7 Common Barriers to Meditation, and How To Overcome Them

overcome barriers to meditation - blog

Do you have trouble meditating? You’re not alone! Here are 7 common barriers to meditation & some suggestions to help you overcome them.

More people are aware of meditation’s numerous health benefits than ever before. While it seems possible that meditation can help you live a healthier life during the day (and sleep better at night), it can be challenging to create a consistent practice. Below, I describe 7 common challenges and provide suggestions about ways to overcome them.

1—”I’ve never meditated before, and I don’t know how or where to start.”

There are so many resources for meditation these days! It can be overwhelming when you’re just starting out. To prevent you from feeling paralyzed by all the choices, go with your gut and just try one. See how it goes. If it works for you, awesome. If it doesn’t, you can always move on to another one.

Some resources I’ve found useful include: Meditation Made Possible, Opening the Heart meditation), Guided Mindfulness Meditation, and Simply Being.

That said, working with meditation teacher 1-1 (i.e. getting yourself a mentor) is my preference. Until I started working with a real teacher, meditation was difficult and my consistenty was spotty at best. I help my own clients meditate as part of adult sleep coaching. (Meditation doesn’t always look the way you’d think!)

2—”I can’t find the time to meditate. I’m just too busy!”

I used to believe this myself. Here are three suggestions for overcoming this barrier.

First, let go of the idea that you have to spend a lot of time meditating (5 minutes is sufficient). It’s more important to meditate consistently for short periods of time than to do it for sporadic but long periods of time. Why? Because any practice meditation leaves a residue; it builds up in your system over time. Much like adding sand to a pile, it doesn’t matter much whether you add a bucket-full or a small shovel-full—over time you’ll have a castle!

Second, it can be helpful to incorporate meditation into a routine you already have. This can help your brain more easily establish more connections to the new activity.

Third, if you can meditate before you get busy with the day’s events and do it in a consistent location, try that. It might be much easier than leaving the time and place to chance. Just think, all you might need to do is wake up 10 minutes earlier, and walk to your favorite chair!

3—”My mind wanders all over the place when I meditate! I’m just terrible at it.”

Really? You are the only one who has ever said this (sarcasm alert!). Your mind is designed to think and move around. It’s like a puppy, pulled in lots of directions. Meditation is like a gentle leash; you’re training your mind to focus.

“Good” and “bad” are just more thoughts the mind has, and they’re judgments to boot. A meditation is never good or bad—it just is. What’s more important that how it goes is that you simply do it.

If you must measure something about your meditation to satisfy a need for “success,” then track the days you do it.

Also, it’s critical that as a meditator you select an appropriate object of focus—something you can concentrate on and bring your attention back to whenever your mind goes elsewhere.

That point of focus can be the breath, a phrase or affirmation (mantra) you repeat to yourself, or music you can really listen to with your full attention. Many of the resources I’ve listed under #1 above use objects like these. When I work 1-1 with clients, I may use coordinated movement and breath, counting and modifying breathing patters (and sometimes both)! This requires a mind to be attentive—which is the very definition of meditation! A meditation that requires stillness isn’t always the best choice.

4—”I can’t stay awake during meditation.”

This is is a fantastic barrier, because it’s telling you something important. If you frequently fall asleep while trying to meditate, you aren’t getting enough sleep at night (which according to the restorative theory of sleep, is critical time for our minds and bodies to recover from the emotional and physical stresses we put on them during the day). Our bodies know how much sleep we need, but we don’t often pay attention, or we override that internal wisdom.

Falling asleep during meditation can also signal that you aren’t incorporating enough relaxation/downtime into your day. What’s more, if you only make time to relax before going to sleep, your mind-body will associate relaxation with sleep. In meditation, aim for remaining conscious AND deeply relaxed. Yoga Nidra, or “yogic sleep” is a nice way to train this. (If you’re interested in Yoga Nidra, Vandita’s Transform, Relax, & Rejuvinate is my favorite.)

If you suffer from chronic sleeplessness or fatigue, you might consider getting some help.

5—”I’ve tried meditation, but it had the opposite effect of what it’s supposed to. It made me anxious!”

Again, letting to of what meditation is “supposed to” make you feel is a part of this, but there’s much more. Many people, including myself, like to stay busy. We distract ourselves with socializing, technology, work, hobbies, etc. Unfortunately, this might be true because there’s something in the past we’re trying to run away from, or something in the present we don’t want to feel. Slowing down makes space for fears, emotions, and uncomfortable feelings to emerge, and then we have a choice about whether we allow and accept them.

A technique I learned in my Kripalu yoga teacher training, “Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, and Allow“, can be helpful. If you view yourself as a compassionate observer and can stay with discomfort for a few moments, you may notice it melt away. The more you practice this, the stronger you’ll get, and you’ll find it easier to stay with difficult feelings the next time they arise. However, be patient with yourself too—it’s OK to sit with the emotion only as long as you can—you want to strengthen yourself little by little.

Another reason for anxious feelings could be that the meditation you’ve chosen isn’t appropriate for you. If you’re a stressed-out, anxious type of person, you may need a meditation specifically designed for an anxious mind. Again, this is where working with a trained teacher (vs. self-selecting your meditation) can help.

6—”It’s uncomfortable for me to sit, or I just can’t sit still in meditation.”

Easy pose (Sukhasana) and Diamond pose Vajrasana are two common seated poses for meditation. If you find discomfort in these seated postures, try raising your hips higher than your knees using several cushions or blankets. If these don’t work for you, you absolutely can sit in a chair to meditate! Sit on the edge, so your feet are flat on the ground and that your spine is elongated (rather than slouching against the back).

If you have trouble sitting not because of physical limitations but because of your mental activity, consider a walking meditation instead. The Guided Meditations for Love and Wisdom I reference above also has a nice walking meditation.

7—”No matter what I try, I’m still terrible at meditation. I have tried, really!!”

This may be an issue of insufficient preparation. I almost never start my sleep coaching clients with a seated meditation; nor do we simply focus on the breath (though that’s a common meditation method).

Moving your body in time with your breath not only helps to release tension, but the coordination required can start to focus a busy mind. This step is often skipped, or seen as something different (like “Yoga”)!

But unless you’re well-practiced, when you try to sit in “formal” meditation without doing movement and breathing first, you will not feel as capable.

I hope this article helped you understand that what you’re experiencing is 100% normal, and has given you some ideas for moving forward!


2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    No slouching, comfortable, dignified – I understand it. But why does a particular style of sitting position matter? – if any. Are there any advantages/meaning/importance associated with different sittings positions? Advance thanks for your answers.

    • Kali says:

      Good question.

      First, an elongated spine during meditation enables diaphragmatic breathing. Whether the object of focus during meditation is the breath or not, the breath will likely soften, activating the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response). Sitting upright helps that happen more easily.

      Second, most of the seated postures attempt to align the physical body (i.e. stack the bones) in a way that provides a steady and comfortable, foundational base. That way, we are not as distracted by our physical bodies when we are trying to train the mind. Of course, with our culture of chair sitting, poor posture, and tight hips, many of these postures are not as accessible to us today, and so we need to modify.

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In this sample chapter of my book, "Mastering Your Sleep Puzzle", you'll learn about 10 lifestyle habits you have that may be contributing to your sleep struggles, so you can start making different choices.
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