When many people first begin a meditation practice, the biggest questions often circle around the logistics. How can I create a space of time to make a meditation practice? Do I have to do it every day? How long every day? How can I make it a regular habit? Will I be able to do it?
These are all valid questions, and answering them becomes a highly individual experience.
But there’s a bigger, more long-lasting challenge to growing your meditation practice. Nearly everyone grapples with this, not only in the early days of creating a practice but often during every single practice session.
The Biggest Challenge
It may surprise you, but the biggest challenge to a satisfying meditation is often just making it past the first 5 minutes each practice session. This is because the mind won’t stop firing off unwanted thoughts. Invasive thoughts. Random thoughts. Disjointed thoughts. Monkey mind. Chattering mind. However it manifests for you, and whatever you call it, the challenge is real.
It diminishes or even destroys more meditation practices than all the other challenges combined. Choosing a zafu (or deciding your sofa cushion works just as well) is fun. Buying some incense and maybe a singing bowl is fun. Feeling that you’ve joined the wave of self-caring people who engage in a meditation practice is fun.
What’s not so fun is sitting on the cushion, lighting the incense, closing your eyes to still your inner self, and then… not being able to get your mind to stop jumping from thought to thought.
If this is your meditation monster, you’re going to like this article.
Because here are 5 techniques to stop those unwanted thoughts, quickly and easily. And you don’t even have to be an ascended yogi on a mountain top. You can be surrounded by noise and distractions and the chaos of everyday life. All of the techniques detailed in their article are easy, efficient, and helpful regardless of your style of meditation.
They’ll help you if you’re into anything from mindfulness meditation up to God Mind meditation.
Because meditation isn’t something separate from living your life and having a mind; it’s exactly part of that life and it occurs in that mind.
The Myth of the Silent Mind
For most of us, a silent mind is a relative state. In meditation, when we say “silence the mind” or “still the mind”, we’re usually referring to ease of focus that does not waver. Most often, meditation teachers will begin with suggestions to quiet the mind rather than silence it.
When the phenomenon of unwanted, random thoughts intrudes into your meditation practice, your craving for a silent mind increases. The randomness of the thoughts can feel like your own mind is shouting at you in a language you don’t fully understand. We’re going to unpack that stress right now.
Each of the following 5 techniques can be used anytime – even outside of meditation – and there’s no right or wrong way to use them. When used during a meditation session, you will probably find them most effective either for the first 5 minutes of your session, or whenever you become aware that your focus has wavered and you’d like to get back on track quickly for the duration of your session. If you use them outside of meditation, you’ll just need a few minutes to give focus to your inner self while you employ the technique. You can even do each of them while sitting at your desk or while doing chores.
Please remember that these are not meditation techniques in and of themselves. This is an important point. They are techniques to help you quiet and calm yourself so that you can meditate more easily and deeply.
Here are the 5 techniques.
1. Apply a Breathing Exercise – stat!
A breathing technique is a set of steps to breathe in and out in a specific way.
Usually, the techniques themselves are pretty simple, but their impact can be deep. While the classic suggestion to notice the breath – a super useful go-to step in mindfulness meditation – is not a breathing technique in and of itself, you could try applying it when your mind goes bananas. However, giving your racing mind specific steps to follow keeps it from spinning out, giving it a chance to slow down to match your desired pace.
Here are 3 suggestions to get you started:.
- Inhale for a count of 5, exhale for a count of 7. Then inhale for a count of 6, exhale for a count of 8. Inhale for 7, exhale for 9. And so forth. You can increase or decrease the durations to suit your body, just remember to breathe out for a longer count than you breathe in. You’ll find your most useful and workable count ratio.
- Inhale from the toes, pulling the breath up through the body, and exhale through the top of the head. Really take note of the flow, trying to stay focused on the sensation of breath flowing in and out of your whole body. You can count these long breaths if you want, or you can just breathe until you notice that your mind is calm and collected.
- Inhale slowly through the nose till your lungs feel pleasantly full, then hold the breath in for a count of 2 before exhaling. See if you can increase the duration of the hold time while maintaining relaxation. Again, you can count these held breaths if you want, or you can just breathe until you feel focused and more capable of detaching from the thoughts that arise as you meditate.
2. Perform a Brief But Thorough Body Scan
A body scan provides you with two meditation assists: it helps to focus the mind and slow those racing thoughts, and it also helps prepare the body to go into a deeper meditation session. Here’s how to do it:
Starting at the feet, take note of each area of your body, consciously deciding to relax it. The toes, the soles of the feet, the heel, the ankles, the shins, knees, thighs, pelvis, buttucks, abdomen, chest, shoulder, arms, hands, necks, jaw, cheeks, ears, eyes, eyebrows, and finally scalp.
As you go through the scan, your mind will start to allow itself to focus on each area of the body. You may still feel your thoughts jump around, but your ability to bring them back to the body scan will increase gently.
3. Give Focus to Just ONE Body Part
Too many details in a full body scan? Or you only have a few minutes for your meditation and you’d like to get into it more quickly? We gotcha. Try focusing on just one body part, and lavish it with detailed relaxation.
You’ve heard of a tension headache, right? Typically, these headaches start with muscle tension, sometimes in the face and jaw, but other times further down, in the neck, shoulders, arms, or chest. Human bodies have a super power for holding onto stress. Often, the racing mind is a manifestation of this holding. So, if you’re feeling physically tense, eye fatigue, a headache, etc., try focusing on the area between the eyes.
If you’re not aware of any particular physical tension, try a “hand scan”, in which you quietly and thoroughly explore all the points of your hand in your mind. Try starting at the fingertips and working your way to the wrist. It’s usually easier to do one hand at a time, but as you practice this technique more often, you might enjoy doing both hands simultaneously.
The same technique can be applied to the feet. You might find this particularly helpful if you’re feeling physically fatigued without noticeable physical pain.
4. Explore a Detailed Image in Your Mind
This is a really fun technique because you can choose whatever appeals to you. Many people like to use an image that puts them in the mood to meditate – a candle, an ankh, a cross, a star shape, etc – but you can use anything – a book, a horse, an Amazon delivery envelope you brought into the house before you sat down to meditate…anything. The point of this exercise isn’t what you visualize but rather to visualize in great detail.
The key is to thoroughly explore this image. Every detail. When you notice the mind wandering away to its chatty place, gently return your focus to the image, giving special focus to small details that make the image unique.
Even if visualization is a challenge for you, try this technique any time you feel thoughts or emotions start to overwhelm you – even completely outside of meditation. It’s an easy way to practice visualization because the goal is not to visualize. Rather, the goal is to regain your sense of center.
5. Repeat a Mantra That Speaks to You Personally
People engage mantras for all kinds of things – from the spiritual quest to reunite with the divine to the material desire for money and things.
For our purpose of quieting the mind, we can stick with very basic mantras that allow you to give total mindfulness to the few words and what they make you feel. This application of a mantra is intended to work as a magnet for your scattered thoughts by giving them one central “sun” around which they can revolve.
You can create your own mantra, or find one that feels personal to you. Feel free to apply your imagination to this exercise. Have a few mantras at the ready next time you meditate and “try them on” to see how they fit. What works one day might not work the next. Explore!
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
I am releasing tension from my jaw.
My shoulders are soft and relaxed.
Heart, mind and body are flowing as one in a stream.
Thoughts are arising, thoughts are subsiding.
The mind is opening to a warm and beautiful light.
The breath flows from head to feet, from feet to head.
I am one with all.
Love flows through me like a summer breeze.
Once you find a mantra that feels right to you – and it may take a few explorations to land on the right combination of words, images, and/or intentions – you can say it silently inside your mind, or you can utter it aloud.
Whichever way you decide on, be sure to give full focus to what you’re saying. There’s no award for getting through 20 repetitions the fastest. But there’s a definite reward to exploring the words and how they make you feel.
If you experience invasive thoughts bullying their way into your awareness, you can smile at them and say, “You are not as interesting as my beautiful mantra”. And then return your focus to repeating your mantra as a gift to your own heart.
SUGGESTION: If you’re unsure how to count repetitions of your mantra and feel attached to wanting to do that, you can just tick them off on your fingers. If that’s not physically possible for you, you can simply imagine each finger receiving a repetition of your chosen mantra. Start with the pinky finger of one hand and move onto the other hand beginning with the thumb. Then back again, from the pinky finger of that hand on through to the pinky finger of the first.
6. This Bonus "Super Tip" Might Surprise You
Here’s the Super Tip promised at the beginning of the article.
Periodically, you might find that your mind will not be still, no matter what you try.
That stressful or pointless thoughts will not settle and become slower, quieter, or less present.
That a peaceful meditation session eludes you.
When that happens, stop trying just for today.
Allow self-love to embrace the difficulty, spend a few moments looking at the chatty mind and how it will not be stilled, and then rise from your meditation position and go do something else as a gesture of self-love and self-care.
This gentle release allows you to continue practicing meditation while not practicing ways for the chatty mind to overtake your practice.
If this suggestion seems contrary to other articles you’ve read, consider what you’re doing when you try to battle your way through a meditation session that is filled with a chattering mind.
You’re not practicing meditation that day, you’re practicing the fight against the mind.
So instead, fold up your meditation mat for the day, or at least for this session. (You might try again later in the day if you want.) Tell yourself, “I am growing in my meditation practice, and I’ve ended practice for today and will practice meditation again tomorrow (or later)”.
Allow yourself to love growing your meditation practice, rather than teaching yourself how to battle against your own mind.
Learning to quiet your mind will bear many gifts in your practice and in your life. Sure, one of the most peaceful benefits of meditation is to be unburdened of your chatty minds. To simply observe your thoughts and not be led into a spiral of mental and emotional diffusion. The time it takes to achieve that state can be filled with fun and a sense of purpose. We hope that the above suggestions prove helpful to you as you pursue this path.
if you’d like a little extra help with learning how to quiet the mind, and practicing ways to quiet the mind, you might consider a Free Membership to QuietSelf. Our Free Membership provides a no-cost/no-obligation selection of 4 extremely useful audio tracks to help you grow your practice. If you find it helpful and want to bump up to the full Library, you can do that when you’re ready.
Start your Free Membership today. It really can help you.