-Course Description

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(Activities in course forum, February 13-19, 2016)

(Please do not "request access". There is no hidden information).
Principles of Mindfulness Meditation 
A Free Eight Week Online Course
Founder and principal instructor: Thanh V. Huynh, M.D. 
Certification: A non-credit certificate of course completion will be issued to those requesting it (by emailing Dr Huynh upon satisfactorily completing the course).
Cost: Free (Donation to a non-profit organization such as Vipassana Hawaii, Vipassana Metta FoundationGreenPeace or Doctors Without Borders... is appreciated)
This course is designed for people new to this practice, with the aim of introducing principal aspects of the traditional Mindfulness Meditation (vipassana/insight meditation) in a secular way. However, some experienced practitioners (including MBSR instructors/teachers) find it helpful in reviewing and clarifying some aspects of the mindfulness practice, particularly the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
Up to recently, most programs have taught mindfulness meditation in a setting that is paid and face-to-face.
This online course is designed to make this practice available to many people who find it impractical to attend regularly scheduled courses outside of their home. It would take less time than required for most people just to commute to those classes. All one needs is twenty to forty minutes a day (less in week 1) for the formal practice and to be mindful during other routine activities.
Participants access the forum (with a computer or smart-phone), practice and report at a time that is convenient for them (no set time).
Catalog Description: 
Mindfulness Meditation and related practices
-Eight weekly units of online instruction on the theory and practice.
-Daily exercise/meditation practice with audio/video-guided instruction.
(Daily practice increasing from 10-15 minutes in the first week to 20-45 minutes in the last week.)
-Informal application of mindfulness in daily life.
-Internet forum for interaction with the instructor(s) and other international participants.
(There is no set time. The practice and forum participation can be done at any time chosen by participants)
Course Objectives:
Upon completion of the course, participants would be able to:
1. differentiate various meditation techniques including concentration/relaxation versus insight/mindfulness.
2. understand mindfulness with its four foundations, and how to establish it.
3. independently practice by applying mindfulness in formal meditation and in daily life.
4. describe the way and benefits of mindfulness meditation.
Course Content:
1. Introduction to meditation
2. Common meditation techniques. Difference (and similarity) between concentration/relaxation and insight/mindfulness.
3. Medical applications of mindfulness practice.
4. Definition and components of mindfulness.
5. Factors influencing the practice.
6. Concept and reality.
7.Techniques of mindfulness meditation:
-Attitude for practice
-Working with the body and the mind
(including pleasant/unpleasant feeling tone, intention, beautiful/unwholesome mental quality)
-Mindfulness in daily life
- Loving-kindness, forgiveness, gratitude.
- Non-harming commitment
Methods of Instruction: Online (flexible schedule) including
-Written material.
-Audio-guided instruction.
-Video instruction.
-Discussion Forum for reports/comments, Q/A.
Methods of Evaluating Student Progress:
Forum discussion
Weekly quiz (when applicable)
Evaluation questionnaire

Introduction to Mindfulness

Most of us find life stressful at times, particularly when afflicted by illness or faced with difficulties. We tend to be impatient, and lost in the past or in the future instead of being present. We also tend to resist or react to things by denying, commenting, or judging them rather than being receptive and trying to understand them. This reaction creates more stress. We do not fully live our life if we are not entirely in touch with our present life experience.
We tend to take care of our body but neglect our mind.  Mental cultivation can be effectively done through meditation which can enhance one's emotional intelligence (EI).


Meditation is a form of mental training. There are two general types of meditation.

 1/Concentration/relaxation practice:

 The meditator usually holds on to a static (fixed), chosen (or given), and often conceptual (or imaginary) object. It could be a physical one such as the breath, a color disc, certain sounds, or a mental one such as visualization, a mantra (repeated words/phrases) prayer or well-wishing and/or compassionate thoughts. Its goal is to cultivate inner goodness or relaxation or to build deep concentration, which could reach the level of absorption (jhana), a deeply calm state where one, although awake, may not be aware of external phenomena.

2/Mindfulness/Insight practice:

  The object for this practice is, on the other hand, dynamic (changing/adapting), choiceless (no preference) and real (direct, present time, actual experience at all sense doors as described in the Four Foundation of Mindfulness). It is usually the most predominant/obvious object that we perceive. Only the presence of skillful mindfulness, balanced persistent interest and concentration/calm can give rise to deepening insight. The two practices (concentration and insight) can be mutually beneficial and practiced together, but it would be skillful to know the difference between the two, which mode is predominant, and to let go of holding on to any experience if one's aim is to be on the insight path.

Mindfulness meditation explores life as it is occurring in the present moment, without being attached to pleasant experiences or resisting unpleasant ones. By paying nonjudgmental attention to all aspects of life, one develops insights into its ever changing, unsatisfactory and impersonal nature. One therefore faces the ups and downs with more equanimity/composure, encountering less stress and confusion, more joy, and inner peace. This form of meditation is traditionally practiced in meditation centers in South and South-East Asia and more recently in the West in the form of silent retreats and practiced by people of diverse backgrounds. A secular and “generic” form is often taught in western clinical settings under the name "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction"  (MBSR) as an eight-week course (initially established by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts) or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) used in psychotherapy for depression and anxiety and related mental disorder. MBSR also includes Yoga and other relaxation techniques. There are numerous medical publications reporting various medical and non-medical benefits of this practice for chronic pain, stress, anxiety, depression etc. including studies in cancer patients and healthy volunteers showing improvement of their quality of life and immune function.



Mindfulness is a mental quality that reminds one to be present. It is the bare, choiceless, relaxed, moment to moment non-judging attention to the mental or physical activity that is occurring here and now. It pays equal respect to pleasant and unpleasant objects. It also possesses a quality of inquiry, patience, and acceptance toward all that is occurring in the present moment.

Mindfulness is one of the "universal" wholesome (skilful/beautiful) mental factors that when fully present, will enhance other beautiful mental qualities (such as loving-kindness, joy, equanimity, generosity, etc.) and weaken the unwholesome (
unskilful) ones  (such as anger, jealousy, fear etc...) Therefore practicing mindfulness is a way to make one's mind beautiful.

There are four ways of establishing mindfulness which explore four different aspects of life experiences:

1) Body (or physical aspect)
One establishes mindfulness by being aware of:
-The breath: being aware of its nature (in or out, long or short, the motion, pressure, tingling, warmth etc.)
-Body postures (sitting, standing, walking, lying...)
-Physical activities/movements: bending, stretching, reaching, stepping, holding an object, putting on clothes etc...
-Physical sensations within the body.

A direct way to experience physical sensations is to be aware of reality, the elemental nature: texture (hard or soft, rough or smooth, light or heavy), cohesion (binding or wet), temperature (warm or cool) and dynamics (moving, vibrating or pushing). This differs from the usual concept of “my body” as a generalized form or shape which is to be kept in the background in formal practice. These four kinds of manifestation are traditionally known as the earth, water, fire, and air (wind)  elements. 

2) Feeling tone.
Not to be misunderstood as emotion or (physical) sensation (which it is sometimes translated), it actually is the impressions or quality that is associated with any physical or mental experience: pleasant (agreeable), unpleasant (disagreeable), or neutral (neither of the above). One notices that there is simply pleasantness, unpleasantness (physical or mental) or neither (=neutrality) present in this moment.

3) Mind: 
Mindful awareness of consciousness and mental states/emotions/thoughts. 

4) Phenomena (Mental objects/contents): 
Mindful awareness of phenomena, things that we experience at our sense doors, including "the mind's door": the dynamic functions and relationships of consciousness, mental states and thoughts. 

With respect to the last two, there are overlaps between Mind and Phenomena (mental objects) and any object that does not fit in the first three could belong to the fourth one. Therefore, to simplify (in the context of this introductory course), 3) and 4) could be considered together as mindfulness of the mind. This involves non-judging awareness of (and objectively observing how they are manifesting):
- thoughts (thinking, reflecting, remembering, planning, etc.),
- mental states and emotions (sadness/joy, fear/hope, aversion/appreciation, anger/love, confusion/clarity, drowsiness/agitation etc.) or
- consciousness itself, (the knowing, the container for the above, just as a clear glass holding water or yellow juice... and is colored by them). 

It also includes the observation of specific mental qualities or effects such as the hindrances (difficulties) of the practice, awakening (insight/enlightenment) factors and the sense door experiences (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching etc.) - including the mind's reaction to them. We can also see how we are caught in these experiences, thus being able to free ourselves from them.

In practice, one does not need to figure out which element or foundation the object represents but simply to directly experience it, with a relaxed interest without wishing it to be a certain way. It is helpful however to know which experiences are real (see Concept and Reality) and to pay more attention to them. 

We normally identify with the conceptual aspect of life. This conventional reality of names and forms: "I am a student", "my knee hurts", "I am angry" etc. It can be useful for functioning in the world although it is quite often colored/distorted by our biases, prejudice, past experiences (positive or negative) or by misunderstanding, overlook or ignorance.

In formal mindfulness practice, one keeps the "concept" (conceptual reality) in the background and pays more attention to the true nature or "ultimate reality" of all phenomena (what one directly experiences in the moment without interpreting or referring to past knowledge). Instead of "my knee hurts" (concept) one feels the reality of pressure, tension or heat at the knee (first foundation) or physical unpleasantness (second foundation) or aversion to it (third/fourth foundation). Instead of "I am angry" (concept), one experiences this emotion or mental state simply as anger (third/fourth foundation), or mental unpleasantness (second foundation) or the associated heat or tightness (first foundation). One does not identify with these experiences as being me, mine or myself but objectively observe them in order to understand their true nature, just like looking at clouds in the vast sky, like a scientist observing an experiment without bias.  

Observing reality helps develop insights and this wisdom allows one to see more reality and less concept.




At the beginning of the sitting meditation, consider the breath your home or primary object, a place to take refuge in during the sitting meditation.

First, take two or three deep breaths if needed to help feel
 the sensations associated with breathing: the expansion and contraction of the lower chest or abdomen with each in-breath and out-breath, one breath at a time. (You can place a hand on the stomach to help feel these few breaths better). Then breathe naturally without controlling the breath. If you have difficulty observing the breath there you could try to focus on the area of the nostrils or upper lip (or in between). Label (mental noting/naming "in" or "rising" and "out" or "falling") as needed.

Follow the changing sensations continuously from the beginning to the end of the in-breath then from the beginning to the end of the out-breath. Feel the motion/movements, tingling, pressure, vibration, lightness, heaviness, warmth, coolness... (reality) rather than paying attention to the superficial form or shape of the abdomen/body or "I am breathing" (concept). Try not to miss the end of both the in-breath and out-breath. This interest in seeing the end helps sustain the attention on the object.

After a few moments, you may realize that you are lost in thoughts instead of staying with the breath. Be willing to begin again and again in the present moment by simply make a soft mental note of “thinking” or “wandering”, then gently allow the attention to fall back on the breath. You can also make a gentle but firm determination (“not now/later”, or "thank you for visiting/sharing") to help letting thoughts go without trying to get rid of them harshly. Remember that the nature of the mind is to think, therefore do not judge yourself or be discouraged but be happy that you recognize them (we usually do not) without feeding them or indulging in them.

One technique to keep the mind from wandering (particularly if there is a gap between the out-breath and the in-breath) is to note at that gap (or the end): "rising... falling... sitting” (briefly bring the awareness to the sitting posture) ... then “touching” (feel a point in the body such as the buttocks, the hands, the legs etc…where there is contact or pressure; change the points at the next “touching”). If it is too much to note, just “rising... falling, touching” (or "rising... falling... sitting", or "rising... sitting... falling... touching") would be fine.
Another way is to note "rising...rising...rising, falling...falling...falling..." throughout the in-and-out breath. 
An additional way to reduce the wandering mind is to count the breaths (at the end of rising and falling) from one to five: “rising…one, falling… one, rising…two, falling…two…” (begin again with “one” after reaching “five” or if you lose track of counting)...

When a sound, thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations become predominant in your awareness, gently bring your attention to it (in order to be aware of it with interest without trying to suppress it, nor feeding it), and as it passes away or no longer stays obvious, gently bring the attention back to the sensations of the breath. It is like a spider investigating an insect caught in part of the web, then returns to its center.

If you find yourself lost in thoughts, rather than judging, simply acknowledge it as “thinking…or wandering” then gently focus your attention back on the breath. Patiently begin again and again in the present moment by returning to the primary/home object regardless how many times you lose it due to wandering thoughts. Accept thoughts as part of a natural process, not something that should not be there. Later in the course, you can learn more how to work with thoughts.


1/ Informal mindful walk:

As you take a stroll or walk from place to place, simply pay attention to general present time sense door experiences (moving, stepping, seeing, hearing, touching, breathing, coolness, pleasantness, etc...) or just have a relaxed, open soft gaze into the moment-to-moment present time life experience. Although the awareness could occasionally fall on the breath, one does not need to intentionally keep it there. This type of walk is considered walking meditation in some traditions. It is a very helpful and practical way of applying mindfulness but it does not replace the formal walking meditation in this tradition. Likewise, overall mindfulness in daily life activities does not replace formal sitting.

2/ Formal walking meditation:

During formal walking meditation, one establishes mindfulness primarily through the physical aspect (first foundation) without paying attention to other experiences. Choose an individual short path (preferably secluded, indoor or outdoor) and walk back and forth in a relaxed manner while applying mindfulness of the body: the body moving, the feet touching the ground, the changing sensations of motion, heaviness, pressure, tingling, coolness... 

(More description of the sitting and walking techniques will be presented in the course).


The mindfulness practice can also be done informally during ordinary daily activities by having a general awareness of what is happening in the body and the mind and what we interact with, using the tools shared in this course.


To be relaxed yet alert.

Have no expectations. 

Let go of controlling. Let it be. Try not to make anything happen but also not to reject anything (not adding or subtracting anything, just observe things as they really are). 

Hold a joyful interest in understanding life by simply watching it unfolding in each moment: accept and observe both "good" and "bad" experiences, not wishing the pleasant ones to last and the unpleasant ones to stop.
Roots of stress: 

-Wanting something to happen is attachment.

-Wanting something to go away is aversion.

-Not knowing what is happening is delusion.


Just like a farmer preparing the land before planting his/her crop, to embark upon the mindfulness practice, it is helpful to commit oneself to a harmonious way of life, allowing the mind to be peaceful and more conducive to this practice. Be kind to yourself and to others. One traditional way is to follow, as best as one can, the five training guides or commitment to refraining from 

1) Killing any living being 

2) Taking what belongs to others 

3) Harmfully expressing one’s sexual energy 

4) Using untruthful or harsh speech and 

5) Habitual or more than moderate use of substances (such as alcohol or drugs) that could cloud the mind or harm the body. 

Instead of feeling guilty if one breaks one of these training guides, reflect on how it was unskillful and resolve to do better the next time. 

Try to renew this commitment daily, perhaps as you begin the day or before the formal sitting. 

You can also take the positive approach of the above by making an effort to

1) Protect lives 

2) Be generous 

3) Keep harmony and commitment in relationships 

4) Utter comforting and beneficial speech and

5) Live a (physically and mentally) healthy life 

*Try your best to commit to this way of life at least during this course for it to be fruitful.

**You do not have to be a vegetarian but try to avoid hunting/fishing, becoming drunk/drowsy...

 Register for this free course at:

About the Instructors

Main Instructor (course founder):

Thanh Huynh, M.D.

Thanh is a radiation oncologist holding faculty appointments with the University of Hawaii's School of Medicine (Department of Surgery and Department of Integrative Medicine) as well as its Cancer Center. He has been studying and practicing mindfulness meditation (vipassana) since 1984. His practice includes multiple month-long silent retreats under the guidance of Asian masters as well as other training with western teachers, including the Community Dharma Leaders program at Spirit Rock. He has been conducting and coordinating regular meditation sessions for prison inmates since 1993 and has offered free introductory mindfulness meditation classes to the public, including children, with rewarding results. He and his wife Xuan lead the weekly sittings and monthly day-long and weekend retreats in Honolulu.

Medical students at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine (and other medical schools on elective rotation there) have the opportunity to attend mindfulness workshops and monthly weekend retreats lead by Dr. Huynh. He and co-investigators at the University of Hawaii's Cancer Center were the first researchers to complete a successful feasibility study using the internet to teach mindfulness to cancer patients (https://sites.google.com/site/mindfulnessonlinecourse/mindfulness-meditation-and-its-medical-and-non-medical-applications). The online course developed for this study is now being freely offered to people around the world.

Substitute Instructors (when Dr. Huynh is not available): 
Xuan Huynh
Xuan studied with the renowned Sri Munindra and was greatly impressed by talks about two particular students of his in India. Both women yogis had attained deep experiences practicing at home after attending a 10 days Vipassana retreat. Deeply influenced by Dipa Ma and Michele McDonald's wisdom and loving-kindness, Xuan's goal is to achieve a seamless mindful awareness between daily life activities and formal meditation practice.
Mark Nokes
Mark has been practicing Insight meditation since 1996 when he was introduced to this practice by Gil Fronsdal. He has engaged in extended periods of intensive practice in Hawai'i and California as well as in Burma. In addition to Gil Fronsdal, influential teachers include Grahame White, Carol Wilson, Guy Armstrong, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield. Mark retired from his job as a Silicon Valley physicist and engineer in 2002 in order to pursue his meditation practice more fully. He is currently interested in relating the discoveries of neuroscience to his meditation.