Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

The purpose of this website, my book, and the Community Education course I teach at the College of Marin, is to teach people how to live a vibrant, meaningful life through the cultivation of self-empowerment and self-efficacy. In this monthly Q&A column, I post questions from students and from people who attend my presentations along with my answers.

Here is this month’s question:

QUESTION: Do the mindfulness practices, especially the MBEP walking practice, ever become more natural?

ANSWER: Gradually, over time, you will increasingly, automatically, find yourself walking, standing, breathing, and moving from your center. However, at first, this practice may seem unnatural and even exhausting, due to all the various aspects of the MBEP practice set to remember. Over time, the exhaustion will actually change into increased energy and aliveness as the practice becomes your natural way of life. At that point, you will feel increasingly in harmony with your body, your environment, and your moment-to-moment situation, regardless of the specifics of the activity.

Constant repetition is what leads to unconscious automaticity in the practices. Early on, you will begin to appreciate the ease with which you can practice while in the midst of other activities. MBEP is particularly conducive to walking; therefore, at first, you may want to restrict the practice to walking. But since we are walking throughout the day, the practice would be life-changing even if you confine the practice to walking.

The quality of your breathing has very profound effects on the degree of aliveness you experience. In MBEP and the breathing taught in the class, you push out the air until no longer comfortable and then relax the abdomen to allow the air to reinflate the lungs naturally. In other words, exhalation is conscious whereas inhalation is automatic. Also, the exhalation is roughly twice as long as the inhalation. This focused breathing method is best practiced in activities not requiring high oxygen consumption, such as aerobic forms of exercise because in that situation, it is best to let the body breathe you naturally. Also, due to the fact that this type of breathing is energizing, it is best not used just before bed. When I awake in the night and have trouble falling back to sleep right away, I practice putting my full attention on objective observation of the pure physical sensations of breathing, felt in my lower abdomen in the form of abdominal expansion and contraction. This more passive form of breathing is so relaxing that I almost always fall back to sleep.

Learning to harmonize with your environment, as taught in class, is useful as a way of learning that suppression and resistance to any unwanted internal or external stimuli create unnecessary stress and frustration. Being open to unwanted stimuli, once you know how to harmonize with it, allows you to meet it with resilience rather than resistance. By harmonizing with other people, interpersonal tension and conflicts can be much more easily resolved. When you are no longer on guard around people you typically find challenging to be with, you will feel considerably more alive and vibrant.