I am compiling a (very incomplete) list of distractions you might encounter during concentration practice. These will not include the various types of discomfort you would experience from sitting in meditation posture, which you can read about here. But some other issues might be…
- Irregular breathing
- Nagging thoughts
- Sleepy mind
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! During a long meditation period on retreat, I once began to cry and couldn’t stop. I had heard stories of such occurrences–probably repressed emotions coming out–and so was able to simply allow it to happen in a detached way. Mindfulness practice can be very powerful. Here are more basic distractions:
Irregular or Forced Breathing
A common pitfall among beginners is the tendency to lapse into an irregular breathing pattern while focusing on the breath, the way a musician will force a quicker tempo when concentrating too hard on a passage. To change a forced breathing pattern, you can…
====> Inhale deeply and then exhale, allowing the breath to rest in a natural state
The breath should flow naturally and will often be shallow and barely perceptible. If this doesn’t work, try to shift your focus temporarily to another part of your body, or even a nearby sound, with placing much emphasis on this new focal point. Then gently return to the breath.
Nagging Thoughts are the Product of Monkey Mind
If you read the article that describes your mind as a wild elephant we are attempting to tame, you remember how your active mind is constantly producing new thoughts and images. On occasion, a thought will keep you so preoccupied that you can’t shake it. What if you forget the Big Idea you just had? Here’s a tip you won’t read elsewhere:
====> Open your eyes to jot down a quick note, then resume your sit
This accomplishes two things: You have captured this nagging thought, and it should magically disappear from your current practice of meditation. I always keep a small memo pad nearby.
Sleepy Mind is a Glimpse of the Dream State
Sleepy mind is common in sitting meditation because, I believe, when you close your eyes for a period, your brain decides it’s time for rest.
You’ll hear the term “monkey mind” which refers to your active thoughts constantly arising and supplanting the previous thoughts. This is your mind’s most comfortable state. You will know the transition to sleepy mind when the thoughts become dream-like stories, some of which make no sense.
Here are some ways to alleviate sleepy mind:
- Open your eyes and adopt a “fuzzy” gaze
- Pinch your earlobes
- Drink some water
- Dramatically alter your posture, or stand up
In most cases, your brain wants your body to rest and napping might be the best solution. This is frustrating to the beginner, so I’ve devised some preemptive measures:
====> Meditate at a different time of day
If you’re exhausted from work, or full from a big meal, your body instinctively wants to rest. Maybe you can switch your regular sitting to when you rise in the morning.
====> Exercise before sitting
A friend of mine would always perform his yoga routine before meditating, so his body and mind were energized.
====> Have some caffeine
A hot drink might make your body warm and cozy, perhaps inviting sleep, but I will often take a cup of Yerba Maté before sitting. It’s an herbal tea popular in South America that has stimulating properties, without the edge. Cold brew coffee is gaining popularity, too, and goes straight to the system.
Self-Doubt is Crushing
Any doubt about the benefits of mindfulness before or during meditation can sap the experience completely. It’s hard to crawl out of this hole once you’ve fallen in. Take heart and…
====> Just begin again. Quality isn’t important.
You must remember that humans have been sitting in meditation for thousands of years, and now the benefits are being backed by studies at a snowballing rate. I believe you cannot have a “bad sit,” that it’s all part of your journey. More practice is better, wherever, whenever, and you will find it will soon integrates with your daily life.