Top 10 Challenges and what You can Do
Have you tried meditation and experienced some difficulties? Did you get bored, sleepy, restless or annoyed? These are all common experiences, especially for beginners, but if we persevere, we will learn how to overcome these difficulties. Read this article for tips on how to overcome 10 common meditation challenges.
Meditation is a fairly straightforward process, much more so than most people realize, but like anything that is worth doing, it does come with its fair share of difficulties. Meditation challenges are common for beginner meditators, but advanced practitioners face problems as well. It is important to understand that every challenge is an opportunity to learn and improve your practice.
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Meditation Challenge #1: High expectations
When we start meditating, we are not sure exactly what we are doing, but for some reason, beginners tend to have incredibly high expectations.
Meditation takes time to learn and this is the beauty of it, because every time you practice, you learn more and more. Over months and years, your sense of peace and joy expand and your life begins to transform. If you could master it first time, there would be no joy in the practice, nothing to learn, and nowhere to grow.
In meditation, we take steps forward and steps backward, but over time, we make great progress, which completely shifts the direction of our lives.
What to Do?
- Try to relax a little (beginners can be quite stiff and serious).
- Smile and enjoy your practice.
- Develop the attitude of playful curiosity.
- Be friendly and kind to yourself.
- Know that frustration will get you nowhere; try to accept what is.
- Remember that you are learning a new skill; you are not going to excel immediately. It takes time to master.
- Let go of expectations.
Meditation Challenge #2: Discomfort, pain or itching
Pain is common in meditation because we have to hold our body in a way in which it is not accustomed to sitting. We may feel aches, pains or tension, but over time we find that it becomes more comfortable. Itches can also arise during meditation and distract us from our practice.
Ideally, we want to sit perfectly still in meditation because the stiller the body, the stiller the mind. We should address discomfort of any kind so we can eventually sit still in a comfortable position.
What to Do?
- Ensure your posture is correct. Sit with a straight spine in a comfortable position. Consult a meditation or yoga teacher if you are unsure.
- Do some gentle stretches or yoga before you sit in meditation.
- Ignore mild pain or discomfort. It usually goes away after a short time.
- Avoid shifting every time an uncomfortable sensation comes up. If you can, allow the pain to be there, put your attention on it, and watch as it dissolves.
- If the pain is very severe or distracting, adjust your posture, but be sure to move slowly.
- Avoid jerky movements: they can upset the breathing pattern and lead to a less peaceful state of mind.
Meditation Challenge #3: Wandering Thoughts
As a beginner, you can’t immediately stop your mind from thinking. But don’t worry! Over time, it will become easier. Even for advanced meditators, on some days it takes time for the mind to slow down.
The misconception that you have to stop thinking to meditate well is one of the biggest reasons people give up. In meditation, you’ll notice that your mind is busy. It is not busier than usual, but because you are meditating, you are now able to see how busy your mind is. That is a success.
Every time you notice the mind wandering and bring your attention back to the breath, you make progress. Think of it as a bicep curl or a bench press for the mind.
What to Do?
- Remember: stopping thought is not the only goal of meditation. The goal is to bring awareness to your internal world.
- Meditate in the morning as the mind is calmest after waking.
- Exercise or do some gentle yoga before meditation (Especially in the evening).
- Practice breathing exercises before meditation.
- Let thoughts arise and watch them instead of pushing them away or suppressing them.
- Be vigilant and disciplined as well as kind and self-loving.
- Use a mantra to concentrate the thoughts.
Meditation Challenge #4: Judgments
As you meditate, there may be a kind of sports commentator analyzing every detail of your practice. “This is not going well today…I should have done more to prepare… this is not right…Oh my legs are hurting now…it doesn’t seem to be working at all.”
If we talk to ourselves in this negative way, we may become frustrated, and meditation will lose its joy.
At other times, the voice may be subtler and more positive, and it whispers. “This is going well…I am doing this right now…this is great….I feel relaxed now.”
These positive thoughts are certainly a step in the right direction, but ultimately, we want to cultivate a deeper state of peace and silence beyond the mental noise of thinking and judging our practice.
What to Do?
- Awareness is the first step; become aware of the mental commentary.
- Be vigilant and notice when thoughts come up; come back to the breath gently but firmly.
- When critical thoughts do come up, try to let them go and don’t get into the trap of judging your judgments.
- Let thoughts float past like clouds passing in the sky. Be the observer of thoughts.
- Stay positive and keep bringing the mind back to the breath. At a certain point, you will realize that the thoughts and judgments have subsided.
Meditation Challenge #5: Boredom
In meditation, we need to sit still for an extended period of time, essentially doing nothing. It can come as a bit of a shock to the system. In the modern world, we hurry around from one task to the next, a constant stream of thoughts gushing through our minds. Sitting to meditate is quite different from what we are accustomed to.
You may find that you become bored whilst meditating, but this is only because we are so used to being busy. Meditation can take us to a beautiful place of stillness, but at the beginning, boredom can arise. This is normal, and it will get better with time.
What to Do?
- Sit for short periods of 5-10 minutes when you are a beginner.
- Over time increase to longer sittings.
- If you find you are often getting bored, slightly reduce your meditation time.
- Allow yourself to be bored. Accept all states, even unpleasant ones like boredom.
- Understand that meditation is actually incredibly interesting. We never take time to stop and pay attention to our inner world.
- Have the attitude of innocent curiosity, like a child, watching something new.
- Use a guided meditation. You can get a free one here.
Meditation Challenge #6 - Drowsiness
Feeling drowsy is also common in meditation, but there are some tricks we can use to combat this. Meditation puts your mind in a relaxed state so naturally people tend to feel sleepy and may even drift off.
If you find that you are drowsy, you will not have the clarity and alertness necessary for good practice. Many people are more tired than they realize, hyped up on coffee and information, so often they actually do need to sleep. If that is the case, you can always take a nap and meditate later on.
What to Do?
- Meditate early in the morning or after a nap as you will be less in need of sleep.
- Avoid eating two to three hours before meditation.
- Do some light yoga or meditation beforehand to feel energized.
- Make sure your posture is correct and your spine straight.
- Avoid lying down in meditation, as this will be likely to induce sleep.
- Squeeze your eyes shut and then open them wide. Do this a few times; it can help with tiredness.
- Inhale and tense the whole body, then exhale and relax. Repeat three times.
Meditation Challenge #7: Difficult Emotions
Whilst meditation brings us many states of deep peace, it can also bring out some difficult emotions: anger, sadness and frustration to name a few. These emotions are being released, coming from deep down below the surface so that we can let them go. Meditation helps us overcome these painful emotions.
Negative emotions are most damaging to us when they are subconscious. If we can notice them with the conscious mind, they become weaker and weaker until they dissolve. This is why meditation is so powerful: it dissolves old patterns of anger and pain in the light of awareness.
What to Do?
- It can help to label the emotion: as it arises, mentally state “anger” or “sadness.”
- Try to accept the emotion, even if it’s unpleasant. Avoid suppressing it.
- Feel if there is a physical sensation that arises as well, such as anger in the stomach, or sadness in the heart.
- Don’t let your negative emotion attach to an object. Anger may try to blame you or blame something else. Nobody has done anything wrong. Your anger is simply an internal fact that will dissolve if you can bring awareness to it without allowing it to attach. Just watch it without judgment.
- Practice love, gratitude or prayer as you begin your meditation. This helps to reduce negative emotions.
Meditation Challenge #8: Resistance or losing motivation
There will be times when you do not want to sit down to meditate. On some days, you feel tired or moody or sad. Sometimes, you might be losing motivation because you are having a problem with your meditation practice. Or perhaps your ego is afraid of the changes that are coming about.
We can make so many excuses: we can’t do it today because we are too busy, we are having a “bad week,” and we’ll get back to it next week. But consistency is paramount in meditation so we must try to find a way to practice even when we don’t feel like it.
What to Do?
- Try and sit even when you don’t feel like it.
- Bring awareness to the resistance you are experiencing and let it go.
- Worst case scenario, do a short meditation for a few minutes.
- Let your resistance be there. Often it will dissolve within a few minutes.
- Remember the hardest part is starting. Once you sit down, it’s easy.
- Don’t think too much and just do it. The more you think, the more likely you are to talk yourself out of meditating.
- If you are really struggling, give it a miss and come back to your meditation later.
- If you do miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Keep going with determination and enthusiasm.
Meditation Challenge #9: Subtlety of Results
Sometimes we might feel like nothing is happening in meditation, like we are wasting our time. But meditation is a marathon, not a sprint. It is the long game. You will notice some changes in your life near the beginning, but often changes happen over the course of months and years, so it can be hard to notice them.
It’s like when you have kids. You hardly notice them growing because you see them every day. But then one day you bring them to meet old friends and they say, “Oh my goodness, look how much they have grown.”
Well it is the same way with meditation: sometimes you are too close to the game to get a fair view. Then one day, someone will mention how different, how happy, or how peaceful you seem.
What to Do?
- Be patient. Meditation will transform the trajectory of your life, but it takes time.
- Try not to constantly look for results.
- Let go and trust the practice. It has brought peace, happiness, and enlightenment to many people throughout the course of history. Trust that this practice works.
- Meditate every day. The more consistently you meditate, the faster you will notice changes in your life.
Meditation Challenge #10: Desire or cravings
You may find that, whilst meditating, you feel sexual desire and begin to imagine sexual experiences. Of course, this is a strong energy and a difficult one to ignore. But we want to learn to control these urges and watch the sensations without acting upon them.
This teaches us restraint and self-discipline, both of which are very important in meditation and in life. Uncontrolled lust can be damaging to our personal lives and our relationships, so we should be careful to keep it under control.
What to Do?
- Take some deep breaths. Taking a few long, deep breaths will help you feel more relaxed.
- Understand that the desire for immediate gratification is what causes so much suffering in this life. Tell yourself you do not need anything right now.
- Don’t let your mind run away with images and scenarios. Come back to the breath.
- Lift your gaze to the point between the eyebrows. Let the sexual energy flow upwards towards the spiritual eye.
- A technique in Buddhism teaches that we imagine the unpleasant aspects and functions of the human body to combat desire. This may seem a little grim, but it may be necessary and, most importantly, it works.
These are only some of the challenges that arise in meditation but there are others that I haven’t mentioned. What meditation challenges have you experienced? Let me know in the comments below.
You may feel a little overwhelmed, that if there are so many problems, is it even worth it? Well, the answer is yes. Meditation will transform your life in a way that no other practice can.
Every challenge will improve your meditation practice over time. See these challenges as guidance, pointing you in the right direction, rather than problems to worry about.
Most of all, take it easy, relax and enjoy your meditation. You are doing amazing and with every day that goes by, if you meditate, you will get better and better.
If you want to learn a simple meditation technique that you can use every day, download this free meditation starter pack. It includes a how to meditate video, a guided meditation, a printout and a 30-day calendar checklist.