There are many scientific benefits of meditation, including stress relief, increased self-awareness, and even a longer lifespan! However, without the proper meditation techniques, you may not be able to receive all of these benefits as you meditate.
In part 1 of this 2-part series, get ready for a deep dive into just 4 common meditation mistakes and specific suggestions for how you can avoid them.
1. Holding onto Your Thoughts
Meditation is a practice that allows you to clear your mind.
Or, perhaps better said, it can allow you to allow your mind to clear.
Often, the chatty mind seems to have a life of its own. No matter how much you try to “let go” of thoughts, or even prevent them from coming into consciousness, it’s a non-winnable battle. The mind thinks thoughts. That’s what it does. The key is to not focus on the mind having thoughts. This is because when you’re focused on either following your thoughts, or denying them access to your consciousness awareness, you’re not meditating, you’re thinking.
When you’re struggling with “too many thoughts” as you try to meditate, consider this: you are not your thoughts. You are not even the thinker of those thoughts. You are a higher consciousness, beyond that mind, above those thoughts.
Consider for a moment, outside of trying to mediate and swatting away thoughts like pesky flies, what does it mean to be the observer of your thoughts? Who’s the you observing you? If you’re observing yourself having thoughts, how could you possibly be those thoughts? Or even be contained by those thoughts. You are not subject to your mind and your thoughts. Rather, you have dominion over them. You have agency here in stopping the chatty mind and its endless stream of attention-seeking.
Give the mind non-thoughts to calm it down. A non-thought is a simple experience that you can give focus to, such as breathing. That’s why basic meditation classes –and some advanced classes – begin and end with the breath. While there are some awesome advanced breathing techniques, just simple breathing is the cornerstone of a basic mindfulness practice because, well, everyone breathes. Everywhere you are, however you got there, whatever your physical limitations, you are breathing. Breath is coming in, breath is flowing out. You’re taking in what you need, you’re putting out what you no longer can use but is needed elsewhere.
You’ve perhaps sometimes heard breath referred to as prana. Prana is actually the whole sustaining energy that expresses itself through life, and a fascinating topic on its own.
But basic breathing doesn’t have to be that high-minded. You just focus on “Here is an inhalation…here is an exhalation”, over and over again. When you give that your focus, there’s no inroad for the chatty mind to successfully horn in and overtake your awareness. At most, if you feel it happening, you can use the technique of saying to yourself, “Oh, here’s a thought…that’s happening right now” and then redirect your awareness instead on “Here is an inhalation…here is an exhalation.” It takes practice, but that’s the whole point. Practice.
Some people, especially early in their meditation practice, can find focusing on the breath a bit stressful. Too much body awareness, perhaps. They find themselves trying to control the breath in unhelpful ways. If this happens to you, there’s another technique to try: give yourself a single, simple external object to focus on. A popular example is the flame of a small candle.
If you choose to try this method, try to remember to not go off on thoughts about the object you’re giving focus to. You might try saying, over and over inside your head (or aloud, if you’d like), “Flame…flame…flame…” Then apply the “Oh, here’s a thought” technique if your mind wanders to fire in general or other topics entirely, and then return to simply “Flame…flame…flame…”
2. Being Inconsistent
As is true with any mental or physical discipline, meditation requires a sustainable practice. Whatever your preferred style of meditation, regular practice is key to making progress and receiving benefits.
Many people practice meditation only when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. That’s totally understandable. You’re upset and you need and deserve some relief from that upset. And while this approach might bring some small benefit at the time, it’s not a practice – it’s emotional triage. You deserve more. Much more.
The biggest disservice you do to yourself in meditating only when you feel stressed out is that you don’t really give yourself a chance to relax. You’re somewhat forcing a relaxed “patina” onto the stress du jour. Whether you engage in basic mindfulness meditation or advanced higher consciousness techniques, the benefits of your practice will deepen with repetition. You will relax into these benefits more quickly and more deeply with practice.
In fact, if you’re one of the millions of people around the world meditating as a form of stress reduction, you might begin to notice a significant reduction in the number of times you even feel stressed throughout the day…the week…the year.
A fight with your partner. Sudden monetary deficits. An undermining boss at work. Elder care. Final exams at school. New social engagements. These are all parts of life. But it’s our reactions to these events that do or do not bring stress. Using meditation to treat the sudden stress will always yield results. Meditation is awesome that way. It’s like a good friend who’ll come help you fix a flat tire on the freeway at 2 in the morning.
But the biggest reward – to experience less frequent stress in the first place – is obtainable only through consistent practice. Practice allows you to figure out what does and does not work for you. You can use your practice commitment to change things up while still sticking to your basic routine.
So always check in with how you feel at the end of every practice session. Use self-observation to guide your next session and the next. Even when you are feeling like you’re in a rut, or you’ve reached a plateau, consistency is key to moving you forward.
3. Expecting Immediate Results
Presto change-o, meditation to the rescue! Yay! Sunshine and fields of wildflowers! Unicorns and glitter!
One of the easiest mistakes that you can make in your meditation practice is expecting immediate results.
Even more counterproductive is that many people come to meditation practice expecting to have a great experience the very first time. Yet for most of us, this will not be the case. Especially without some extra help in the form of a voice guide, brain entrainment audio, etc.
And on the flip side, some people are afraid to begin a meditation practice because it seems like a long, slow burden that takes years to perfect. They don’t want to be disappointed at how long it will take to develop a graceful body-mind awareness.
Let go of all of this when you decide to begin meditating.
Stop putting meditation on an impossible pedestal. Meditation is neither easy nor difficult. It is simply a process.
Keep this reality in mind: meditation doesn’t require practice, it is a practice.
If you can begin your practice – not only your first time meditating, but every time you meditate – with a brief inventory of expectations, you’ll set yourself up for a feeling of satisfaction rather than disappointment. Learning how to manage the expectations you have of your practice will go miles towards keeping you moving forward, happily and with a sense of purpose.
We all read articles about how studies have shown that Tibetan monks showing increased gamma brainwaves during meditation…or that their bodies decompose more slowly after death than the bodies of non-meditators…or that the “right” meditation can lead to lucid dreaming….
While these things are interesting, they might not pertain to you and your practice in the least way. Maybe your practice is to slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and feel ready to fall asleep at night. Or maybe you’d like to develop a different form of self-talk, filled with more self-compassion and understanding. These are highly reasonable goals, even if you do not achieve them when you first begin to incorporate meditation into your life.
So, while expecting unusual or extreme “results” from meditation really does defeat its most basic purpose, it’s okay to have things you work towards in meditation. If you consider these to be less like goals and more like sign posts along a country road, everything will be easier and more relaxed in your practice.
When we let go of achieving goals through meditation practice, we open up the possibilities of instead achieving a way of being in the world. Generally. Every day. Even if you have to skip meditation on this day or that day, your practice is a part of you, and it will yield results over time.
4. Choosing the Wrong Space
When you’re new to meditation, choosing the right space for practice might not seem especially important. Or, the reverse might be the case, and you struggle to make your meditation “space” as nice as spaces you’ve seen in magazines and online.
The fact is, what constitutes the “right space” varies widely from person to person. And getting too caught up in making your space perfect can end up taking you far afield from the actual practice of meditation.
There are 3 key things to consider in a starter meditation space:
- PRIVACY – It’s important to consider your mental and emotional comfortability. For example, if you’re in a class environment, meditating with others, privacy extends to the whole group. You’re all meditating alone together, so to speak, and this focus you share is part of the meditation experience. But if you’re starting out on your own, consider how to set up a space to please just yourself. Most likely, this will be somewhere in or around your home, where you feel you can relax and let your guard down. Look for a way to set up an environment that allows you to comfortably “be yourself”, without having to directly take into account how your practice session will impact others. This will relax you, and it will allow your thoughts and emotions to most easily focus on the meditation itself. Be sure to extend this sense of privacy to your phone, so that calls or texts do not come in and interrupt your meditation.
- SAFETY – In addition to mental/emotional privacy, look for a space that offers physical privacy and safety. For example, if you live alone, be sure to lock your doors and, if needed for security, any windows. Check that the stove is off. And so forth. If you prefer to meditate at an outside location – such as a park, along a hiking trail, on the train into work, etc – be mindful of your surroundings and set yourself up to stay safe for the duration of the meditation. Pro Tip: if you’re meditating while wearing headphones or earbuds in an environment you can’t control (park, hiking, etc),, be sure to disable noise cancellation.
- COMFORTABILITY – Not everyone is able to sit in padmasana (lotus position, with your ankles crossed in your lap), or in swastikasana (ankles crossed below the lap) or even in sukhasana (ankles folded atop one another). In fact, not everyone is even able to sit. Meditation isn’t about striking a pose. Rather, if a particular pose is part of your practice, that should be because it suits your habit-making and helps you stay comfortably in meditation longer. Choose a space, and a position in that space, that suits your body and allows it to relax and support the mental and emotional focus of your task.
In addition to these basic recommendations, there are a few other things about choosing and detailing your “right” space for meditation:
- If you can devote even a small corner exclusively to meditation, that space will begin to feel like an oasis as your practice grows. In the beginning, it might feel a bit like you’re giving up something (space). But over time, the rewards will be significant.
- Keep your space clean. Even if you cannot devote a specific corner exclusively to meditation, no worries. However, do clean the space before each practice session. This can mean anything from removing clutter to dusting surfaces or sweeping the floor. Clutter can subconsciously make you feel anxious and may make it more difficult to find the peace that you are looking for. Clearing your space really will contribute to clearing your mind and help you begin feeling peaceful even before meditation starts.
- Consider lighting a scented candle or incense as you begin your session. Choose gentle scents that signal the body to relax. You might get some ideas for what to try by considering the benefits of aromatherapy. Choosing certain scents can actively assist your practice. Moreover, sense memory is powerful, and the habit of including scent will help to quickly ease you into accepting that the session has begun. It’s like tossing a horseshoe and hitting the spike every time.
- Use a chime or bell to signal that meditation is about to begin. For example, every audio Experience in the QuietSelf library begins with a light chime followed by 9 seconds of silence before the full begins. (Hear for yourself what it sounds like.) Establishing this kind of small ritual for yourself signals to the mind that you are beginning your session, and it also allows your body a few seconds to settle itself before you begin your first inhalation to get started.
The fact is, what constitutes the “right space” varies widely from person to person. Experiment with spaces, and what you do in your meditation space. You’ll quickly begin to know what works best for you.
Get Help With These Common Meditation Mistakes Today
We hope that this deep dive into common mistakes in meditation has been helpful. There are other pitfalls to consider, but for now, considering just the first 4 in the list of 8 is helpful to your practice.
When you are trying to practice cosmic energy meditation, many things can affect your experience. Whether you are holding onto your thoughts or not practicing meditation consistently, you may not feel like meditation is working. However, by avoiding the 4 common meditation mistakes detailed above, you can see a significant improvement in your mind and body connection.
Do you want some assistance with meditation? QuietSelf can help! We offer cosmic meditation solutions for modern old souls. By using our free membership, you can have two guided meditations and one music-only meditation from our audio library. Use them anytime you’d like, for free.
Ready to continue onto Part 2 of this series? Click here to read it now.