People often shout about the merits of meditation — and, turns out, there’s science to back it up.
Research has shown that meditation not only reduces stress and improves sleep, but it also can improve our relationship with others.
Plus, some studies suggest that meditation can even change the structure of the brain, increasing gray-matter density in the hippocampus — a part of the brain that’s responsible for learning, memory and emotional regulation.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that meditation is a common tool in therapies, such as Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).
Struggling to meditate?
We get it. Meditating can be a little daunting if you haven’t done it before. And there’s always a few bumps in the road when you first start.
Doubts may creep in. Your mind is going to wander (that’s normal, by the way!) Or perhaps you feel so restless that it feels impossible to sit still.
Understanding these obstacles is half the battle. Because once you get to grips with the usual meditation pitfalls you might find that meditation gets a little easier. And before you know it, it might become part of your daily routine.
That’s why, in honour of World Meditation Day, we decided to give you a few pointers on how to get the most out of your meditation practice.
Common meditation pitfalls and how to avoid them
Are you finding it difficult to meditate? Here are a few common stumbling blocks and what you can to do to circumvent them.
“Am I doing this right?” It’s a common question for anyone who starts meditation. But, the truth is, there’s no ‘right’ way to meditate, so don’t be so hard on yourself. Trust that your mind and body will guide you towards what feels right. And remember that showing up is the most important step.
During meditation, we use our breath to anchor us in the here and now. But try not to overthink it or exaggerate it. Simply follow it naturally.
Accept your feelings
Meditation isn’t about spacing out or running away from our feelings. If anything, it’s about accepting them, just as they are, without judgement or shame.
When we sit still, we might find that we encounter difficult or painful emotions. Anger, anxiety, worry and shame might pop up — and that’s okay. Usually, we tend to suppress these emotions. But the more we push them down, the more they spring up.
Instead, allow them to be present. Simply give yourself time to validate and process them.
At the end of the day, all emotions serve a purpose, even the negative ones. In time they will eventually pass. So give them the space they need to arise, unravel and fall away.
If the stereotypical image of someone sitting cross-legged doesn’t feel right, scrap it and see what works for you.
Meditation involves sitting, lying or standing for a short period, so you want to get comfortable.
If you’re sitting down, fix your posture and relax your shoulders. Or if you find sitting still challenging, you could even use a cushion, if you’d like.
It’s natural to feel restless during meditation but try not to let your position become a distraction in itself. If you’re uncomfortable or in pain feel free to adjust. But try not to fidget or move too much.
Pick the right time
It’s not uncommon to be sleepy when you first start meditating. You might even find that you nod off to sleep the first few times you practice. If this happens, try meditating at a different time of day or splashing a bit of water on your face before you begin.
Don’t try too hard
When you first start meditating, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying too hard. You might squeeze your eyes and try to force yourself to switch off quickly. Because you believe that if you practice better, you’ll be happier faster.
Or maybe you try so hard to project an idea of what your meditation should look like, that you don’t even give the experience room to breathe.
When this happens, we inevitably get in our own way so try to shift your perspective. Remind yourself that there’s no right way to meditate because there’s no ‘end goal’.
Like a lot of things in life, meditation is more about the journey than the destination, so approach it with curiosity. Then you might find it easier to relax and enjoy your practice, even if it isn’t exactly the way your mind imagined it would be.
Bring your attention to the present moment
Our minds are in overdrive all day. So when you pause to meditate, you may find that it takes a moment or two for you to relax.
You might play the day’s events over and over in your mind. Or perhaps you start planning what you’re going to cook for dinner. If your mind wanders, don’t stress. Simply bring it back to the here and now.
Like learning any new skill, meditation takes practice. But if you stick with it, it could do wonders for your mental wellbeing.
It’s easy to come up with excuses like ‘I don’t have the time to meditate’. Just remember that meditating for 10 minutes a day can bring about significant benefits including increased concentration and better working memory.
If you’re stuck, it might help to meditate at the same time and place each day. Because then it’ll quickly become a habit. And, in time, it’ll get it easier to tune out the chatter and be present in the here and now.