Meditation is a powerful tool for promoting relaxation, focus, and overall well-being. Personally, it has helped me many times to get “out of my head.”
With that said, many people DO have difficulty when starting or maintaining a meditation practice.
Here are some common meditation challenges you may face and how to overcome them.
Restlessness or Impatience
Impatience pops up in various ways during meditation. Instead of thinking “be more patient,” practice letting go of how we think life should be. The more we do this, the more comfortable we can be with where we are in our practice and life. We might even notice we begin to feel more patient and have greater compassion for the impatience of others.
Choose a spot where it’s possible to hold a sitting position for a while. Try sitting at the front of a chair to keep a straight back. If that’s not enough support, add a cushion to the chair. Still restless? That’s natural. When we slow down, we become more aware of body sensations. If there’s not intense pain, commit to finishing the session. Acknowledge the urge to move or get up without judging or trying to change it, but bring our focus back to our breath (again and again, if necessary).
If a child jumps on us, a dog starts licking our face, or the doorbell rings, we’ll need to press pause on our meditation. And that’s perfectly fine to do. Once that distraction has been dealt with, we can pick up where we left off or start over. Other distractions like a phone ringing, a neighbor playing music, or even sirens aren’t a reason to stop or give up. No matter how much we want them to disappear, we can’t make them.
The best move is to let go of our resistance and refocus on the breath. Perhaps even say “welcome” to the banging construction to give our mind a sense of relief. It is reassuring to remember that once we notice we’re distracted, THAT is awareness in action. The more we notice thoughts, feelings, emotions, and distractions, the more aware we become.
When we sit to meditate, it’s common to experience pain. It seems backwards to welcome discomfort, but bringing awareness to it can make the pain manageable. Once aware we’re feeling pain, pay more attention to our reaction to it than the pain itself. In that way, we can investigate what’s bothering us. If the pain starts and ends with our practice, we can be curious about pain, not judgmental or critical. This helps shift the way we experience pain to something more manageable. If the pain starts with our practice but doesn’t end once we open our eyes, it might be best to consult a professional.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about meditation is that we must “clear” or “empty” the mind, and if we don’t, we’ve failed. In fact, it’s impossible to stop thinking. We spend almost half our waking hours lost in thought. It becomes most obvious to us when we limit distractions around us – like when we meditate. Our only task during meditation is to notice our thoughts that pop up – and let them go. Try labeling them. The next time the mind wanders off about something, say: “thinking,” and gently return to the breath.
Lack of Time
Many feel they don’t have time to dedicate to meditation daily. If you are faced with a lack of time, try shorter sessions, even 5 minutes is enough to experience results. Schedule it into your routine, such as after you brush your teeth in the morning. Consistency is more important than duration of each session.
Set realistic goals and create a more consistent schedule. Make meditation a daily habit by integrating it into your daily routine after a set trigger (habit) you already do. For example, after you feed your dog each morning. You can might consider joining a meditation group or using meditation apps for support and accountability.
Expecting Immediate Results
Don’t expect immediate results. Meditation is gradual. Be open-minded and remain patient. Instead of focusing on immediate results, observe the subtle changes in your mental state and well-being that happen over time.
Meditation develops with practice – which means daily consistent effort for brief moments of time. It is NORMAL to encounter challenges. Be patient and have compassion with yourself. Find approaches that resonate with you and that keep you motivated. If focus is an issue, maybe use your breath, or mala beads or guided meditations on an app or YouTube.