Ask the Expert: Why Can’t I Meditate?
Welcome to our new Ask the Expert series, in which our panel of health experts answers your wellness questions. Here, yoga and meditation expert Rebecca Pacheco gives you no-BS advice for clearing your mind. Got a question of your own? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No BS—how can I start meditating? I’ve tried a million times and can never do it.
“I don’t like BS either,” Pacheco says. “I’m glad we got that out of the way.”
“The truth is that if you’ve attempted to meditate, then you have indeed meditated,” she continues. “What’s more, you’ve meditated successfully, whether it felt that way or not. Even after years of dedicated practice, veteran meditators still experience periods of distraction and difficulty. However, the other 23 hours and, say, 45 minutes of the day come to feel more grounded, focused, calm, and clear.
This is the biggest misconception about meditation—that if your mind wanders (or you get drowsy, for example), you have screwed it up. You’re a meditation degenerate doomed to a lifetime of distraction and stress. You are doing it wrong.
The reality (and great relief) is that it is impossible to do meditation wrong. In the meditation world, we have a funny quip that the only way to do meditation wrong is—wait for it—not to do it. So, if you want to meditate, all you need to do is start. And when you get distracted or sleepy, or you fantasize about pizza or a political future 3.5 years from now, you, with compassion and persistence, bring your awareness back to the moment. The three key steps to know are:
- Find a comfortable seat. Make sure your spine is tall, and your posture is alert but not rigid. You may lie down if you like, as long as you don’t fall asleep. (Sleep is important, but it won’t help you learn to meditate.)
- Remain still. As often as you itch or twitch or lose focus, try to still your body. With practice, your thoughts will follow.
- Set a timer. Watching the clock never made anyone feel more relaxed. Set your smartphone (make sure it’s on airplane mode), an alarm, or the timer on the oven—whatever works—and try to stay with your breath for that period. Choose a reasonable commitment to start. A sweet spot for my students is between 10 and 12 minutes, but you can do less if you’re busy or more as you get more comfortable with practice.
OK, let’s review: There’s no such thing as a bad meditator. Meditation is not a performance-based activity. If you do it, you will reap its benefits—some of which include less stress, improved concentration, better memory, enhanced creativity, and greater clarity—over time. The steps to follow are above, or you may seek guidance from a teacher, course, app (Headspace and Insight Timer are great), or other resource.
There are few things on earth of which the following can be said: It never hurts. It always helps. It costs nothing. And it can improve everything. Meditation is one of them, and that’s no BS.”
About the Expert: Rebecca Pacheco is the author of Do Your Om Thing, an award-winning yoga and meditation teacher with more than 20 years of experience, an inspiring speaker, and creator of OmGal.com. She’s also the creator of the Runner’s World Yoga for Runners DVD, as well as With Yoga from Women’s Health. She has been featured by NPR, the BBC, Publisher’s Weekly, Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, the Boston Globe, and more. She is the only person to have taught yoga at all three iconic Boston sports venues: Fenway Park, the Boston Garden, and Gillette Stadium. You can connect with her on social media @omgal.
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