Every day, I receive questions from clients about their struggles in meditation. Many people wonder what to do if their mind wanders, uncomfortable feelings come up, their back or neck hurts, or they find their minds busy with everything other than their meditation cues. What if they aren't feeling what is described? What if they can't visualize? What if they just can't seem to relax, no matter how hard they try? I've discovered four questions you can answer before your meditation practice, that will make the whole process easier, more enjoyable, and successful.
Answer These Four Questions for Success in Meditation
1. What is your routine-specifically?
I divide this question into two parts:
A) What is the technique you're following?
B) What do you do when you're distracted from your technique and/or the technique doesn't seem to be working?
First, let's talk about meditation technique. While all meditation involves some way of guiding your attention, there are many different meditation styles. It's important to understand the specific cues of your meditation practice before you begin. In other words, you've got to know the steps in order.
If you follow a guided meditation audio, this can help-at least until you've learned the sequence well. For example, you might first remind yourself of your intention for meditating, then go through posture cues, then pay attention to your breath or adopt some way of attending to your inner experience, and then know what to do when you find yourself distracted.
You've decided to practice meditation for a reason. You're meditating to get some result. It's important to know what you want to get out of meditation, so you choose a meditation technique that will point you toward that result. For example, many people practice meditation to relax their body, calm their emotions, quiet their minds, and connect to inner wisdom. These are some great reasons to meditate and meditation is one of the best practices to achieve those results.
Unfortunately, many people do not understand the process by which meditation gets to those results. This may lead them to think the practice is harder than it is and/or give up before they've gotten what they desire. It's important to understand what happens during meditation in addition to those great feeling benefits you're seeking.
Some experiences you'll have during meditation may seem to run counter to your expected outcome. For example, when you begin to meditate, you might become more aware of how busy your mind is, how many feelings you have, or how tense your body is. When you experience these things, it would be natural to think, "Hey, this meditation isn't working."
Yet, this is exactly how meditation works. When those experiences, or any others, come up, the practice of meditation is first to recognize them and accept them completely. Rather than trying to get rid of distractions; you notice them, accept them, and even welcome them. The same for negative emotions, self-judgments, tightness in your lower back, a sound in your environment, or anything at all. Accept it all as part of the natural process of meditation.
Just to be real clear on this point, whatever happens as you meditate, recognize it, accept it, and welcome it into awareness. You then have a choice to let it go and return to your meditation cues. This conscious intentional action changes your relationship with whatever is going on inside or around you. You realize that no matter what happens, you have a choice in how you relate to it. This is a powerful realization that can change your life!
So, knowing your meditation cues and what to do when you've wandered from them will make your meditation practice so much more relaxed, easy, and successful. You then understand that anything that happens during meditation is natural and O.K. and you can choose to observe it, let it go, and return to your meditation cues. As you do that again and again, you'll experience the positive benefits of your practice.
2. When will you practice? I am a big proponent of meditating first thing in the morning to shift into a more conscious, intentional mindset for your day. Another great time to meditate is at night, right before bed-time, to unwind from the day and more easily shift into sleep. Meditation can also give you a great break during a stressful day.
For your meditation to be most successful, it is helpful to have one consistent time that you schedule for meditation every day. This builds peaceful, present, clear awareness into your life on a daily basis. Anything you do every 24 hours becomes a consistent part of your baseline experience in the world. When you repeat something once a day it is much easier to return to that experience whenever you need to. So, decide when you will meditate every day and for how long, ahead of time, and adjust your schedule as you see what works best for you.
3. Where will you meditate? Define a specific spot for your practice. Make sure your environment is conducive to meditation, so your practice is more effective and enjoyable. For example, meditate in a quiet, private place, with good air flow, a comfortable seat, and minimal distractions. Silence your cell phone and make sure others know that you're taking some "quiet time," so they won't interrupt you.
4. What resources will you need to be most successful in your practice? Make sure you have everything you need ahead of time and in the location where you'll practice. For example, you'll need a comfortable seat that's the right height. If you're listening to a guided audio, you'll need a CD or mp3 player. Perhaps you want some inspiring pictures or quotes to get you in the mood. If you don't have a quiet environment, you might want some white noise, like a fan, to block out background sound. Make sure you have your resources gathered in the right location ahead of time.
If you answer all four of these questions and do what is needed before you sit to practice, your meditation will be so much easier and more successful.
Now, if you're looking for insight on which meditation technique might work best for you, check out the link in the Resources Box below.