Many people may try meditation and then abandon it in despair or disgust, convinced that it has no effect or is too difficult to learn. In actual fact, they may simply be struggling because they are making one of the many common mistakes that new meditation enthusiasts often make.
So here are some of the top mistakes that people make – and how to fix them:
Mistake # 1: Trying to meditate in a very specific pose
While this may be the popular image of meditation, you do not have to attempt to meditate with your body twisted into a complicated yoga pose. There are no prescribed postures for meditation – in fact, some people have developed neck or back problems in trying to achieve or maintain specific prescribed postures for meditation! The most important thing is to choose a posture that is the most comfortable for you and enables you to relax. This can be sitting or lying down, with your legs crossed or straight, arms folded or relaxed at your sides. Do what works for you.
Mistake # 2: Concentrating and “trying too hard”
While meditation does require concentration and effort, it should still be a pleasurable experience with relaxation as its ultimate goal. This is impossible to achieve if you are putting too much conscious effort into the “act of meditating”, so to speak. This can lead to a vicious circle as you become frustrated with your inability to relax and release your mind – so you concentrate even harder and become even less able to meditate successfully – leading you eventually to become disillusioned and to discontinue your efforts at meditation. So stop taking it so seriously – especially in your first sessions - just relax and try to free your mind and don’t worry too much about if you are “doing it properly”.
Mistake # 3: Trying to meditate when you are emotionally disturbed or in physical discomfort.
Meditation will never be successful if you try to do it when you’re feeling upset, angry or depressed – or if you’re in some kind of physical pain or discomfort, such as when you are ill. Not only can these things be distracting and prevent you from entering the state necessary but the act of meditation can actually focus your mind on these things even more, leading to great emotional distress.
Mistake # 4: Trying to force yourself to follow strict meditation guidelines
While it is useful to listen to advice from others, especially experienced meditators and class instructors, remember that meditation is a very personal thing and it is important for you to follow your own intuition. If there is one thing that is certain about meditation, it’s that there are no fixed rules or guidelines. What works for one person may not work for another. Perhaps your instructor advises you to meditate first thing in the morning but you actually find it easier to relax at night…follow your own instincts. Or perhaps your friend who has meditated for years believes that meditation should always be for at least half an hour but you find that you meditate most successfully for 15 minutes at a time…again, follow your own instincts.
Mistake # 5: Not daring to try different meditation methods
There is a large variety of different ways to meditate – whether it is focusing just on your breathing or on chanting a mantra or even doing it as part of a guided group meditation – different types and methods of meditation will suit different people. So don’t make the mistake of trying just one method and giving up just because it did not work for you – don’t be afraid, try something else. Try a variety of methods and pick the one that suits you best.
Mistake # 6: Expecting results overnight
Like many other things, successful meditation takes practice and although some people report an instant effect, it is unlikely that you will see dramatic results overnight or even in a few days or few weeks. So be patient and don’t expect instant results.
Mistake # 7: Not having a consistent routine
Meditation is really one of those things where a little and often is much more useful and effective than irregular long sessions. You should try to make it part of your daily routine – no different to brushing your teeth or taking a shower…think of it as a “mental hygiene” habit. Many people who only meditate sporadically will be frustrated as they will find that it produces hardly any results.
Mistake # 8: Trying to meditate in an inappropriate environment.
While you do not need to be in a room decorated with Asian wall hangings or bamboo mats or listen to a soundtrack of monks chanting, it is important to be in an environment suitable for meditation. This usually means peace and quiet – a place not only away from the hustle and bustle of other people but also uncluttered with any distractions, such as TV, computer and even telephone. It can be the corner of your bedroom or a spare room – but try to avoid using your study or any other place associated with “work”.
Mistake # 9: Rushing yourself.
Never meditate when you’re in a rush. It will defeat the whole object. It is impossible to clear your mind and focus if you are worrying about meeting a deadline or completing a certain task…even if you are not consciously doing it, you will be rushing yourself - for example, not engaging in the proper, steady, slow breathing necessary for meditation.
Mistake # 10: Trying too hard to stop your thoughts.
Yes, people often talk about “clearing” or “emptying” your mind during meditation but in actual fact, it is almost impossible to stop the flow of thoughts and in trying to do so, you will merely become frustrated and disillusioned. Instead of trying to stop your thoughts altogether, you should actually strive to become more aware of them and with this simple act, you will find that it will automatically “de-clutter” your mind, enabling you to achieve a form of mental calm.