The practice of meditation goes far beyond the connection to the spiritual and religious. Science and medicine have measured the effects of meditation on the brain, and consider it to be one of the best activities a person can do to naturally relieve anxiety, improve mental concentration, and even help with feelings of pain. But if you’ve never tried to meditate before, you can run into some problems when you first begin. These X problems are commonly experienced by beginners, and here’s how you can overcome them.
You just can’t stop thinking.
This is the number one complaint that beginners give when asked why they aren’t continuing their meditation practice. You sit down into a comfortable position, take a few calming breaths, and then…a grocery list flits into your head, reminding you that you’ve been out of oatmeal for weeks. Maybe you suddenly realize that you forgot to clock out at work, or you recall an old memory out of the blue. Whatever it is, your brain just will not “be quiet” for your meditation time.
One of the reasons that this is commonly reported is because people have been falsely led to believe that they are supposed to have a totally empty mind during meditation. But in fact, your brain can never truly be silent. Instead, the goal is to become an impartial observer of your own thoughts, developing an awareness of the fact that you are thinking, and allowing each thought to naturally drift away. For beginners, focus on counting your breathing, or chanting a simple mantra, to teach the mind to be still for longer periods.
You fall asleep during meditation.
This is another common obstacle that beginner’s face when starting a meditation practice. With such busy lives that are constantly filled with stimuli (from the TV, our phones, the radio, visual advertisements, etc.), taking a moment to seek out a quiet space can be a signal to the brain to get some well-deserved rest. If you find yourself nodding off during meditation, only to jerk awake again a moment later, you aren’t alone.
But if you are trying to use meditation to improve your mental abilities and reduce stress, you’ll probably want to start staying awake for your sessions. Practice focusing on your posture more, and don’t meditate in bed or surrounded by pillows. Try walking meditation to keep your body alert, or change the temperature of the room so that your body isn’t comfortable enough to fall asleep.
Meditation is uncomfortable or physically painful.
If you aren’t accustomed to kneeling or sitting in a cross-legged position for any length of time, then you’ve likely experienced this one: you prepare yourself for a classic session of meditation, placing your hands palm-up on your bent knees, and take a breath…till your knees begin to cramp or you feel painful tingling in your legs.
The fact is that meditation can be done in many postures, not just the yogi pretzel position. The most important factor is that you are sitting or standing with good posture. This is important because it allows the body to breathe deeply and fully, which is a key part of meditation. Use a rolled up towel or blanket under your bottom if you find it hard to sit on the floor, or simply sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
If you’ve ever walked away from a meditation session wondering if you’ve just wasted 10 minutes because you don’t feel any different, then you understand this common complaint. It’s not unusual to feel as though nothing was really accomplished after sitting still for a few minutes.
However, it’s important to remember that there is no “success” or “failure” in meditation. There’s no specific way that you should feel when you’re done. If you don’t feel refreshed or energized, you didn’t do it wrong. Just like it’s hard to notice any improvement when learning to play an instrument for the first time, meditation takes time to see any of the benefits. Your mental acuity, happiness, calm, and so on, will improve as you work your brain muscle more.
Not Just Beginners
Finally, always remember that these complaints aren’t just obstacles faced by beginners. Meditation practices can have ups and downs, especially as our lives change and develop. Even seasoned meditation pros can experience any of these common problems during their practice.
Just as with the pains of the body and the uncomfortable sensations of the mind when first beginning, it’s important to approach every mediation session with a complete lack of judgment or expectation.