in all subjects. We were not only graded in subjects such as math, Slovak language and literature, etc. but also in physical and musical education, hand technical work (we are talking nail, hammer, saw and building stuff inside and outside from wood, metal, concrete…) and hand artwork (sewing, stitching, making things such as clothes…).

I remembered being asked for many years to get up in front of my entire class to sing one of the Russian propaganda songs for a grade. I was a terrible singer, I was told early on, and received many bad grades, including Fs. One day when I was about 13, I just had enough of the embarrassment and humiliation, I refused to sing. The teacher couldn’t believe it. She repeatedly asked me to sing, but I wouldn’t. She threatened me with an F grade, to which I replied that I am Ok with. Eventually she came to me and slapped me. I got so mad, started yelling at her and wanted to slap her back. It was a huge deal and I was for a long time in a great deal of trouble, well, until Velvet Revolution in 1989.

My whole family on my father’s side was involved to some degree in an informal civic initiative called Charter 77. It was mostly by spreading the text of the document, which was considered a political crime by the communist regime. They paid for it by going to prison, having their books burned and being forced to work manual labor despite their education. 

By the time I was 10 years old my father was so angry at the regime that he spent most of his time hating aloud. I became afraid of him, and at the same time I was proud of him for not being like everybody else I knew personally – a hypocrite and make-believer.

Aversion was also my only response to the suffering that I was experiencing and the suffering I saw in my family and our society. I was astonished and so disappointed by how normalized the hypocrisy, cheating, and stealing was in our society.  I was desperately looking for a way to relate to, to understand all of this suffering.

It came in a form of an old kung fu movie when I was about 12 years old. By the way, we didn’t really have much TV during communism and it was very censored. This movie showed in quite detail the mental and physical training these Shaolin monks undergo to become masters of their art. I realized my mind was “weak” (that is how I named it then) and completely at the mercy of what I know now are the 8 worldly winds. I told myself that I want to develop my mind like them. So it is strong and not moved by every external influence. I signed up for a karate class (nothing else was available in my town during that time) the same week.

Fast forwarding from karate class, meditation classes & courses, yoga, Zen to finally finding my home in Vipassana.home_sitting
So, 25 years later, I am still a student of suffering. It has been a life filled with immeasurable good fortune – growing up having just  “the right amount of suffering” to wake me up, but not to much to become a fragmented child, finding the Dhamma, having heart and mind inclined and willing to practice and continue to develop the Noble Eight-fold Path.

There is so much gratitude in my heart and mind for this useful practice. I am grateful for all the students and teachers who came before me, who took very good care of the Dhamma teachings and their practices, so we can all still benefit from it 2,600 years after the Buddha. MUDITA!