If you are someone who finds themselves nodding off while trying to meditate and feels like meditation is an effort and not for you, you may be at the right place.
That is because Swami Purnachaitanya, a yogi and senior meditation teacher with The Art of Living, and author of Looking Inward: Meditation To Survive In A Changing World, has some very practical tips to help you power through it with ease and effortlessness.
“These tips will make sure a practice like meditation, which is being done by about 500 million people world over, does not seem alien to you any more,” he said.
Am I meditating or sleeping?
Sometimes we are not even sure of our experience as we begin the journey of meditation. We only relate to sleep as a form of deep rest, which is a limited understanding.
“Many times when people say that they feel sleepy or dozed off during meditation, they are actually meditating properly,” says Swami Purnachaitanya, “The problem is that until now, most of us only associate deep rest with sleep, and therefore when we experience a state where the mind is so relaxed, and we are not so aware of our surroundings, we automatically think that we must have been sleeping or dozing off. However, if you are still aware of coming out of the meditation, or listening to any instructions in the case of a guided meditation, then know that you were not sleeping. Because if you would have been, you would not have heard those instructions either. ”
Here are a few things one can do to help improve experience, and go deeper.
Tip 1: Let the body be comfortable
Meditation is the art of relaxing, of letting go. And for the mind to be able to relax and settle down, first the body needs to be comfortable. So make sure that you find a comfortable place to sit, where you can keep your back straight, but which is comfortable enough for you to be able to sit for some time without having to change your posture. It is perfectly okay to sit on a chair, sofa, or some comfortable cushion – you need not sit on a deerskin on the hard floor to succeed in your meditation practice! Remember, when the body is not comfortable, the mind will also have a very difficult time settling down.
Tip 2: Moving a little before settling down for meditation
For the body, and mind, to be able to settle down more easily for some time, do some exercise before you sit for your meditation. Even five minutes is good enough, and anything that will help you spend some of the extra energy and get rid of that annoying restlessness will do the trick. Whether you want to jump up and down a little, dance, go for a jog, or anything else is up to you. See the mind as a little child – it will not listen to reason, and it will not sit down quietly, unless you make it run around the house a few times. Then, when tired, it will sit quietly for sometime, even without you telling it to do so!
Tip 3: Stay still!
One secret to make the mind settle down and meditate more easily is to keep the body totally still – at least for some time. The body and mind are connected, and just like the body will have difficulty sitting still when the mind is very restless, it works the other way around as well. Keep your body totally still, and you will start seeing that the mind will also become calmer and calmer, settling down gradually.
Tip 4: Attend to your breath
Another secret to make the mind slow down and become calmer, is to pay attention to the breath. When you slow down your breathing, breathing more deeply and steadily, the mind will also start settling down. Practicing a few minutes of breathwork techniques or pranayama can greatly enhance one’s meditation experience, as it prepares the mind by energising and settling it even before you start your meditation.
Tip 5: Watch what you eat, for a superior meditative experience
At the risk of stating the obvious, it should also be mentioned that our meals have an impact on our state of mind – and thus the quality of your meditation – as well. As is said in Hindi ‘jaisa ann, waisa mann’, which could be translated loosely as ‘the food you eat determines your state of mind’. If you have a lot of fried, oily, sugary foods, the mind will naturally be more restless and agitated, or dull. Having more healthy, easily digestible food will lead to a more calm, peaceful and clear state of mind. And it helps to meditate when your stomach is a little empty, or your last meal is digested mostly. After you eat something, your metabolism goes up to digest the food, but during meditation, your metabolism goes down, as your whole system enters a state of deep rest and relaxation. Knowing this much would make it clear why both are quite opposite in nature, and do not go together that well. Of course, this does not mean that some people cannot meditate after a big meal, but here we would like to make it easier for people, rather than making it more difficult by quoting some exceptions. Let us take the easier path.
Tip 6: This is how you can deal with too many thoughts
A common misunderstanding about meditation is that you cannot, or should not, have any thoughts during meditation. A regular and proper meditation practice will no doubt reduce the number and intensity of thoughts that you get, even throughout the day, and result in more positive and pleasant thoughts, but this is more like a side-effect or natural result of meditation. Having a lot of thoughts does not necessarily mean that you are not meditating, or that you are not progressing. When the body and mind settle and experience deep rest, it is natural for the nervous system to unburden itself, and let go of stresses and strains that it has accumulated. These may be released on the physical level in the form of some sensations, pain, or stiffness, or on the mental level as random thoughts. In this case, therefore, having these thoughts come and go on their own is actually a sign that you are meditating properly.
However, when the thoughts coming up are not allowing you to settle down, or they are about some things that you still need to do, or upset about, or anxious about, then they may not allow you to meditate properly. If this happens regularly you can pay some attention to your diet (having some lighter, fresh food, and less spices, fried, oily and heavy items), and your exercise routine. Just doing a few minutes of exercise before you sit for your meditation may already help you to spend some of that pent-up extra energy or restlessness, that we call Rajas or Rajoguna.