Here Are the Answers to All of Your Meditation Questions
Everything you need to stick to your practice.
Are you having a hard time meditating? Are your legs paining, mind distracted, nose itching, or just having trouble doing it at all?
Don’t worry then. I’ve got you covered.
How Can I Help You?
“I Can’t Concentrate”
Concentration is not only a necessary skill in meditation but also in life. Great feats aren’t accomplished by people whose energies are scattered in a thousand directions.
To understand why concentration is important in meditation, think of it in this way. To reflect the sky and the trees around it, the lake needs to be still. If it’s full of ripples and waves, it will not reflect anything.
Here, our mind is the lake and the ripples of thought along with the waves of emotion prevent us from deep meditative states. You must still the mind to meditate.
Now, most people get discouraged hearing this. They think they can’t concentrate, and thus they can’t meditate. But, this is wrong.
Concentration is not only the prerequisite but the goal of meditation. You don’t need to pass a concentration exam to be ‘eligible’ for meditation. Instead, you need to realize that the more you practice, the better you’ll be. And the better concentration you’ll have the deeper your meditation practice will be.
Better Concentration → Better Meditation → Better Concentration → Better Meditaiton
With continued effort, you show the mind who’s the boss around here. You can train yourself to be more concentrated during meditation and otherwise.
That said, let’s see how you can improve your concentration.
Concentration is a skill you have to learn. Yet, most of us spend our lives in a constant state of distraction. It’s no surprise then that we can’t concentrate when it comes to meditation.
To fix this, you have to make small changes to your lifestyle to supplement your efforts.
Use the power of time blocking to focus all your energy on a single task. Decide that you’re going to focus on only one thing for a limited time and then do that.
Block sensory inputs. Most of us can’t work well when we have a sensory input in the background that is stimulating. Nature music, brain-wave music, etc may work. But TV, movies, pop music, etc shouldn’t be a staple in your life. If you do it regularly, your mind will lose the ability to be concentrated. Over time, you’ll develop an aversion to silence which will harm your efforts.
Pomodoros are a great way to work.
Stay calm. Whenever you find yourself getting too excited (happy or sad) take a few deep breaths and center yourself. Take 5-minute breaks every hour or so to just sit and look out the window, close your eyes, and be present. If your nervous system is calm, you can make better choices and resist distractions.
Here’s the secret to deep concentration — it starts with deep relaxation.
To interiorize your consciousness in meditation and focus on subtle aspects like the breath, you need your body to be relaxed.
If the body is in stress or pain, your attention will always be drawn to that fact.
To relax, use the corpse pose:
This one of the simplest but most effective Yoga asanas I’ve come across. To practice it, lie down on a flat surface, palms facing upwards.
Now, practice 2–3 rounds of tensing and relaxation. Breathe in, tense your whole body, and then relax gently. Do not shock your system by rapid tensing and relaxing. Feel the energy flowing to all the parts of your body.
Once you’ve done this, be very still and take deep breaths. Notice the air through your nostrils and observe your belly moving in and out. Let the breath be natural, don’t restrict it.
Feel deeper relaxation with each exhalation.
Imagine the space entering your body through your feet. Moving towards your calves, knees, buttock, stomach, arms, chest, neck, and brain. Repeat this cycle and focus on each part as long as you like, leaving it completely relaxed.
Feel yourself one with space.
Keep breathing deeply.
Inhale positivity, exhale negativity. Inhale joy, exhale sadness. Inhale peace and calmness, exhale stress.
Free your body of all negative emotions and thoughts. Be completely present at the moment.
If you feel the tension in a specific part of your body, try to relax it with even greater focus.
You can continue for as long as you want. This posture is ideal to practice before meditation and sleep. You can also practice it between various stretches/yoga postures.
Having a strong intention to concentrate can often burn all the obstacles in your way.
Simply make a resolve to concentrate. Tell yourself that you’ll not be distracted. Affirming concentration in such a way will command the mind to an extent to not goof-off.
The results of this trick are directly proportional to the strength of your willpower. This is something you develop over time. If you have strong willpower, your mind will obey you.
It sounds corny but it’s true. Try it next time when you sit to meditate.
This is a simple meditation technique that I use every day. It’s helped me a great deal with concentration. It’s also one of the easiest ones I’ve found. Here’s how it goes:
Make yourself comfortable, sitting upright, with a straight spine. With your eyes closed, look at the point midway between the eyebrows on your forehead.
Inhale slowly, counting to eight. Hold the breath for the same eight counts while concentrating your attention at the point between the eyebrows. Now exhale slowly to the same count of eight. Repeat three to six times.
After inhaling and exhaling completely, as the next breath comes in, mentally say Hong (rhymes with ‘song’). Then, as you exhale, mentally say Sau (rhymes with ‘saw’). Don’t control your breathing, just let its flow be completely natural. Try to feel that your breath itself is silently making the sounds of Hong and Sau. Initially try to feel the breath at the point where it enters the nostrils.
Be as attentive as possible. If you have difficulty feeling the breath, you can concentrate, for a while, on the breathing process itself, feeling your diaphragm and chest expanding and contracting.
Gradually as you become calmer, try to feel the breath higher and higher in the nose. Be sure that your gaze is kept steady at the point between the eyebrows throughout your practice. Don’t allow your eyes to follow the movement of the breath. If you find that your mind has wandered, simply bring it back to an awareness of the breath and the mantra.
You can practice this for as long as you like. It’s ideal however to invest at least 5–10 minutes.
“I Can’t Sit for Long Hours (Or Even Shorter Periods)”
In Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed path of Yoga, the third step is Asana. Asana literally means posture.
In this step, the goal of any student is to achieve a command over his/her body to sit for a given length of time, without moving.
One of the major goals of meditation is to raise your consciousness. What does that mean? It means to expand your awareness beyond your body and mind.
If you’re constantly moving in meditation, your attention is always centered on the body. Hence, it’s difficult to transcend body-consciousness unless you can sit still for the length of your meditation. It’s important therefore to invest energy to sit without a paining back, legs, or falling asleep.
One of the reasons people often struggle with this is they try to assume uncomfortable positions from the get-go. It’s tempting to believe that great yogis and meditators only sit on lotus postures, without a cushion, etc.
But, on the contrary, you’ll find many seasoned meditators using a bench, chair, or a blanket to supplement their postures. Using props like these doesn’t signal a lack of meditative ability. Quite opposite in fact. It shows that you’re aware of your limits and not letting your ego get in the way of your practice.
Being born and brought up in India, I’ve had my share of experience of sitting on the floor. For instance, till I was seven years old, we had our meals sitting on the floor. And it’s a great way to eat, even if it feels unnatural.
This is why I meditate while sitting on the floor. Yet, people from different cultures haven’t such conditioning to sit comfortably on the floor.
Don’t worry. You can use a chair or a meditation bench.
But here are a few things you must keep in mind no matter which position you pick:
1. The Spine
Your spine should be mostly unsupported and straight. In yogic terms, a straight spine allows the astral energies to move freely and without any obstructions.
Imagine yourself as a puppet being pulled up by a string. It is important to keep your spine straight since it has an uplifting effect on your brain.
Try it for yourself — sit straight right now and you’ll notice a sudden increase in focus and attentiveness since the energy in your spine can easily make its way up to the brain.
Push your shoulders slightly back. This gives you a firm spine as well as opens your heart and chest.
Place the chin parallel to the ground. Often during meditation, you’ll find yourself trying to look up or tilting your head down.
When you notice this, correct it and bring it back to parallel.
While many spiritual practices advocate relaxing your gaze or even keeping your eyes open, I beg to differ.
As per my experience, it’s best to focus on the point between the eyebrows which is called the Agya Chakra or the Spiritual Eye. It’s also the esoteric center of concentration.
It is not a physical object located in the body, but a light which is actually visible there, ‘behind the darkness’ of your closed eyes. Through that light (the spiritual eye), the deep meditator can gaze into subtler-than-material realms.
You can learn more about it here.
Finally, I go into the postures in much more detail in this 3,000+ word post: The Complete Guide to Meditation Postures: Everything You Need to Know There are more options than you think.medium.com
“I Want To Sleep”
This happens a lot when you’re new to meditation. Meditation is a combination of focus and relaxation — something that newbies aren’t familiar with — it’s somewhere in the middle.
Focus ←← [Meditation] →→ Relaxation
When you start, you can go too far on the relaxation side and as a result, fall asleep. On the other side, if you focus too hard, you’ll feel tense.
If you tend to fall asleep during meditations, don’t worry. Oftentimes, it’s just a phase and will pass. The key to breaking through this phase is to meditate with calmness, energy, and faith. Meditation experiences come and go in ebbs and flows. It’s best to not worry about it.
That said, we can’t leave everything to chance, can we? Let’s see how we can fix this.
Tackle the elephant in the room — Are you sleeping enough? If not, your body will try to compensate for the lack of rest in your meditations. Naturally, you’ll fall asleep. Now you know why it’s happening (or you knew all along). The next step is to sleep 7–9 hours (that’s what most people need) and follow general sleep hygiene.
Another major reason for this problem is people don’t tell their brain they’re awake. Common mistakes include meditating on the bed or as soon as you wake up.
Think about it for a minute. When you wake up, you’re still groggy. Then you try to sit upright and close your eyes again. What will your brain think? That you want to sleep again right?
You’ve to avoid this. To remedy that, drink a freshen up, drink a glass of water, and do a couple of stretches. A small cup of coffee/tea may also work for you if it doesn’t give you the jitters.
Here’s what I do — I wake up, brush my teeth, do these energization exercises, have a cup of coffee while journalling, and then sit to meditate.
After doing this, I’ve never faced a problem with sleepiness again.
So these were some preventive measures you can take. What if you’re sitting and can’t help but fall asleep? Here’s what you can do in-the-moment:
Paramahansa Yogananda gave a nice suggestion to overcome sleepiness: “Squeeze your eyes shut several times, then open them wide and stare straight ahead. Repeat this practice once or twice more. If you do this, sleepiness will cease to bother you.” This works wondrously.
Keep your eyes uplifted to go into a higher state of consciousness. When you sleep, you go into a subconscious state — that’s when you close your eyes, look down (behind the eyelids) and doze off. To go into superconsciousness, keep your gaze uplifted to the point between the eyebrows (the spiritual eye). You don’t have to strain. Rather do it as if you’re looking at the peak of a distant mountain.
Finally, if the problem persists, consider shortening your meditations and make them more dynamic. This is always better instead of longer but sleepy sessions. You can then gradually increase the time.
“I’m Not Seeing Any Results”
I get where you’re coming from. After hearing tons of meditation benefits from people like me, you’ve finally decided to take the step and plunge into it.
Since you’ve been looking for what you can get out of the practice (that’s natural in all humans), you expect results sooner than they’re due. You want inner peace, happiness, and joy not just in meditation, but throughout the day. I do too!
But alas, it comes with steady practice. Think of all the years you’ve spent not meditating. All the bad habits you’ve picked up along the way are also a result of the steady practice of ‘not meditating’!
To reverse that, you need to give it time.
In meditation, as in life, it’s important to have the attitude of a marathon runner and not a sprinter. Many A-type personalities like me can apply the go-getter mentality to meditation only find ourselves getting tenser and stressed.
Yet, It’s important to adopt the attitude of detachment towards meditation. It’s the ego that’s desiring the results and getting impatient. It’s not the soul.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita,
“Therefore, only those who act without being attached to the fruits of his action, but as a matter of performing his duty, can attain the Supreme.”
Learn to be calm in the Self without worrying about the consequences, then you’ll find inner peace. It means that peace isn’t waiting for you at the hilltop — you need to make peace a part of the process.
By doing that, you remove all sense of anxiety from your practice and it automatically becomes more blissful.
“I Can’t Meditate”
You can’t suck at meditation. No one can. The reason people feel they’re not doing well, is they think meditation is about emptying the mind or the cessation of thoughts.
Though that may be the goal of meditation, it doesn’t mean you’re bad if you’re not able to achieve it. It can take years to do that! It’s called a meditation ‘practice’ for a reason.
I know it’s tempting to judge yourself but this will only suck the enthusiasm out of you. Instead, if you go in with an attitude of detachment, you’ll find yourself much more satisfied.
It’s Alan Watt’s Backward Law — “The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
The more you chase a higher state of consciousness, the more elusive they’ll seem. But if you gladly accept where you are and practice without attachment, you’ll get what you want and much more.
It’s important then to take a long-term view of your practice. You’ll have hills and valleys along the way. But you need to keep going. This even-minded attitude is crucial.
If you haven’t had these challenges, expect them! They will come to you. Buddha told us that stilling the mind is the most challenging and rewarding task that we can do.
Here’s what you can find solace in — St. Teresa of Avila said, “A meditation is well done if all you did was fight distraction.” Think about it. There’s no good or bad meditation. The only good meditation is that you did!
Finally, as I said in the last point, it’s important to keep an attitude of giving and non-attachment. People often do the opposite — they’re achievement-oriented and think about what they can get from the practice. Think of your meditation as a loving, self-offering to your higher self and God.
I know you want higher states of consciousness to come to you. But the way to do that is to expand your heart in the process of giving yourself without thinking of what you’re getting back.
This is how you can be even-minded in the face of hills and valleys. What’s yours will come to you in time. There’s no need to be discouraged.
“I’m Tense — Physically and Emotionally”
Both physical and emotional tension manifest themselves in the uneasiness of the mind and body.
It is then helpful to tackle both of them, one at a time. If you do this, you’ll see your mental and emotional worries go away. If the emotions are intense, it will require more practice, but surely, the end is victorious.
Having said that, the easiest way to relax the body is to tense it. What? Let me explain. When a particular body part is tensed, energy is blocked at that body part.
You can verify this from experience. Think back to a time when you had intense pain in one body part. All you could think about was the pain itself. It’s as if the energy supply to your body and brain was blocked there.
To fix this, you need to tense your whole body while inhaling. Then throw the breath out and relax consciously. By tensing the body, you’re moving the energy — once the energy is moving, it can go to various body parts. But it has to move for you can do very little with it if it’s stuck.
After doing this, start relaxing each body part separately. You can think of space or light entering your body from your toe to head. Follow the steps of the Corpse Pose (Savasana) described above.
From personal experience, tensing and relaxing works wonders. This alone can solve even your mental problems — because most problems are caused by the lack of energy in the body/brain. I do this four to six times a day.
Now let’s see what we can do with the mind. The simplest way to calm the mind is to use the breath. The greatest gift of Yoga to us the link between the breath and the mind. When you want to focus intensely (perhaps put a thread into the eye of a needle), notice how you hold your breath. For that split-second, no other thought enters your mind. It’s just you, the thread, and the needle.
Similarly, when you’re tense, you’ll find your breath is shallow, i.e. short inhalations and exhalations. If you reverse this by breathing deeply, your mind will also become the opposite of stressed — calm.
One great technique to do this is to **breathe in, hold, and breathe out for the same count. **This is one round of “Even-Count Breathing.” You can do as many rounds as you can but often 6–9 rounds are enough to feel the instant benefits. Remember to keep the inhalation, hold, and exhalation equal. You don’t need to stop after you exhale; breathe in again immediately.
Whenever you feel any emotional or physical tension, apply these techniques and you’ll find yourself much better in a matter of a few minutes. Regular practice of these can eliminate stress from your life completely!
“I’m Just Not Up for It”
The lack of enthusiasm is directly related to the lack of devotion in your life.
Devotion is often skipped out of all meditation lessons. Most people only teach and learn the techniques. They think that alone will get them the happiness and peace that they desire.
But that’s not it. Think about it this way.
You live across a great restaurant. You can practically smell the food from your window when the chefs are cooking. They serve your favorite cuisine. Your friends always go there. You know that the place is good. But you still never visit? Why? Because you’re not hungry!
Devotion is that hunger to know God or your Higher Self. If you don’t want something, you won’t get it. It’s personal development 101.
Meditations are dry without enthusiasm. Sitting there and focusing on the breath can be incredibly hard if you’re only thinking about that. But if your heart is filled with love for the Divine, then hours can feel like minutes.
Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda said that we can’t even put one foot in front of the other on the spiritual path without “the awakening of the natural love of the heart.”
Here are a few ways you can develop devotion:
Chanting: Yogananda says: “Chanting is half the battle!” Chants are prayers put to music. And music is a highway to change your state of consciousness. Words go through your brain and the intellect, but the music goes to your heart. It would help you to chant with a group at the start and perhaps learn an instrument like harmonium, keyboard, guitar, etc. Once you start chanting, you’ll find yourself uplifted the whole day!
Practice the presence of God when you walk outdoors and do your daily chores. Feel your awareness expanding beyond your body — to the trees, the cars, the grass, and everything. Keep expanding until infinity!
Love others too. Not because they’re good. It doesn’t matter. Love the God in them. We all are seeking the same happiness. But some of us don’t use the best ways to get there. So what? Try to love their pure essence and not their thoughts or actions.
Serve more. Not only spiritually, but in everything you do. Think of your work not as ‘work’ but service to your company, to your team, and the people around you. When you think of serving, you’re filled with energy to carry out the task. When you think of ‘work’ you get tired and withdrawn mentally.
By these simple steps, you can awaken the enthusiasm in your heart to meditate unceasingly every day.
“I Can’t Find The Time”
Let me make this clear for once and all. I firmly believe that if you can’t find the time to do something, it’s not a priority for you. Don’t blame it on others, hold yourself accountable. You’re not able to make time for it, and now you have to fix it.
I struggled with this for months. Whenever someone asked me why I don’t meditate, I’d have elaborate excuses as to why “there’s no time!” But deep down, I knew I could make time if I wanted. And this was killing me inside.
Don’t let the same thing happen to you.
There are some tips, however, that made me prioritize meditation over the past couple of years:
By meditating you increase your concentration and willpower while reducing stress. This in turn helps you get more done in less time. In other words, meditation is adding time to your life, not taking time from it.
Remind yourself of why you started meditating in the first place.
Remember the beautiful experiences that you had before. Think about how meditation changed your life and made you happier. Use that as your motivation on days you don’t feel like doing it.
Finally, most things can be done tomorrow. I’m not telling you to procrastinate. But at the same time, it’s important to know that the world will not fall apart if you took a 30–60-min meditation break.
When you’re completely convinced of making meditation a part of your life, find creative ways to get around your problem.
I’ve heard many stories of people who meditate in the car or the office since they cannot do so at the home.
When I started meditating, I had to shift my schedule by waking up one hour early to make time. Similarly, I had to let my family know that I’ll be meditating again in the evening and I won’t be available at that time.
If you want to do it, no one will be able to stop you.
Finally, the more you meditate the more you’d want to meditate. If for instance, you don’t feel like meditating, only do a short meditation instead of a long one. Don’t skip it entirely. 5 minutes is better than nothing.
However, since meditation is so good, you’ll find yourself sitting for a longer time once you get into a flow. The toughest part with meditation is to leave your work and settle down to meditate. Once you’ve done that, things become easier as you go forward.
“I’m Not Making Progress”
The spiritual path is not an easy one to follow. There are tons of pitfalls and biases that your ego creates for you to not realize your true potential.
Yet, as humans, this is our true destiny. Each one of us has emerged from the Ultimate and will merge back into the Ultimate. The only difference is that some are farther on the path than others.
Nevertheless, our goal is the same. That said, the spiritual path can be doubly dangerous and tricky because it’s difficult to measure progress and see if it’s working.
We can deceive ourselves into believing that it’s not working whereas it just might be. Or perhaps we convince ourselves of the opposite.
I’ve often had some doubts about this too. As a student of yoga, meditation, and spirituality, I often think about how far I’ve come.
Some metrics are obvious. For instance, when I began the journey, I couldn’t meditate for five minutes and now I can go up to two hours.
As another example, I’ve become more kind and compassionate towards others which have helped me love others more unconditionally.
But not all metrics are so obvious and even the obvious ones can be deceiving.
In this 3,000+ word beast, I talk about many common spiritual signs of progress you should look out for. Contrary to what you might think they’re not about levitating and feeling one with the whole universe.
They are much simpler than we think they are. Once again, you can read all about them here: 11 Simple Signs of Spiritual Progress to Look Out For With a few caveats.medium.com
“I’m Dealing With Negative Influences”
According to James Fowlers and Nicholas Christaki’s research from their related book Connected, habits spread with network effects.
This will surprise you — if your friend’s friend’s friend who lives thousands of miles away gains weight, you’re likely to gain weight, even if you’re not in the same city. This works the other way round as well. If that distant, unrelated friend loses weight, you’re more likely to lose weight too.
How is this even possible? Let’s see. This is because you subconsciously pick up the beliefs of the people around you. In the above example, if your friend’s friend’s friend believes that it’s okay to eat burgers every morning, you soon may develop the same belief.
Similarly, if you surround yourself with people who are partying, drinking, and doing everything opposite to what you want to do, you’ll not go far.
However, if you surround yourself with people whom you want to emulate, you’ll soon become like them.
In Hindi, we call it Satsanga (“sat” meaning good and “sanga” meaning community) — “Good Company.” It usually means a gathering of spiritually inclined people meeting for talks, inspiration, and meditation.
As I say in my book humans have their own magnetism. Just like a magnet has north-south poles, your spine has negative and positive poles.
Think about this. If an unmagnetized bar of iron is brought close to a magnet, it soon will develop the same kind of magnetism. The same is the case with humans.
Let’s take this analogy further. One magnet can change the polarity of the other magnet if it’s stronger. Thus, even if you find yourself growing spiritually, keep strengthening your magnetism by mixing with like-minded people.
When spiritually inclined people come together, they increase the magnetism of everyone involved. Paramahansa Yogananda called this “the law of invisible vibratory exchange.”
The way to surround yourself with such energy is not only to be with people. It’s also important to check the content you consume. As I write these, the COVID-19 has locked us inside our homes. In such situations, it’s imperative to consume uplifting music, movies, and be in touch with your Satsanga via online channels.
Whenever I’ve found myself unwilling to meditate, it’s usually because of listening or watching content that’s not congruent with my purpose.
If you do encounter negative influences and cannot avoid them, here are some tips that have helped me in the past:
Take time to meditate beforehand. Then take the peace you experienced in your meditation and emanate that to the person in front of you. This way, you’re not taking their vibrations but giving your positive vibrations to them
Take the experience for your own growth. You will be tested for your inner-strength from time to time. Take such meetings with negative influences as a challenge or perhaps a game. Try to see if you can uplift others without being affected. If you get affected, however, come back, meditate more and try again next time. (Don’t however take risks with this. You can go down the wrong path if you’re not careful. Use your common sense).
Have a handy mantra with you. A mantra literally means a tool for the mind. They are words with power. One of the simplest mantras is “Aum.” When you feel negatively inclined, repeat this mantra to fill yourself with positive energy and get your mind off the subject at hand.
Stay silent. As simple as that. If you feel unwanted energy stirring inside, don’t let it out. Later, you can transmute that using any of your spiritual practices like chanting, meditation, etc.
Consider keeping a like-minded friend with you. You can keep each other accountable. And as I said above, the effect of two magnets is more than one. This prevents you from getting sucked into negativity.
That’s it from my side. Did I miss anything? Do you still have questions? Let me know down in the comments!
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