3 Reasons You Haven’t Tried Meditation (and Why You Should)

Woman practicing meditation at home in bedWithin a year of turning 50, I became an empty nester, started menopause, got laid off for the first time in my life, remarried after a decade of single parenting, and lost my dad—a perfect storm. I also discovered mindfulness meditation in my search for a way to manage the stress of so much simultaneous change and loss without turning to medication. Meditation has been an ongoing part of my life ever since, and a staple in my coaching and therapy toolkit.

Whether you’re at midlife, entering young adulthood, or in your golden years, mindfulness meditation can benefit you—if only you’d give it a chance. Sometimes, the greatest challenge with meditation is simply opening your mind to it in the first place.

Many people think they know what meditation is but have never really tried it. As a therapist, the reasons I most often hear are, “I don’t have time,” “I don’t know how,” and, “I tried it once and it didn’t work for me.” These reasons are often the same ones for why people don’t exercise, eat better, work on their relationships, and pretty much everything else we know we “should” do to improve our lives. It’s human nature. Often, though, with just a little encouragement and guidance, the people I see in my therapy practice will give meditation a try, only to end up loving the practice and making it a regular part of their daily routines.

Mindfulness meditation has gained popularity in the Western world in recent years, although its roots are ancient and Eastern. Contrary to what many think, it does not require you to sit in an uncomfortable, cross-legged position on a special pillow on the floor and “clear your mind.” In fact, many people who meditate regularly do so on a chair or even on their bed. As for making your mind “go blank”? It’s not even possible.

You can meditate in the morning, afternoon, or evening, for as little as 5 minutes or as long as you like. It helps to have a consistent start time so you remember to do it, just like any habit you are trying to form. It also helps to do it daily, but we are not talking about rigid rules here. We’ve got enough going on already, right?

I find it is best to learn how to meditate when you are not already in an acute state of stress—not because it won’t be helpful then, but because the brain is not in an optimal state for learning when it is really stressed out.

How to Mindfully Meditate

If you want to try mindfulness meditation, and I hope you do, start by taking a few deep breaths and notice that you are feeling supported by the bed, chair, or floor that is holding you. Many of us don’t even know what deep breathing feels like. It can actually cause a moment of anxiety because it feels so unfamiliar. Stick with it, even if it feels a bit unnatural and forced in the beginning. There is nothing wrong; it’s just how the mind and brain react when something is new.

Allow your muscles to release and the tension in your arms, legs, back, shoulders, neck, and face to go slack, one muscle group at a time. Gently close your eyes or lower your gaze with your eyes half open. Your mind may seem to be very busy, or even “racing.” This is normal. Don’t judge, just notice. The mind is doing what the mind does: thinking.

I find it is best to learn how to meditate when you are not already in an acute state of stress—not because it won’t be helpful then, but because the brain is not in an optimal state for learning when it is really stressed out.

You don’t have to worry about the thoughts—how many there are or what kind you are thinking. It is not important. Thoughts will come and go. Some may feel urgent and important, others odd or even uncomfortable. None of this matters. The idea is to gradually train yourself to notice your thoughts with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and nonjudgment. All thoughts are just passing clouds in an otherwise clear, blue sky, one of the metaphors I use to introduce meditation practice to people in therapy.

Continue to breathe deeply and feel your mind and body begin to unwind. There is no wrong way to meditate, so you don’t need to concern yourself with doing it “right.” That is judgment. All meditation practice is beneficial because we are becoming aware of how the mind works and how our thoughts trigger emotion and behavior. This awareness allows us to see the power of our thoughts, and we begin to understand how they affect us.

There is great power in this awareness and great relief, too—relief from stress, from anger, from sadness, from physical and emotional pain, and more. These and other issues can arise at any time, so why not learn this valuable skill, practice it, and have it at the ready? Perhaps it can help you in the same way it has helped me and many others.

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  • Martie

    Martie

    April 5th, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    mainly because I would have no idea what I was doing?

  • Barbie

    Barbie

    April 5th, 2016 at 5:10 PM

    How long would you say that it will take me to get past these feelings that this is just weird, and I feel weird even trying it? I don’t think that starting to laugh at myself is what is supposed to happen but every time I try I feel like I am doing this all wrong, and I think that I give up on it too soon.

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    April 6th, 2016 at 12:31 PM

    Martie & Barbie, Your reactions are very normal, natural and typical of people who are new to meditation or have some experience with it. Most people feel awkward, self conscious, bothered by worries about “getting it right” and wondering what is “supposed” to happen. All of these are just thoughts. We don’t need to attach to them or make too much meaning of them. I like to remind myself that thoughts are not things, even if they are very convincing in the moment. Try to just focus on the sensation of breathing and just allow your thoughts to be there, whatever they are. Laugh even you feel like it, notice that the laughter is a result of your thinking about the act of meditation and then return your focus to the breath. The mind is just doing what the mind does, which is thinking. Each time it happens when we are meditating, we can resist the urge to think something is wrong or we are doing it correctly. Mind wanders. That is just the nature of mind. It doesn’t mean anything. Just gently return your focus to the sensation of breathing and let the thought go and you are meditating !

  • Dave

    Dave

    April 7th, 2016 at 2:57 PM

    This is the one think that I can do daily that I don’t have to worry about anything else, that I can focus on the things that are the most meaningful and let the rest of the unimportant things fade away.

    Sure, there are times when that is not always the easiest thing to do, but I often think that these are the times when I most need to meditate, to let the negative things flow away and focus more on the good things in my day and in my life.

  • Diann

    Diann

    April 8th, 2016 at 11:09 AM

    Dave, Thanks for your comment and it sounds like you have grasped one of the most significant benefits of meditation – the times when we least want to do it are probably the most beneficial times ! Good luck with your practice, Diann

  • melinda

    melinda

    April 9th, 2016 at 4:50 PM

    I think that maybe I am a little too intimidated to try this?

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    April 11th, 2016 at 3:24 PM

    Melinda, thanks for writing. I’m glad you brought up the issue of feeling “too intimidated” to try meditation. I hear this a lot with my coaching clients and I remember feeling this way myself when I first started to meditate. What I’ve learned is that intimidation is not a feeling, it is a thought, a thought that is connected to judgment. We observe ourselves and wonder if we are doing something the “right way” and when we can’t answer that question or have self doubt, we are intimidated and usually back away from whatever it is we are trying to do. If you can just notice that ” I am too intimidated” is just a thought that has no power over you, you can allow the thought to be there, in your mind and not mean anything about you. It’s just a thought. You can allow it to arise in your mind and dissolve there. You don’t have to react to it by having more thoughts or feelings. As the thought dissolves, you realize that nothing happened. You are OK. And guess what, THIS IS MEDITATION. Allowing the thought ” I am too intimidated” to arise and just letting it be there, in your mind, and then watch as it drifts away. I encourage you to try that and to let me know what happens.

  • Jimmy

    Jimmy

    April 12th, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    Here is my thing with this-
    if I am meditating to become more mindful, then what if all I can focus on and process are the things that are bumming me out in the first place?
    Won’t this make me feel worse that I did before I started?

  • Diann Wingert

    Diann Wingert

    April 12th, 2016 at 12:05 PM

    Jimmy- awesome question ! This one comes up a lot. In fact, my clients who are new to meditation tell me that the first thing they notice is how negative their thoughts really are. This is typical and not actually a problem, because you are aware that you are having these thoughts and that these thoughts are the cause of at least some of your suffering. The trick is to just observe the thoughts about your circumstances (the things that are bumming you out….) with openness, curiosity and a lack of judgment. You can even pretend these circumstances are happening to a stranger or that they are in the past and you have overcome them. Just ignore the impulse to engage with the thoughts and allow them to be. Meditation does not cause us to have more negative thoughts ( a popular myth) – it makes us aware of how many negative thoughts we have. It is this awareness that helps us to detach from the negative thinking (with some practice) so that we can decide if we need to make some changes in our lives instead of feeling overwhelmed and depressed, which typically leads to no changes at all. Thanks for writing and keep on meditating !

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