A common barrier to getting a meditation practice off of the ground is the distractions of the body and the mind. Physical discomfort and the busy mind can lead you to thinking that meditation is not for you. That is certainly what I thought when I started a practice. Learning to witness these distractions without getting pulled into them, however, is an important part of the mindfulness meditation journey.
I thought that I would share a few tips to help you quiet the mind while meditating (and in life in general):
Make meditation a priority and choose a time to meditate. If you choose a time to meditate as part of your schedule than you are more likely to stay focused on the meditation and less likely to feel pulled in different directions. You can start with shorter sessions in the beginning. Right when you get up or before you go to bed are good times to practice.
Keep an alert but comfortable posture. If you slouch, you won’t be in a good position for meditation and you’re more likely to feel like falling asleep. Align your posture so that your body is straight and aligned and you’ll feel more open to the world. Take some time to find a comfortable position to address any bodily discomfort that you can ahead of the meditation. You may, for instance, start with your back against the wall or against a pillow until your body is ready to sit upright for a prolonged period without support.
Focus on an anchor. Usually the anchor is the breath or a mantra. The breath is something that is always accessible to you and is a natural way to calm the nervous system. For some though the breath can be a really difficult or impossible anchor. Examples of other anchors to focus on are the sounds around and within you, body parts and sensations, and a special word or phrase.
Use breath counting. One effective strategy for settling the mind is to count up to 10 with each breath. If you lose track of the count (which you will), then simply start again at one. It can be a very effective way to calm the busy mind. Once the mind settles, then you can return to the breath or the other anchor you have chosen. Or you can stick with breath counting as your meditation. It is an effective approach all on its own.
Labeling. Sometimes all it takes is to acknowledge and label what is distracting you. Name what the mind is doing – daydreaming, worrying, planning. “Ah, that’s the planning mind…” Then gently return your attention back to your anchor. Don’t be frustrated by these thoughts and don’t let thoughts take your attention completely away. Acknowledge your thoughts and then bring your focus back to your breath (or other anchor).
And perhaps you know or discover that a sitting meditation is not for you. But all hope is not lost. Moving meditations may be more your cup of tea such as a walking meditation, yoga, or qigong.