Meditation might be the biggest self-care trend since yoga, and for good reason—it’s been shown to help with everything from easing anxiety to boosting your sex life. Problem is, meditation isn't quite as simple as it seems, and it doesn't come easy for everyone. If you’ve tried (and tried, and tried) meditating to no avail, you’re not alone. Here, Elisha Goldstein, PhD, co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles and featured expert on Meditation Studio, solves the most common meditation problems so you can finally find your Zen.
I can’t clear my mind
Legs crossed, eyes closed, body relaxed—you’re all ready for a meditation session. There’s just one problem: you can’t stop thinking about all those errands on your to-do list, that fight you just had with your sister, or what you’re going to make for dinner. Sound familiar? Try as we might, sometimes it’s downright impossible to totally empty our minds. “It’s easy to get frustrated because we have certain expectations about what meditation is supposed to be like,” says Goldstein. “There’s this misconception that meditation is supposed to be concentration. But it’s not.”
If you’re having trouble staying focused, Goldstein suggests trying mindfulness meditation. With this type of meditation, the goal is not to completely clear your mind of all thoughts; instead, it's to be fully aware of your thoughts and surroundings in the present moment. “If your mind wanders that’s perfectly fine, just realize your mind is going off and be aware of that,” Goldstein says. Most importantly, he points out: “It’s perfectly okay to be imperfect about this practice.”
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I get restless
Many people feel fidgety when they try to meditate. Just because you struggle to sit still, though, Goldstein says you shouldn't assume meditation is not for you. “The only way we can be more at ease and at peace with our lives is to learn how to deal with that restlessness differently, and to learn how to settle it down,” he says. Test out different types of meditation. Your restlessness may be well suited for a walking meditation, in which you focus on staying mentally present while moving your body.
It’s physically painful to sit still
When you imagine somebody meditating, you may picture them sitting cross-legged on the floor. That may be the ideal position for some, but ultimately, you just need to get into a comfortable position that allows you to relax and breathe, whether you're sitting on a mediation cushion or a chair, or even lying down, Goldstein says. Take a few deeps breaths, and really try to soften your muscles. The main goal: “Come to a place where you’re settling in and taking the time for you,” Goldstein says.
I don’t have enough time
Ask yourself: If I’m not going to take care of myself, who will? Just like working out, taking time for this self-care practice can do a world of good for your body. Studies have shown that mediation may sharpen memory, ease chronic pain, reduce depression and anxiety, improve sleep, and more. “It has to do with committing to ourselves,” says Goldstein.
Plus, meditation doesn't need to last for hours and hours. You can start with as little as three minutes a day, says Goldstein, and build up to a longer practice later. Just be sure to make it a non-negotiable part of your day.
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It makes me fall asleep
So you finally found the time to meditate, and two minutes in you’re out like a light. While falling asleep mid-practice isn’t the goal, it’s also not necessarily a bad thing. “I prescribe meditation to go to bed all the time, it’s a great thing to help turn the volume down on your mind,” says Goldstein. To do this intentionally, lie down on your bed, play a guided meditation, and allow yourself to drift to dreamland. “The goal is of course to be awake,” he says. “But if all you have time for is a meditation as you fall asleep, that’s totally fine.”
If you’re prone to drowsiness, but are determined to stay awake for a full session, Goldstein suggests picking a time of day when you tend to be less tired, or doing a little stretch before you begin your practice. “That helps with energy, and promotes better meditation.”
I can't stick with it
So you tried to make meditation a priority for a few days, but then totally dropped the habit. That doesn't mean you shouldn't pick the practice back up. “There’s this phrase I really like to use: forgive, investigate, and invite,” Goldstein says. First, forgive yourself for missing a few sessions. Then, Godstein advises, ask yourself what got in your way. Did you forget to plan it into your day? Did something unexpected come up? No matter the reason, Goldstein says it’s simply important to identify the obstacle, and then invite yourself to try again. “If you do that alone—stopping and starting your practice over and over again in your life—you’ll become a master at meditation.
I won't be good at it
There’s often an underlying fear of failure at the root of this hesitation, says Goldstein. Question your self-doubt, and work with it instead. “Vulnerability is oftentimes where we learn to trust ourselves," Goldstein says.