Meditation is an ancient and profound practice that can provide us with a whole host of mental and physical benefits. These benefits include reduced stress, improved resilience to stress, better sleep, a stronger immune system, increased neuroplasticity, and easier access to the brain and body’s natural flow state. With all these benefits laid out, many of us still find meditation a challenging activity to perform, let alone master. The good news is, there are several easily solved issues that commonly cause these challenges. Though the positive aspects of meditation are at this point quite well known, the art of how to meditate is certainly lagging behind as public knowledge. In this article, you will find a list of helpful tips that will undoubtedly help you establish a regular and effective meditation practice.
Why you are struggling with meditation:
You are trying to avoid having thoughts.
One of the most common misconceptions about meditation is that to do it successfully, we have to remove all forms of thought from our minds entirely. This is a common myth about starting meditation that keeps many of us at the very beginner level of our practice, struggling to make progress and find that mental clarity we so deeply desire. Meditation, especially at an introductory level is much more about focus than it is about. The practice of meditation is about actively exercising our ability to either focus on or be openly aware. In a state of pure awareness or pure focus, we are inherently shifting our mental energy to something more important than thought. During each of these kinds of meditations, thoughts will inevitably arise. The goal is not to be thoughtless, but to notice each thought that removes us from our intended object of focus, and gently bring ourselves back to this anchor of attention. The act of returning to focus is the mental ‘bicep curl’ we are looking for. Through time and practice, and thousands of mental ‘reps’ as we return to focus, we one day will become better at focusing in. For the early stages, and for most meditators in general, a successful practice is not one void of thought, it is a practice where we notice our thoughts and return to attention successfully. For myself personally, I still have plenty of thoughts pass through during each meditation session.
You are doing the wrong kind of meditation.
There are thousands and thousands of different kinds of meditations out there. Oftentimes, we make the mistake of sticking with a practice or a guided meditation that we are struggling with, trying hard to make it into something it is not. As a beginner to meditation, we want to find a practice that we understand and find relatively simple. We want to give ourselves a realistic starting point from which we can build upon, developing the skill to enhance our practice further. When it comes to meditation, progress, if any, is a slow practice. Meditation in and of itself is more about consistency than it is about progress. Each and every mediator has a practice they enjoy best, or a technique they are more proficient in than others. If you are finding yourself beating your head against the metaphorical wall, struggling with the meditations you’ve chosen, feel encouraged to switch it up a little bit. On the most basic levels, meditations fall into a whole variety of categories. These include; body scan, vipassana, breathwork, movement meditation, mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, visualization, and the list goes on. Try switching up your practice for some variety. Trying new things inherently exposes you to new methods and new techniques that may be more enjoyable, or may even take you to the next level.
You are struggling with distractions.
Being distracted by outside noises or stimuli is a very common challenge when first starting meditation. One may feel like sounds or situations outside are ruining our practice, but that is actually only the perspective and story we choose to focus on in that given moment. One thing to consider is when a distraction or sound occurs, is that distraction coming toward us, or are we the ones moving toward that distraction? Inherently, distractions are part of the practice. It is an element that challenges our attention to focus, and truly, we get better and better at reducing their power with time and exercise. When it comes to distractions, my advice when teaching is to openly accept them. For my students, these sounds become a tool for us to work with. We can sit with the sounds, and take a moment to reflect on why we choose to give it so much power over us. Once using it for what it is able to provide us with, we are then able to bring ourselves back to attention on the anchor of our practice. In this way, distractions really do become one of the best tools we have for enhancing and improving our mental focus. Meditation is not about having no distractions around us, it is about having plenty of distractions, and still being able to consciously choose what we want to give out attention to. Real-life is the same, and that is why real life is where we see these techniques manifest in the best of forms.
You Are Meditating Too Long
One common misconception about meditation for those new to the practice is that to receive the powerful benefits of this practice, we need to meditate for hours on end. This is not true, especially for beginners. Just as in anything else in life, repetition is the mother of skill. When a runner first starts, they can’t run a marathon. That part takes time. When we first start meditating, it is way more important to be consistent with our practice than to go big. Most of the research out there suggests that meditating 15 minutes twice daily provides our brain with the majority of neuroscientific benefits available to us. Although, once we are more experiences, more time on the mat will indeed translate to more beneficial results. I recommend to my students to start out by meditating 5-10 minutes every morning. From there, with diligence and discipline, we can increase and diversify our practice however we choose. If we try and sit for one or more hours without a strong grasp on how the exercise is done, we are choosing to make things more difficult than they need to be.