Having Trouble Meditating? You’re Not AloneApril 29, 2020
So, you’ve decided to start a Meditation practice. You’ve carved out the time to sit in silence or perhaps you’ve joined a guided class or are using an app, but you can’t help but wonder: am I doing this right? Your mind keeps racing, you feel bored, can’t sit still, are falling asleep or maybe feel you are wasting your time. You wonder if you are doing something wrong, but the reality is that many meditation students face the exact same hurdles. Here are the most common issues you may encounter and some suggestions on how to manage them:
1. My mind is racing / I am not able to focus:
The good news is that you are not alone! Everyone’s mind is racing. It is a common misconception that meditation is about clearing your mind or having no thoughts. After all, we are human beings and we are meant to think! Further, we are not monks living at the top of a mountain dedicating our lives to calming our minds. We have jobs, families and busy schedules. Rather than trying to clear our minds, our practice is centered around simply becoming aware of our thoughts. Carving out the time to recognize that the mind is racing, and then returning the attention to our breath, over and over again, is our practice. Without our thoughts, we have no practice! We may experience small snippets of clearing our minds, and over time, with consistent practice, the thoughts will slow down. So, be gentle and don’t give yourself a hard time. In fact, if your mind is racing, you are likely someone who has the most to gain from the practice!
2. I feel like I am wasting time:
Many people can’t help but keep checking the clock, impatiently waiting until their Meditation time is up. Having these feelings does not mean you are a bad meditator! In fact, recognizing this about yourself may mean you really need to slow down! The “go, go go” mentality is engrained, and rewarded, in our culture. We are obsessed with deadlines and immediate results, but, with meditation, the benefits of a consistent practice will only be seen over time. Much like physical exercise, meditation is exercise for our brain. We exercise daily because we know it is good for our health over the long run. We also all strive for balance in our lives. Physical exercise and movement balance out a sedentary lifestyle. Meditation calms our mind, balancing out our “monkey mind” (easily distracted mind). Research studies on Mindfulness meditation show its benefits include memory improvement, stress reduction, sleep improvement and a healthier diet, among others. So, stick with your practice, keeping the long-term benefits in mind. Also, start with shorter sessions and build them up over time, i.e. consistent 5 minute sessions daily will build a sustainable practice over the long-term and yield more benefits versus trying to cram in 30 minute sessions every few days/weeks.
3. I am bored:
I always remind students that there are so many different types of meditation. If one doesn’t work for you, try another! Don’t give up so easily and keep the long term benefits of your practice in mind. Visualizations, guided meditation and sound meditation are more stimulating for the mind than silent meditation. There are active forms of meditation such as walking meditation or yoga.
4. I keep falling asleep:
This is very common and of course, means we just need more sleep. But you are not a bad meditator if you are tired during your practice! Try meditating sitting up, not leaning against anything, and not lying down, and move a little before you start your practice perhaps with some gentle yoga. If you’ve fallen asleep, simply stretch your arms up to the sky and gently return to your practice; it’s no big deal.
4. My ‘x’ hurts / Body discomfort:
While some Meditation schools are very strict about not moving while practicing, I encourage students to make themselves comfortable. If you need to move, move! This will allow you to focus on your practice. If your foot keeps falling asleep, this is often a sign your hips are not up high enough, so grab a few more cushions and try again.
5. I can’t find the time:
Sure, ideally, we would sit down and meditate for 20-30 minutes daily, in a quiet meditation room beautifully lit with candles. But the reality is we are all pulled in many directions and mediation shouldn’t feel like another ‘to do’. You can incorporate it into your life where it works for you – maybe it’s as simple as taking three deep breaths when you sit down at your desk in the morning. Maybe you take a few moments to yourself on your commute, right before bed or while you are washing your hands or chopping vegetables. We all have 1 minute we can find in our day, no matter how busy we are. I also always remind students that consistency is much more important that how long we meditate.
Once you have developed a consistent practice, often we can’t help but wonder: how do I know my meditation practice is working? I always smile when this question comes up. The answer is deeply personal. Everyone is different- maybe it’s just noticing you are more pleasant around family or friends, or less reactive, or maybe you are simply more patient when waiting in line at the grocery store. You won’t find out, however, if you don’t experience it for yourself. Happy meditating, everyone!