7 common confusions about meditation
The topic of meditation can throw up some questions, confusions and misunderstandings that get in the way of trying or continuing with a meditation practice. I include meditation in some form in all of my e-courses and this often provokes discussion with my course participants about issues they have with meditation. So, I'm going to tackle some of the most common issues I get asked about and hopefully you'll feel encouraged to give meditation another go or try it for the first time.
However much I try I can't make my mind go blank
The good news is you can stop trying because meditation isn't about emptying your mind or making it go blank (it's pretty impossible to do so). When we meditate we can focus on one thing, such as the breath or repeating a mantra, or we can shift out attention intentionally from one sense to another, such as from how our feet feel to what we can hear. We're not thinking of everything at the same time, we're being intentional and focusing on one thing at a time. I find the simplest focus for meditation is your breath because it's always with you.
My mind won't stay on one thing, thoughts about work, all the stuff I have to do, what to have for dinner, and a million other things pop into my head
While our intention is to focus our attention on one thing, the mind is going to wander off to other thoughts over and over again. It just will so there's no need to get cross with yourself or think you're rubbish at meditating or doing it wrong. It's called meditation practice for a reason, in time and with practice you train your mind to stay focused for longer. Noticing your mind has wandered off to other thoughts is part of meditating and actually shows that you're increasing your awareness because you've noticed your mind wandering. Every time you realise you're distracted just bring your attention back to whatever is the focus of the meditation. When you notice your attention has wandered again, bring it back to the focus. And again. And again. It doesn't matter how many times your thoughts drift off, what matters is that you notice and come back to what you're focusing on for the meditation.
Meditation makes me want to go to sleep
There are a number of reasons for this and one of them could be that you need more sleep! The time of day you meditate can have quite an impact on how you feel. I find that if I meditate in the afternoon I can feel sleepy and my mind wanders off more than if I meditate in the morning. A very relaxed sitting posture can contribute to an urge to nod off so have a look at how you sit when you meditate. Ideally you want to be in a firm chair, with both feet flat on the ground and your back a little away from the back of the chair so it's self-supporting but not stiff. Work with the furniture you have and what feels comfortable for you, and aim for an alert, wakeful posture. You can also try mindful movement rather than sitting meditation…
I wish I could move and meditate at the same time, sitting still in silence makes me anxious
When we're using to being busy and there's lots going on around us it can feel quite alien, uncomfortable even, to be in silence and not moving for meditation. First of all, you don't need to close your eyes, you can simply lower your gaze to a spot on the ground in front of you. Listening to a guided meditation where a voice is talking you through the meditation step by step can help with the issue of silence and make it feel like you're with a friend (as long as you like the person's voice of course!). If being still is an issue you can try mindful movement as a meditation instead. Chi kung (qi gong) is an ancient Chinese healing exercise that integrates movement, breathing and intention. It's a simple sequence of movements that allow you to focus on your breath while moving your body. This video is a great introduction to mindful movement if you want to try it. Meditating can also be practised more informally…
Do you have to be sitting down in silence to be meditating?
Not necessarily. A formal practice is more beneficial when you're in a peaceful place where you can be undisturbed for a period of time. You can be sitting, lying down or standing as long as you're comfortable and wakeful (if you're prone to feeling sleepy lying down may not be a good idea). However, you can also practice a more informal mindful form of meditation wherever you are. For example, when you're at work you can take a few moments to focus on an object on the desk, noticing its colour, shape, texture. Or when you're on the train or bus you can bring your attention to your breath, where you feel it most clearly as you inhale and exhale. As you walk down the street or through a park you can focus on the sounds you can hear or the sensation of each foot has it makes contact with the ground. Have a look at my guide to taking a mindful walk in this post. What's important is that you take your experience for what it is, without judging or making up a story. You're in that moment, focusing on the form of an object, the feel of your breath or your feet on the ground just as it is, there and then.
I don't want to focus on my breath so I guess that means I can't meditate
The breath is only one focus for meditation, there are several different ways to meditate. You can do a body scan where you bring your attention to your feet and slowly work your way up your body, focusing on each part of your body, one at a time, until you reach the top of your head. Or a sitting meditation where you focus on how your body feels sitting in the chair, then the sounds you can hear, then the feelings you're experiencing and then noticing thoughts come and go in your mind. There's loving-kindness meditation where you repeat a series of words to send compassion to yourself and others. Choiceless awareness meditation involves observing your mind wandering where it pleases from your breath to thoughts to feelings to sound and noticing each movement and its flow from one to the next. And there's mindful movement as I've mentioned above. All meditation asks you to be in the moment, without judgement, just as you are. I suggest you try different forms of meditation to see what you feel comfortable with and perhaps mix up your practice so that you don't get bored.
Meditation takes up too much time, I'm too busy for it
Meditation isn't something you need to devote great chunks of time to. Although more time spent meditating is more beneficial, some time is better than no time. As I've mentioned above, you can meditate in just a few minutes when you're at work or out and about, as well as sitting in a more formal practice. But even this can be five or ten minutes, you don't need to devote more time if you don't have it. There's a wealth of research that shows how beneficial spending time meditating each day is for your wellbeing and mental health so you might discover that finding a few minutes each day to slow down your body and mind, focus your attention on one thing and take a few breaths, feels worth it for the feeling of calm you gain. Meditating isn't all or nothing. If you meditate every day that's great and if you do it once in a while that's good too. Just as we have a new day every 24 hours so we have a fresh opportunity to meditate every time we make that decision.
If you have any questions about meditation that I haven't covered here do let me know and I'll do my best to answer them!
From everything I've learned from my own experiences starting and sticking to a rewarding meditation habit I have created Exhale – a beginners' guide to meditation for overthinkers. We start with just three minutes meditating a day, building up gradually over time (you go at your own pace), we explore different ways of meditating, troubleshoot stumbling blocks, here from women who are fitting meditation into their busy work and family lives and you receive ten recorded guided meditations and a whole stack of resources. Take a look at Exhale – a beginners' guide to meditation for overthinkers here and find out how you can calm your mind and soothe your nerves with a simple practice.