Six meditation challenges and how I handle them in tangible steps. Planning, pledging, and persistence can help us all reap the benefits of mindfulness.
Disclaimer: If you are looking for a meditation 101, or meditation coaching, this is not the post that dives deep into meditation techniques. I do share, however, ways that help me to remain centered, in the hope that they are of use to you.
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What is Mindfulness?
As Dr. Rangan Chatterjee states in his book How to make disease disappear: “My definition of mindfulness is to be attentive and present to what you’re doing at the moment. It’s about stillness.”
This definition resonates with me, primarily because it defines mindfulness simply. If we can be present in the moment, neither ruminating about the past nor worrying about the future, I think, we can be calm.
The problem – it is difficult in practice, at least it was for me for a long time: a lot earlier, lesser now. But indeed it’s a work in progress.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is essentially a subset of mindfulness and all meditation practices should help us attain mindfulness.
The meditation classes that I’ve taken had different techniques, but all of them around focusing in the moment. In practice, call it mindfulness, call it meditation, both of them indicate being calm and been present. In this article, I use the words mindfulness and meditation interchangeably.
My Meditation Journey in a nutshell
After having health issues a year-and-a-half ago, I explored ways to heal myself. In this endeavor, I converged to a four-step plan which went in tandem: Meditation, Diet, Exercise, and Sleep.
However, making meditation a routine and a non-negotiable practice, was a challenge. Thankfully, I have been practicing for almost a year now, and can positively say that it has helped me tremendously.
Today, I meditate for almost twenty minutes in the morning and in the evening. To avoid monotony, I practice different kinds of deep breathing exercises.
Why this article?
As I write this post, I acknowledge that mindfulness is highly personal, and what works for one might not work for another. Sitting with my eyes closed and focusing on breathing is meditation for me. For my husband; however, hiking is meditative.
Yet, I take this plunge to pen these notes down to share the challenges that I face and tools to handle those.
The hope is to share my mindfulness experience and hopefully help someone juggling between things and, in these times, find it difficult to be centered.
How to learn Meditation?
Although I’ve done a few courses where I learned meditation practices, I believe that one doesn’t necessarily need a guide to learn and practice meditation.
Meditation is coloring with my son (while being not distracted by the phone), watering the plants in our kitchen garden, taking a walk in the woods, reading, loading the dishwasher – mostly doing everything by being present in the moment.
A few of us might be gifted already in this regard, and the rest of us, need to bring in the discipline and resolve to be our healthier selves.
What are a few helpful Meditation techniques?
You may find one of the following, or other techniques that work for you. Only a gentle recommendation: please try to be consistent with it. Five minutes every day has worked out way better for me than once-a-while thirty minutes sessions.
- Deep Breathing: 3-4-5 breathing exercise, for example, says breathe in for three seconds, hold for four seconds, and then breathe out for five [Chatterjee et al., 2018]. You may choose to wear loose clothes, keep your eyes closed while you perform this.
- Mantra Meditation: If you have a mantra or chant that you like, you may repeat it a certain number of times for a few minutes as you tend towards that state of calm.
- Taking a walk in nature: A calm, gadget-free walk can be meditative too.
- Using Mindfulness Apps, like Calm.
- Sitting with closed eyes and just letting the thoughts pass, without being judgemental.
And I’m sure there are more techniques out there for us to learn and practice!
Six Challenges and How I overcome them
1. Limited Time
Time is something that we all are up against and might feel we have no time to meditate, sit still, or spend a few moments with ourselves. Although it is an ongoing struggle, the following ways have helped me, and I hope they help you too.
- Waking up an hour or two before my son, keeping the phone away, sipping a hot cup of water calmly, or practice breathing exercises starts the day at a relaxing note.
- No Phone by the bedside: Although it sounds mundane, it has been a life-changer for me! Browsing on the phone seems like unwinding but mostly leaves me drained. If you feel the same, you may want to try distancing yourself from the device well before bedtime. Doing so gives more than half-an-hour to unwind, relax, or read.
It has been almost four months now since I have the bedroom as a no-phone zone, and it has been a sure-shot key to practicing mindfulness.
- Small Meditation Sessions: If short of time to meditate during the day, you may want to cut the sessions down into smaller chunks. Concentrating on the breath for just ten minutes, while waiting for an appointment, for example, can help a great deal.
2. A long to-do list
We have all been there, with a growing to-do list, and being overwhelmed. The answer to that for me has been prioritizing. I had shared a post on “essentialism,” and to me, that book hits the nail on the head. Prioritize one activity for the day, and it alleviates the stress significantly.
“How does it help meditate,” you ask? If I know the scope of my work for the day, I can meditate instead of thinking about my endless to-do list.
Going a bit further, you may want to put mindfulness on that very to-do list every day. It may sound trivial, but writing it down takes us one step towards implementing it.
3. The Multi-Tasking Habit
I’ve been a proud multi-tasker. Never did I imagine that I’d be striving for single-tasking! It has been a revelation that many times single-tasking can be a way to be calm.
I challenge myself every day to perform at least a couple of chores without thinking about listening to a podcast in parallel or conversing over the phone.
The latter are relaxing and enriching too, but you may want to see if you are falling into the trap of not being able to do one task at a time. This trap is diametrically opposite to mindfulness and might overwhelm one in the long run.
Therefore, in a nutshell, I reserve sometime in a day where I deliberately don’t multi-task.
Mindfulness can keep anxiety at bay, but ironically, for me, the latter is the biggest hurdle to practice mindfulness.
So every time I sit to meditate if the mind wanders and starts to get worrying thoughts, I try to smile, relax, observe the thought, and not act.
Also, I try putting an alarm so that I don’t have to think about how long I meditated for and if it is time to get up. It took almost a month for my mind to get accustomed to the fact that I’m not giving up, and the thoughts can come, rest and leave.
5. Unclear Motivation
My mind does this to me: It provides a rationale as to “why” not to do meditation, considering I have many things on my plate like work, playing with my son, or cooking.
I have a simple counter to that now: Write down the greater sense of “why I want to meditate.”
My why is as follows: meditation centers me and prepares me to be more efficient during the day – be it work, attending to my son, or being in a conversation.
This “why” helps me when counter thoughts come my way. As I had shared in the article on “10 foods to eat every day,” writing down the “why” makes the task half-done!
What is your big “why” to meditate? It could be health, being less distracted, or being more productive.
6. Lethargy/Body Aches
Another challenge that I faced in being still was lethargy and body aches. There might be soreness in the body where our attention goes to as soon as we try to sit still.
One thing that helped me in this regard was getting up and moving. Being physically active and mentally calm goes hand in hand.
Therefore, I try to do a few warm-up exercises preceding meditation. You might experience that any activity makes reflection way more effective.
A Parting Note
In summary, our mindfulness journey might be bumpy in the beginning but is very rewarding. And, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Once we have the “why” clear in our mind and prioritize mindfulness every day, it can help us be calm and healthy!
1.”How to make disease disappear”, Rangan Chatterjee M.D.