Meditation is a popular and widely used tool for stress management, emotional regulation, chronic pain reduction, and relaxation. Although this is a simple practice that requires nothing more than a quiet space, comfortable posture, and focus, it is very common to encounter meditation challenges to this seemingly effortless exercise.
Here are some of the most common obstacles that most people face and some tips on how to meditate more effectively.
Mental Restlessness or Monkey Mind
The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind, or at least that is what most people want to achieve with meditation. It may feel easy to stop thinking for a few seconds, maybe even a few minutes, but the longer you meditate, the more difficult this will become. Meditation for patients with chronic pain might be especially difficult, their brains are inundated with pain signals and thoughts about their pain.
Mental restlessness, or monkey mind, seems to increase particularly when you are new to meditation because you are eliminating all the things that typically distract you away from your thoughts. Whether it is watching tv, eating, exercising, or deep diving into YouTube tutorial videos, there are countless ways to distract yourself from your ruminating thoughts. Meditation is a practice in which you are purposefully and intentionally going inward, so there is nothing to numb out the mind chattering.
You are finally paying attention to your thoughts, something that has not been done before, so you’re just becoming more aware of how noisy and demanding your thoughts and feelings have always been.
Remedy: Remember, the goal in meditation is not to have zero thoughts or to keep thoughts out, that is practically impossible. The goal of meditation is to non-judgmentally notice what is arising within you and allow it to be as it is, without resistance. It may feel uncomfortable and challenging but it does get better with time.
Finding the time to meditate can be one of the biggest meditation challenges. Most of us have an already demanding schedule, so adding one more thing to do in our day can seem like a tall order. That is why it is recommended to start small and simple; a 5 min practice is enough to give you a good start. Just giving yourself 5 min a day can jump start a routine, and making your practice a daily ritual is the best way to make it stick. Meditation for chronic pain patients seems to be hard to fit into a routine, when life has very little routine.
Remedy: Find an optimal time of day (morning, afternoon, evening) and stick to it! Try to avoid meditating “when you have the time” because truthfully, you will always find something more pressing to do instead. Start with a simple 5 min practice and then gradually add more time.
Family members and pets
Chances are, you don’t live alone. Young children and pets sometimes make meditating challenging and finding just one minute of silence is difficult enough, let alone trying to meditate for 10 minutes! When you are ready to adopt a meditation practice, it’s important to get the ‘buy in’ from your family. Having an open and honest conversation about why you are doing it and why it’s important is often enough justification for you to have some precious time to yourself. Set a fixed time aside, warn your family members that you are not to be disturbed, close the door, and get it done.
If asking for some alone time is not feasible, invite your family to join in the practice. Some people find that their pets will start to lie down beside their owners during meditation, so let your furry friends be by your side. Children also gravitate toward meditation pretty effortlessly so perhaps organize your practice to involve your family members.
Remedy: Talk to the members of your household and let them know that meditation time is sacred and you are not to be disturbed. Try meditating before children wake up or after they are dropped off at school or when they go to bed. Invite your pets and family members to join in on your practice.
This is a very common issue for most people. Typically, falling asleep during meditation is really just about the fact that you are exhausted and mediation is your first opportunity to relax. It makes sense that you will fall asleep if you are sleep deprived and physically drained. For this meditation challenge, posture is everything!
Remedy: Sit rather than lay down and ensure your back is straight. Always try to meditate when you are the most awake, often this is after your first cup of coffee in the morning or sometime midday. Another option is to try movement meditation; walking or gentle yoga postures can help keep you alert.
How can you feel all zen when the dog keeps barking and the kids playing outside just won’t shut up? Noises may bother you at first as you will find them distracting but this is a good opportunity to practice non-striving, non-judgment and letting go.
Remedy: Meditate in the quietest place in your home BUT resolve to allow noises to be as they are. Practice the art of non-judgment and letting go, when you hear a noise, acknowledge it and then redirect your focus back to your breath. In time, noise won’t bother you and it will become part of your practice.
For those of you who suffer from chronic pain or are physically ill, you may notice more discomfort at first as your attention may go directly to pain, discomfort, an itchy nose or a stiff lower back. It is important to understand that this is normal and that you are not hurting yourself or doing damage during meditation. Like thoughts and other distractions, notice where your attention goes, acknowledge without judgement, and refocus on the breath.
Remedy: Make sure to have a posture that supports your body, lying down or astronauts pose is a great option. Also ensure to meditate at a time when you are not in a lot of physical discomfort, this may be as soon as you wake up or right before bed. When discomfort arises, see if it’s possible for you to be with whatever sensations are there without resistance.
It is not uncommon for mediation bring up past traumas or flashbacks. Painful memories that we have spent a lifetime ignoring and repressing may seem to bubble up to the surface the moment we stop distracting away from them. This can certainly be uncomfortable but it is not abnormal. When we quiet the mind, we are often giving our subconscious the ability to bring up what needs to be healed, so it is a good opportunity to confront painful events from the past or worrying thoughts of the future. Of course, if things get too uncomfortable, you can always stop a mediation and always reach out to a health professional if your thoughts become too much to bear.
Remedy: When uncomfortable emotions arise, try to acknowledge them without judgment and let them pass. Like thoughts, you can learn to watch them and let them go. Contact a therapist or other health professional if meditation challenges get too difficult to manage on your own.
It’s possible to overcome meditation challenges by addressing the issues head on. Meditation challenges for patients with chronic pain are greater, but that’s nothing that a Spoonie cannot do! Don’t throw in the towel just yet!