One of the most common comments I hear from people in class is that they cannot meditate. It usually comes as, ‘I can’t sit still,’ ‘my mind is racing,’ ‘it’s amazing how much stuff comes into my head.’ Sometimes people say, ‘I had a great meditation last week — I finally got it, but this time, it was awful.’ Sometimes people fall asleep. Sometimes they zone out. Sometimes they walk out. Most people have heard by now why it’s good to do, but most don’t bother because they think they can’t.
Here’s why you, yes you, should meditate anyway!
Case 1: Can’t sit still, can’t quiet my mind, can’t stop thinking
Why should you do it anyway? The benefits of trying, just trying, to concentrate are documented by Harvard University and other doctors. By sitting there focusing on your breath or a mantra, being distracted, and trying to not be, you get physical and emotional benefits, including:
- reduced stress
- better digestion
- improved sexual function
- increased immune functon
Plus the practice you’re doing helps you concentrate at other times in your life, like on the job, on the athletic course, on your hobbies.
Case 2: Sometimes it’s good, but other times it’s bad
Why do it all the time? First, you get all the benefits of Case 1, and in addition, while it seems that you’re either succeeding or failing, you are actually getting better and better. Even the Yoga Sutras noted this, saying that the practice becomes strong when practiced consistently (I.13). Enjoy the easy times, but just consider the other times as necessary housecleaning of your consciousness.
Case 3: I fall asleep
Why do it if it’s just going to be a nap? Do it in order to try to find the point where you begin to go under. That transition is a signpost. If you can hold yourself there, you are well established in the sensory withdrawal that makes the quieter states of meditation possible. Some people can’t relax — you’re just coming toward the right place from the opposite side. (Staying conscious while almost asleep is formalized in the practice of yoga nidra, which is very restorative.)
So, please can’t it be easier?!
Even if I’ve convinced you that you should keep trying to meditate, or if you believe me that you’re already meditating despite your discomforts and distractions, or you want to find a way to avoid nodding off, now what?
These tips will apply to almost everyone, but there’s no substitute to working with a qualified meditation teacher.
- Get a comfortable seat established. The third of Pantangali’s 8 limbs of yoga is asana, which translates as a “comfortable, steady seat.” All those other postures you do are to help you balance, stretch and strengthen to find that seat. In the meantime, lean on the wall if your back always aches halfway through, and if your legs fall asleep, prop up on enough blankets or cushions to get your seat at the same level as your thighs in a cross legged seat (or even use a chair).
- Learn some techniques. Just sitting there is the hardest way to get still. There is a technology to finding those “in the zone” moments. Get to a class or find a teacher.
- Stick with it. My guru, Alan Finger, challenges people to start by meditating for 3 minutes a day, joking that it would be embarrassing to have to admit that you can’t take being alone with yourself for even that much time. Soon the 3 turns to 5 and so on.
- Give yourself feedback. Notice what’s coming from your practice. Perhaps an idea came to you (this article came to me!) Perhaps you remembered someone afterwards and that person called you. Maybe your fuse was a little longer with the kids or the boss or the significant other. Maybe you treated yourself to a walk at lunch when you usually work through it. Maybe your digestion improves. Just stay aware to the subtle changes that evolve.
Good luck — and let us know how it’s going!
Peter teaches meditation class alternating Wednesday nights at ISTHA Yoga.
About the Author: Peter Ferko, (www.peterferko.com), writes about finding “Grace” in everyday life for Happiness Series. He pursues happiness on several fronts. He has been practicing yoga for more than 20 years and is a teacher at ISHTA Yoga in New York where he trains new teachers. He is an artist in several media, including writing, photography, music, and graphic design. His latest project is a novel in which the main characters are all looking for a way to gracefully negotiate their lives, and it’s no surprise they are turning to yoga as a path. Peter’s work can be found at www.peterferko.com.