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: What is the difference between a physical (dynamic) concentration practice versus sitting mindfulness meditation?

ANSWER: If you choose to commit to a physical concentration practice, such as MBEP, yoga, tai chi, or chi gung, you will improve your ability to live with greater aliveness and presence in your physical life. You will find that you have a greater range of how to respond to people and situations, simply because of your greater concentration, focus, and presence.

If you choose to commit to a sitting form of mindfulness meditation, such as vipassana, you will improve your ability to live with greater aliveness and presence in your mental life. You will find that you have a greater range of whether to act or react to your thoughts and beliefs, simply because of your greater insight into the nature of all your mind chatter.

The advantage of vipassana or other forms of mindfulness-based sitting meditation is that, because your body is still and your eyes closed, it is easier to notice all that is going on in your mind. The quietness in the room also helps you to objectively observe all the mental chatter in your mind. Those mindfulness skills will then allow you to view your thoughts and beliefs as nothing but insubstantial mental constructs. This has the advantage of providing you with much greater choice in your behavior. When you are skilled in practicing a daily, mindfulness-based, sitting meditation practice, your interpersonal interactions will be healthier. For example, you become aware that you are holding the belief that a certain person and even a certain group of people are flawed or inferior in some way. Because of your sitting practice, you are now able to clearly see that your belief is nothing but an insubstantial mental construct rather than reality.

The real issue is not physical concentration practices versus sitting mindfulness meditation. Both categories of practices are important and it is important to know that each has certain advantages and each has certain disadvantages. That is why the ideal is to have both a sitting mindfulness practice and a dynamic mindfulness practice. Both categories of practice are challenging; choosing to take on just the physical, such as MBEP or chi gung, just the sitting type, such as vipassana, or both types is your choice. Just know that each will provide different life skills.