A Guide to Problems When Practicing Meditation
Here is a list of problems that you may encounter in practicing meditation. The list is in alphabetical order: scroll down to find your problem.
Delusions: See, in this dictionary, “Delusion” and “Reality.”
Depression: See, in this dictionary, “Depression” and “Pain.” Also see "Pain" below.
Difficulty or discomfort with a physical position: If you are practicing meditation or yoga just for the physical benefits, then ask your yoga or exercise master what you can do to ease your discomfort or work your way into the position by first becoming used to easier positions.
If your intent is, primarily, to practice meditation and/or mindfulness (see), simply change the position. You don’t need a specific pose, place, position, or movement to successfully practice meditation. (See also “Meditation”/”Moving”; “Meditation”/”Sitting”; and “Hatha Yoga.”)
If you are experiencing regular or frequent pain, see “Pain.”
Disagreement with Others about your Practice: Does your meditation cause stress in your living situation because others don’t like the fact that you are meditating? Do not fall into the trap of forcing yourself to meditate when you are sensitive to someone else around you disapproving of it.
Simply meditate elsewhere. You do not have to sit: meditating when walking is possible. If you feel you need to sit, it is possible to find public places such as libraries, parks, or coffeehouses where you can sit quietly, perhaps even with a phone, laptop, or book in front of you, while you meditate.
In addition, may people meditate just before sleep. You can go to bed and then place yourself in any position that will help you stay awake while you meditate. Or you can simply go to bed and meditate your way to sleep. Meditations done while falling asleep are effective during the time you are still conscious and, likely, for a minute or two after you have fallen asleep while your mind and body are still unconsciously focused on your meditation.
Disbelief: Do you have trouble meditating because you don’t believe in God, or you don’t believe that God has any influence on individuals? If so, you should know that many meditators believe the same things. Change your meditation methods, if that helps you. A large body of science supports the value of meditation, whether you are doing it simply for self-improvement and happiness or for some other rational, non-spiritual purpose.
Drugs (see also “Drugs and Implants”): If use of mind-altering drugs causes you to go into unusual meditation states, then use different entries in this dictionary or others to find a description of your unusual experience. It may be a legitimate–a common–meditation state, or even a somewhat uncommon one that still is recognized by long-time meditators as a legitimate meditation state.
It also is possible that you have experienced a delusion (see “Delusions”) or a highly negative emotional feeling (see “Pain, Emotional”). It also is possible that you have experienced some kind of inappropriate or distracting psychological condition, which can be found in dictionaries and encyclopedias describing such experiences. (See also “Psychological Problems” below in this entry.)
If any of these happen to you and do not go away soon–if they remain, or if they return frequently–then you should consult a medical doctor or other therapist.
Falling asleep: This is a very common problem. Some meditation masters in the Far East have, for thousands of years, used a special stick with a “Y” at the top to prop under their chins as they sit in meditation. Then, if they fall asleep, they will not slump forward or fall over, and once they awaken, can continue to meditate.
However, contemporary solutions are simpler and perhaps more helpful:
If you have trouble sleeping, then try the same kind of meditation when you want to sleep at night or take a nap.
If you want to remain awake, try a different point on which to concentrate.
Try meditation while you move. (See “Meditation”/”Moving.”)
What do you normally do to keep awake? Try that–coffee, physical activity, even talking with others–while you meditate, or try meditating while you do that.
Nothing happening: Sometimes the answer is to simply change position, place, or time for meditating–e.g., meditating while your young children are having breakfast is not always the easiest time for you to concentrate, nor are certain places, times of day, or states of emotion. You might also try changing the type of meditation you are using (see “Meditation”): focus on a different part of your body or a different feeling, or focus in another way (e.g., instead of on one point or memory, let your focus loosen so that you are simply watching everything–being observant of each thought and feeling occurring in your thoughts and feelings).
Nothing Happening Again (Unable to Repeat an Experience): Sometimes you have an interesting or even wonderful experience in meditation. Then, when you try to repeat it, you cannot. How might you repeat it? One way is to remember and focus on the memory of the experience itself, and/or the feelings you got from it. Another way is to repeat the meditation steps you took that helped you have the experience.
However, some experiences just cannot be repeated easily or quickly. This is because, sometimes, as happens with athletes and many others in the external world, you may suddenly jump far beyond what you normally experience internally. Whatever might cause this, you may have to continue to practice meditation to have it happen more than once. If this occurs, don't worry about it. Simply continue with your meditation practices in whatever way you consider most helpful, and eventually you are likely to have the experience in some way again.
Pain: If you are experiencing physical pain caused by meditation, then several responses may be helpful. First, if your pain is caused by a physical position, change it: one need not use a specific position to meditate well. Second, if the pain gradually grows as you meditate, again, try using a different physical position.
Third, if the pain occurs in spite of using a different position, you may need to meditate at a time that is later than when you last ate, or to exercise before meditating. Fourth, if mild pain occurs, it is usually safe to persist in the meditation and see if the pain lessens: it may be a passing stress or or even disturbance from eating that meditation seems to cause, though really it is one’s greater relaxation or better physical balance or breathing during meditation that is causing temporary pain to appear and then dissipate. Fifth, for any kind of intense, difficult, or long lasting pain, consult a physician: meditation sometimes can reveal important body needs and problems more quickly than may happen in normal life.
If you are trying to solve or ease pain by using meditation, see the entry in this dictionary called “Pain.”
Psychological disturbance (See also in this dictionary "Psychology," "Emotional Reactions," “Dangers” and “Tantra Yoga”): Many forms of meditation generally are benign, causing little or no turmoil in life or, as often can be the case, actually helping one’s psychological balance over a period of continued meditation practice of days or months. However, some forms of meditation can cause psychological or even physical disturbances (see also “Pain,” above). If such disturbance occurs, the related meditation practice usually should be stopped.
Often there is no harm and may be much good in also looking for help from counselors, psychologists, and physicians. Meditation can reveal or uncover theretofore unknown psychological or physical problems or needs.
Certain meditation forms in particular can be disturbing, such as those that encourage or explore lower emotions such as material or social power, lust, wealth, lower pleasures, or other emotions or feelings that usually are not ranked among the best attributes of humans. While focusing on these may, in the life of meditation, may be possible or even, in advanced practices, in some way necessary, even then they should be approached with great caution and with the aid of a guide–for example, a yoga master or psychologist–or, at the least, with very thorough and careful studying of manuals and other clear, well accepted and written guidebooks. In very advanced stages of meditation, one can let the higher levels and experiences “descend” to the lower levels to aid in the process of clarifying and improving the lower levels (see “Descending and Ascending Energies”).
Straying Focus: Are you having trouble keeping your mind focused? Do your thoughts or feelings stray? Changing positions may help, especially if you change from lying to sitting, from sitting to standing, or from standing to walking. Changing the sound around you also may help: from music to no music, or from one type of music to another (many people find music helpful for meditation, especially if it is wordless music).
Another classic method used since ancient times by meditators is to use tapping or touching on some point of your body as a reminder. First, you should choose a part of your body, usually on the front center, the top of the heard, one hand or another, or possibly your heart. Then you should choose a tapping rate: once very ten seconds or so, or more often. The tapping should be in a place, at a speed, and in a way that it helps your focus stay on meditating, rather than straying.
Two other methods are counting and causing discomfort. If counting–out loud or within your head–helps, then you may use this, too, with or without tapping. Yet another method is to place yourself in a position that is slightly uncomfortable, so that your discomfort reminds you to meditate.
A final method, when stray thoughts occur, is to chase them with your conscious awareness, watching and following them wherever they go. This may dissipate them or, at the least, help you become more conscious of what happens when your thoughts stray.
Home A - Z Guides Yoga Sutras
Most recent content revision 25 July 2019
Text © 2017-2020 by Richard Jewell
Images © 1994-2018 by Gabriel R. Jewell
First edition: 1 Sept. 2018. Second edition: 1 Sept. 2019. Free Use Policy
Questions? Suggestions? Go to www.richard.jewell.net/contact.htm.
Natural URL: www.richard.jewell.net/meditationary/default.htm