Meditation is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for connecting with our Higher Selves. Through reflection and stillness, we can unlock our highest potential, resolve our lower characteristics, and draw upon the deep wisdom within us. But spending 30 minutes sitting still (let alone hours) is not easy, and getting started is often the hardest part. Make the process a little easier for yourself with our solutions to the seven most common difficulties faced by new meditators:
1. Doubting the Benefits
Obstacle: It’s hard to convince someone regularly to set aside 15, 30, or even 60 minutes to do “nothing” if they don’t think it will help them. Some people will say they “just can’t sit still”, or they can’t change the way their mind works because “that’s just the way I am.” But if you feel strong resistance towards meditation because of restlessness or anxiety, you’re actually the perfect candidate for a mindfulness practice.
Solution: The science is clear on the health benefits of meditation. A regular meditation practice can give you a healthier mind, a healthier body, and clarity on life’s biggest decisions. It can boost your productivity and focus, help you think and speak with intention, and it can even help you sleep better. Above all, amazing things can happen when we connect with our Higher Selves during meditation.
2. Not Knowing How
Obstacle: Most of us have heard that meditation is about “being present in the moment”, but what does that actually mean? At the risk of greatly oversimplifying an ancient and powerful practice, meditation is about not focusing on the past or the future. The goal is to keep from dwelling on things in the past that cannot be changed, and to stop worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future. At its most basic level, meditation is simply about sitting, and observing what is happening in the present. In most cases, this means observing the subtle workings of our minds and our bodies.
Solution: So how do we stay focused in the present? The easiest way to start meditating is by observing your breath. You can do this anywhere… in a chair, on the floor, or on a park bench. Keep your breathing slow and measured. Notice how each inhale and exhale feels, how the air feels entering the nostrils and leaving through the mouth, and how your chest rises and falls. If you’re fully focused on the breath, odds are you aren’t distracted by thoughts about something that happened at work that day, or what you’re going to eat for dinner that night.
We all looked like this when we first started… don’t take it too seriously!
3. A Wandering Mind (Internal Distraction)
Obstacle: Once you’ve begun by focusing on the breath, it won’t be long before distracting thoughts start popping up. Some might say that meditation is about stopping the flow of thoughts, but that’s not quite right either. Try to spend any amount of time in silence without a thought arising, and you’ll quickly find it to be as impossible as stopping the flow of a river with your bare hands.
Solution: Instead of trying to stop the flow of the river, the idea is simply to not get swept away by it. Rather than attaching yourself to every thought that pops into your head, simply observe it, acknowledge it, and allow it to flow past by returning your attention to the breath. If you stand on the banks of the river and observe for long enough without getting carried away by the current, you’ll often find that the flow of the river slows down all on its own.
4. Not Having a Quiet Space (External Distraction)
Obstacle: Most of us would love to have a soundproof room we can fill with meditation pillows, calming incense, and plenty of soft colors, but that’s not a luxury most of us can afford. The reality is that at some point, you’re going to have to deal with loud noises, crying children, and needy pets.
Solution: Try not to look at these things as distractions keeping you from reaping the benefits of meditation. Instead, see them as an opportunity to hone your focus in the face of distraction. Every time you pull your attention back to your breath from an intrusive thought or noise, it’s like your brain just did a pushup. The more pushups your brain does, the easier the motion becomes. Plus, the real world is full of distractions, so the better you can meditate in those conditions, the easier it will be to pay attention in a noisy office or a crowded restaurant.
Try this method: Every time you observe a distraction, whether from our own mind or the outside world, try being curious about that distraction rather than getting upset by its existence. See it as a beautiful thing that millions of years of human evolution have led to the creation of that sound, or simply be thankful for the chance to test your meditation skills. If it’s something urgent that can’t wait, do your best to keep your focus on your breath while you attend to it.
Obstacle: During meditation, there will be moments where you feel like you just can’t sit still for a moment longer. It might be physical discomfort, like numbness or pins and needles. You may suddenly remember an email that you have to send or an item to add to your grocery list. Even if your meditation is going well, you might have a great idea for the project, or you’re feeling so good from the meditation that you can’t wait to get started on something new.
Solution: If the feeling is physical, try changing your position. If you’re suffering from lower back or other joint pain, try using a meditation pillow or chair, or performing some basic stretches beforehand. If your body simply wants to be active, taking a walk in nature before you meditate is an excellent warmup. The combination of physical stimulation, fresh air, and mental clarity can make connecting with our Higher Selves much easier!
If you’re suffering from mental restlessness, remind yourself that there will be plenty of time to address all of those things once your session is over. Remember, restlessness during meditation often translates into restlessness during everyday tasks. Just because you feel motivated to take on a task now doesn’t mean you’ll be able to see it through to completion. Finishing your meditation first will help train your mind to finish what you start.
6. Being Too Tired
Obstacle: Just as restlessness can keep us from meditating, so too can fatigue. Every meditator has had the experience of slowly nodding off until you catch yourself as you start to fall. It’s usually nothing to worry about (meditation is supposed to be relaxing after all), but if it’s happening to you consistently, then it’s time to make some changes.
Solution: If you’re regularly getting sleepy while you meditate, try changing up the time of day you choose to meditate. Meditating at night before bed can confuse your body into thinking you’re trying to fall asleep, so try doing your session in the morning or afternoon, whenever you feel most alert.
If it’s still happening, open a nearby window to let some fresh air, or try lowering the temperature a bit (high temperatures generally make us sleepy). Meditating near our bed can have a similar effect, so try to find another brightly lit space in your home. Taking a walk or exercising beforehand can help, and it’s also best to not meditate after a large meal. If you’re still getting tired when you meditate, it’s a pretty good sign you’re just not getting enough sleep!
Meditating in the morning can also set a calm, mindful tone for the rest of your day.
7. Meditating Regularly
Obstacle: Once you’re able to deal with distraction and restlessness, your biggest challenge will be keeping up a regular schedule. It’s very common for new meditators to get excited after meditating several days in a row, only for life to get in the way and before they know it, an entire week has gone by without a single session. It’s ok to miss a day here and there, but remember that meditation is a lot like exercise, and we see the biggest benefits when we’re able to consistently stick to our practice for months at a time.
Solution: Try finding a time every day where you can consistently set aside time to meditate. Sticking to a regular schedule will often yield better results than just trying to find time wherever you can. Shorter meditation times can also help you overcome your internal resistance, and even 5 minutes a day is a great start. If you still can’t find enough time, try meditating throughout the day during certain, low-thought activities: simply keep your attention focused on your breath as you wash dishes, mow the lawn, or fold laundry.