There are days when you feel like you can conquer the world, and other days when you feel like the world is out to get you. I don’t know about you, but on the good days, my meditations are incredible – easy, relaxing, and full of joy. On days when I’m struggling, my meditations struggle, too – and I wonder if I’m even benefitting. Those days are when I need my meditations to support me the most.
If you find yourself struggling, your meditations may need to shift to make sure you’re getting the most out of them. What works one day may not work the next, or it may need to be adjusted in some way.
In this article, I outline the things that have supported me over the years when I’ve found obstacles in my meditation practice. I hope my learnings help you get the most from your meditations, too!
1. Make Sure You’re Getting Quality Sleep
If you find that low energy or sleepiness is making it difficult to meditate, take heed. Being tired during meditation does not necessarily mean that your meditations are making you sleepy – it likely means that you’re not getting enough restful sleep.
Check in with yourself to see if your body needs more sleep, or if your sleep hasn’t felt restful or restorative. If you’re not getting enough restful sleep, your mind may be cloudy, and this could get in the way of your meditations. Try to go to sleep earlier or incorporate mindful habits to help you sleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep, try these tricks to calm your racing mind and get to sleep faster.
2. Start with a Clear Mind
I find that I struggle the most with my meditations when something is heavy on my mind when I sit to meditate. For example, when I check my email right before I meditate, often there’s something I need to respond to lingering in my mind as I meditate. My mind will wander to that situation or email over and over again during meditation.
To avoid this trap, I don’t check my email in the morning before I meditate. I get up and sit and don’t even turn my phone on until after I meditate in the morning. This allows me to start my meditations with a clear mind and clean slate for the day.
3. Choose One Anchor
I enjoy different types of meditations, and there is nothing wrong with that. And – you can’t practice them all at once.
The main point here is to choose one style for each meditation. You can’t do a compassion meditation at the same time that you’re using a primordial sound mantra and focusing on your exhales. Choose just one anchor per meditation and your mind will thank you for the focus.
4. Breathe First
You may notice that some days your mind slips into meditation easily and effortlessly, and other days, it takes the mind more effort to settle. This is normal. Practicing some conscious breathing before you meditate may help your mind settle more swiftly, especially on those days when it’s more difficult to settle.
5. Focus on Your Less Dominant Senses
Another way to settle your mind for meditation, is to begin by consciously focusing on your less dominant senses. This is a departure from normal life; we are so accustomed to using our dominant senses of sight and hearing. While there is nothing innately wrong with this, those senses draw the attention outward.
On the other hand, the underused senses of touch, smell, and taste assist the mind to shift to the internal state. Here are a few examples and ways to focus on your less dominant senses to support your meditations. As you sit to meditate, try focusing on one of these senses:
- Kinesthetic / Sense of Touch: Notice the temperature of where you are, tune into the fabric of your clothes against the tips of your fingers, draw your awareness to a breeze across your face, or notice the texture of your skin.
- Sense of Smell: Before you sit for meditation, choose an aromatic object of focus – something pleasing – whether that is a candle, incense, essential oil, a flower, or a cup of tea. As you close your eyes, draw the aroma to your nose and tune into your sense of smell.
- Sense of Taste: Choose something delicious to focus on, such as a piece of chocolate, an orange, a breath freshener or hard candy, or a cup of tea. As you close your eyes, allow your attention to shift to the inside of your mouth as it focuses on and experiences the flavor.
As your conscious mind places its attention on one of the less dominant senses, notice how the mind transitions to a more relaxed, calmer mood. Observe what happens physiologically to your body as you tune into each of these senses one at a time. Once you tune into one of your underutilized senses, you can move to your regular meditation from a calmer, more focused place.
6. Move Your Body
The practice of yoga asana — the physical aspect of yoga that is now widely practiced in the West – originally began as a way to prepare the mind to sit for long periods of time in meditation. This is because once the body has a chance to move, the mind and body have an easier time sitting still.
If you find yourself restless, having a tough time sitting still, or your mind racing, try to move your body before meditation. Yoga, stretching, or a short walk may be just what you need to settle in for meditation.
7. Avoid Distractions
To support your mind and body to drop into a meditative state, make sure your phone is off or on silent (that means no vibrate!) and you won’t be interrupted.
It’s also a good idea to meditate in the same place each day, separate from other activities. If this is possible, make sure the space is somewhere you can feel comfortable and isn’t one where you participate in stressful work or conversations. It doesn’t have to be a dedicated room, but perhaps it’s a corner of a room that is devoted to your meditation practice. If you meditate in your bed or at your desk, there is a tendency to stay in the mode of the space (i.e. sleep or work), which can be distracting when you meditate. Try to keep it separate and see if it makes a difference.
8. Don’t Judge Yourself
We all have days and moments where we aren’t at our best – whether that be at work, in relationships, in hobbies, or in meditation. Just because you had a profound experience in meditation yesterday, doesn’t mean that your meditation this morning was terrible because it wasn’t as profound. And if your meditation felt like a struggle one day, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong or you’ll have a tough experience tomorrow. Some days will be better than others, like everything in life.
Observe this, accept it, and move on. You’ll feel a lot better than if you self-judge, compare, and critique your meditations.
Try one or all of these ways to ease into your meditations, and see if it makes a difference in helping you get the most from your meditation practice.