Shaila Catherine
Founder and Principal Teacher

Shaila Catherine is the founder of Insight Meditation South Bay, a meditation group in Silicon Valley, and also Bodhi Courses, an online Buddhist classroom. She has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than nine years of accumulated silent retreat experience. She has taught since 1996 in the USA, and internationally. Shaila studied with several Asian masters in India, Thailand, and Nepal, including H. W. L. Poonja, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, and Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, in addition to the founders of several western meditation centers including Christopher Titmuss and Joseph Goldstein. She completed a one-year intensive meditation retreat with the focus on concentration and jhana, and authored Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. Shaila practiced under the guidance of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw from 2006-2014, and authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana to help make this traditional approach to meditative training accessible to western practitioners. Her third book, Beyond Distraction: Five Practical Ways to Focus the Mind, teaches skills to overcome restless thinking, rumination, and obstructive habitual patterns. Shaila’s teachings emphasize deep samadhi, jhāna, and the path of liberating insight.


Listen to in-depth podcasts and interviews with Shaila:

You will find interviews, articles, and teachings by or about Shaila in written, audio, or video formats under our Teachings Menu

Shaila welcomes invitations to lead retreats at meditation centers and Dharma communities worldwide. In order to keep her email queue to a manageable size, she does not publish her email address here. If you wish to invite Shaila to teach at your community, you may pass a message through: consult.

Shaila Catherine offers a limited number of teacher-student meetings (also called “interviews”) each month to practitioners who are actively involved in IMSB retreats and events. The purpose is to develop meditation skills, overcome common obstacles that might arise during meditation, enhance nascent insights, and apply the liberating teachings of the Buddha to daily life. Students who live at a distance may benefit by periodically checking in with Shaila between retreats; students who frequently attend local programs might deepen their practice by periodically describing their individual meditative development in the one-to-one setting of a consultation.

Distinguishing Meditation Consultations from Psychotherapy

Consultations should not be confused with therapy and meditation teachers should not be relied upon for crisis intervention. The scope of the meeting is the student’s formal meditation practice and the application of Buddhist teachings in life. Emotional issues may surface during meditation practice and are addressed strictly from a mindfulness perspective. The format does not explore the specific content of psychological patterns or provide in-depth support for exploring issues such as depression/anxiety, trauma, family-of-origin issues, or decision-making, relational issues, addictions, and vocational concerns. Students intending to explore psychological concerns should seek out a qualified professional in the psychological field rather than a meditation teacher—Shaila is not a psychotherapist.

Where and when?

Teacher-student meetings are scheduled less frequently than once per month, with common arrangements being every 6-8 weeks or quarterly. Local students may arrange to meet with Shaila either at a Saturday daylong program or at a location in Menlo Park. Meetings in Menlo Park or on the phone are usually scheduled for one hour, but may be shorter or longer as needed. Meetings during the Saturday daylong program are usually 20 minutes during the walking meditation periods.

Students who are not local may arrange for a telephone consultation.

Please respect appointment times (including phone meetings) by arriving on time and giving at least 24 hours notification in case of a cancellation.

What is the fee?

In keeping with tradition, our teachers offer the teachings without charging a specific hourly rate. In turn, students make voluntary donations to the teachers so that they may continue to offer teachings. The ancient tradition of the dāna system acknowledges our interdependence and has generosity as its foundation. The dāna practice should not imply that these private sessions are “free.” An appropriate donation is implied in the agreement. Students may choose an amount that is appropriate to their particular financial ability — a general guideline might be to consider your own hourly wage and offer a donation that respects the teacher’s work, skills, and time at least as much as your own.

Donations can be made in person by handing cash or check to Shaila; often students come with a check in an envelop. Alternatively, dana made payable to IMSB with the designation “teacher dana” on the memo line can be mailed to Insight Meditation South Bay, PO Box 490, Menlo Park, CA, 94026. Or you may use our online donation system on the Donate Now page and designate your gift to “teacher dana.”

Developing the teacher-student relationship

Students may find that regular interviews support the long-term development of their practice and might express the request that Shaila “be my teacher.” Shaila does not usually formalize the teacher-student relationship through traditional rituals, but allows the teacher-student relationship to develop as long as it is fruitful through ongoing attendance at retreats, courses, and interviews. Showing up and developing the meditation practices are the primary actions that build the teacher-student relationship. One-to-one meetings help to sustain, clarify, and deepen meditative development, and will naturally nurture a depth of understanding between teacher and student.


Shaila current offers ongoing individual consultations to:

  • Students who have attended at least one 10 day retreat with Shaila organized by Bodhi Retreats, and have the intention to attend another within the next year or two
  • Active IMSB volunteers


Send an email to consult requesting a meeting. If this is your first time meeting with Shaila, please include a brief statement explaining the reason that you are requesting an interview and how you qualify through one of the above criteria.

A year-long arrangement

In response to frequent requests from retreat students who wish to maintain an ongoing connection with Shaila between retreats, a limited number of students are being accepted for a year-long arrangement. This arrangement is primarily intended for students who have worked with Shaila in retreat and are planning to attend another retreat within the next year.

Students with this arrangement agree to scheduling telephone or in-person consultations with Shaila (approximately every 8 weeks over the course of a year). The intention for this arrangement is to structure routine check-ins and avoid the pressure of waiting for problems to arise or conjuring up questions before reaching out to the teacher.

Students interested in a year-long arrangement may contact consult with subject line: “Scheduling meetings this year”. The details can be arranged with Shaila during the first meeting.



Shaila Catherine represents a new generation of Dharma practitioner in the West, with in-depth experience studying with some of the greatest masters of both the Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Her commitment to intensive practice has been matched by her dedication to study, and her exploration of the practice of concentration and jhanas reflects both these strengths.

Sharon Salzberg, author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience.

Shaila brings a wealth of personal experience to the Dharma that exceeds teachers who are a generation older than herself. As a dedicated practitioner of Dharma, she spent several years in India and Thailand to deepen her experience, her meditations and her understanding of the core issues of life. Shaila has never been one to rest on the past. Like yogis of old, she loves entering into extensive periods of silence and personal retreat. Such commitment gives her voice enormous authority. I would encourage everyone, from the complete beginner to the most seasoned meditator and mind/body professional to listen to the teachings and guidance of Shaila.

Christopher Titmuss, author of An Awakened Life.

Shaila is a terrific Dharma teacher and accomplished Buddhist practitioner, a genuine Bodhisattva. I have known her for many years, in both India and America. We studied and practiced together under some of the same master teachers and now enjoy a close collegial friendship. She has a clear mind and a generous, loving and unselfish heart. I believe that anyone interested in our practice tradition would benefit by studying with her.

Lama Surya Das, author of Awakening the Buddha Within.
Shaila is an excellent teacher with a vast knowledge and personal experience of meditation and dharma practice. She is quite unique in the breadth of her experience, which arises from years of dedicated learning from the greatest living masters of Myanmar, India and the West.
She teaches deep concentration practice (jhana), which is hard to find from other teachers in the West. Yet as a teacher she is approachable, light, easy, humorous and clear. There is a precision and clarity in her teaching. Her language and approach inspire trust and confidence with her students and pave the way for good reliable practice. She is helpful and personal, and students don’t feel that there is any distance or issues which might inhibit personal guidance. In short, Shaila is an excellent and wise dharma teacher....more...
Stephen Fulder, Founder of the Israel Insight Society (Tovana)
Shaila Catherine is a deep, wonderful Dharma teacher and one of the most profound Buddhist practitioners in the West. She has a warm heart and is also gifted with crystal clarity of thought. Her talks and instructions glow with simplicity, humility and humor. Shaila also guides by example,
a laywoman who has crafted a beautifully dedicated life. I highly recommend Shaila as a trustworthy and compassionate guide who has walked the path in many traditions and forms, and has the ability to help sincere students, at any level, to find ease for the suffering of our human condition and to discover its hidden potential....more...
Lila Kate Wheeler, editor of In This Very Life
Shaila Catherine is a wonderful teacher who freely quotes from the suttas at will, and is able to offer these ancient teachings while keeping them fresh, vibrant and alive. With great compassion, she offers her wealth of firsthand knowledge in a very approachable and palatable manner.
Shaila is not the kind of teacher who offers a dharma talk and then is off sequestered the rest of the day; she’s the kind of teacher that is right there with you, practicing along with you, all day long, showing you the proof is in the pudding…and I don’t know about you, but I find great comfort in that. It’s easy to see that Shaila isn’t just reciting from texts that she has memorized; she is teaching directly from her heart. She teaches from direct experience gained through years and years of fruitful, productive and intensive personal practice, while still being a great steward of her amazing lineage of powerful teachers. In all the other retreats I’ve been on, my teachers have ranged from being totally unapproachable to minimally accessible. Shaila breaks the mold and offers herself, her teachings, her direct experience, and the great teachings from her respected lineage freely and openly. Months after my retreat, my heart is still full of gratitude for what Shaila was kind enough to offer me. I cannot recommend Shaila as a teacher enough....more...
Gary Sanders, associate teacher with Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society
Shaila is a clear, fervent, eloquent, delightful voice within the movement to restore a well-rounded understanding of Buddha-Dhamma, which is itself a healthy sign of maturity within American Buddhism. Shaila is not one of those bliss junkies one occasionally meets,
the sort who claim jhana experiences, often over the top, and cavalierly disregard the main thrust of the Buddha’s middle way. While the many synonyms of joy are prominent throughout her book, they are well-grounded in the actual jhana teachings, the broader Dhamma context of those teachings, careful reflections on experience, and the influences of competent teachers. Most of all, her teaching is in service of quenching dukkha, not merely ‘attainments.’ Shaila poses many good questions for our reflection that challenge common assumptions and thinking. Many of us have had enough of being told the way things are. I find it more helpful to be challenged with questions that provoke to inquire for ourselves. The best questions point us to look in the places we most need to understand yet least want to look. Shaila rightly sees emptiness and non-clinging at the heart of practice. Surely, this helps her and us to avoid being partisan regarding technique. Arguments over technical expertise are generally distracting and often fraught with clinging, hubris, or both. Rather than the trendy promises of pop Buddhism—better relationships and the like—Shaila’s teaching points to the promise of non-clinging to anything in this world, that is, liberation from suffering....more...
Santikaro, editor of Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree