5 Mistakes New Meditators Make + What To Do Instead

There’s a widespread belief within the health and wellness community that there is no correct way to meditate, or that meditation involves intense focus and concentration, or that you must sit perfectly still on the floor in order to meditate effectively. These assumptions are all wrong.

Here are five critical mistakes that new meditators make that, if left uncorrected, can cause your meditation practice to feel like torture.

1. Sitting in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable.

Popular pictures of meditators almost always show people sitting on the ground with their backs straight, legs crossed and with their thumb and index fingers touching. Many people feel this is the proper way to meditate because these images are so ubiquitous (Google "meditation" to see what I mean).

But this austere position can and often does feel exhausting after a few minutes. Physical discomfort quickly results in increased mental activity (aka more thinking), which results in your meditation feeling less enjoyable.

What you should do instead:

To make meditation more enjoyable, sit in a way that feels natural to you. That means, have your back supported. Let your hands and feet stay relaxed. I often tell my meditation clients to sit as though they were watching their favorite television show. This frees their mind up to forget about the fact that they’re meditating, and ultimately to transcend their thoughts.

2. Actively trying to stop your mind from thinking.

“Don’t think,” is a thought. “Why am I still thinking,” is another thought.

The quickest way to frustrate yourself and waste time in meditation is by trying to control your thinking mind by trying to suppress your thoughts, or by trying to keep your mind from wandering.

According to a 1987 Harvard University study on thought suppression, researchers found that if you try to suppress your mind from having certain thoughts, you’ll end up having more of that very thought.

What you should do instead:

Instead of employing thought suppression tactics, use thought “acceptance” tactics, such as adopting an attitude of nonchalance and indifference about all of the thoughts you experience in meditation. In other words, the trick to getting rid of unwanted thoughts is to embrace them as a correct outcome of the meditation. You’ll notice how your mind will become increasingly quieter as a result.

3. Getting too comfortable.

Sitting in a relaxed way to meditate is ideal, but there is such a thing as being too relaxed — like when you meditate on your back, for instance. Lying down to meditate obviously makes you vulnerable to falling asleep. While drifting in and out of sleep can feel relaxing, technically, you’re not really meditating if you’re lying down and on the verge of sleep.

What you should do instead:

Start out by sitting up in meditation, but at the same time, be comfortable (remember, you can support your back). Also, allow your head to be free to move about. When sitting up in meditation, you can invoke the relaxation response which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is known to provide the body with levels of rest that are as deep as sleep, if not deeper, without actually sleeping.

4. Trying to be a frozen sculpture.

You’re in mid-meditation, and you have to cough, sneeze, or clear your throat, so you start going into convulsions trying to hold it in. Or, your arm is itching and instead of simply scratching the itch, you’re wishing it away. Or your leg is falling asleep, but you decide to just deal with it, thinking that if you shift your body position, you’ll ruin the effects of the meditation.

What you should do instead:

You’ll create a much more enjoyable meditation experience and be able to meditate for a lot longer, if you give yourself permission to be natural, and cough, sneeze, scratch and shift around as needed. Whenever you resist adjustments to stay comfortable, you inadvertently excite your mind, and this only ever leads to more distracting thoughts in meditation.

5. You take time off from meditation.

You meditate whenever you feel like it. It could be every day, but it’s more likely to be every few days, once a week, or on occasion, such as the days when you’re having a tough time in life. Because there is no structure to your practice, it lacks consistency, and it takes a lot longer for you to feel the benefits.

What you should do instead:

Remember, while you’re skipping days with meditation, stress isn’t taking any days off. In order to have the most effective meditation experiences, it’s important that you have more regularity in your meditation program. That usually means do it every day.

Meditating every day for five minutes per sitting, is far more effective than doing it once a week for half an hour. Likewise, it’s recommended to practice the same technique when you meditate daily, as opposed to skipping around and doing one type of meditation one day, and another type of meditation another day.

As Bruce Lee once quipped, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Make these five adjustments and watch how your meditations become a lot more enjoyable, and make sure you share your experiences with me in the comments section below.

Photo courtesy of the author

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Light Watkins

Meditation Teacher & Founder of The Shine
Light Watkins is a Santa Monica–based Vedic Meditation teacher, mindbodygreen class instructor, a TEDx speaker, and author of The Inner Gym, and Bliss More, How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying. He grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, graduated Howard University with a Bachelors degree in communications, and is based out of Venice, CA. Light recognized his passion for teaching meditation after meeting his Guru in 2002. Following years of daily meditation, Vedic studies, and apprenticeship, Light traveled to India to be trained in the ancient ways of teaching meditation. Afterwards, he dedicated himself to transforming people from all walks of life into self-sufficient meditators. Light’s students have used meditation to whip PTSD, hypertension, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, and even cancer. To date, Light has personally taught over a thousand people to meditate, having yet to meet someone he couldn’t teach.Visit his website at LightWatkins.com to learn more.
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