When Meditation Feels Hard

We know that meditation is one of the best ways to support wellbeing. Practicing meditation brings a host of scientifically proven benefits – from reduced depression and anxiety to greater resilience to stress, improved sleep quality, better emotional regulation and lower blood pressure, among many other things.

Yet there are times when it doesn’t feel easy to connect with meditation. Busy lives, external demands and feelings of stress and agitation can make it hard for us to sit quietly and go inwards. In tough moments, it can feel like there’s a tempest within – a swirling mass of thoughts, emotions and sensations – and this can be intense to bear. In fact, these are the times when we are most in need of meditation and stilling the mind. So how can we find a way to connect mindfully in these challenging moments – and reap the benefits of this incredible resource?

Create your foundation

One of the best ways we can connect with meditation, no matter what else is happening in our lives, is by practicing regularly. Like any habit, consistent practice forges and reinforces new neural pathways, helping to engrain new patterns and make them easier and more automatic. This creates a healthier baseline state and makes it easier to connect with meditation, even when we’re experiencing difficulties in our lives.

Acknowledge what you’re feeling

When we’re experiencing challenging situations or emotions, meditation is often the moment when things rise to the surface. As we refocus our attention inwards, this can feel overwhelming, and there’s often an urge to escape or block out the sensations. Instead of trying to push these feelings away, try exploring how it is to witness and acknowledge them. Name what it is you’re feeling – fear, anger, pain, uncertainty and so on – and track the accompanying physical sensation in your body. Allow the sensation to move through you and notice how it shifts and evolves. This is a great way to start to create space for feelings without losing ourselves in them. With practice, this enables us to build greater inner resilience and capacity to be with our inner experience, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Explore a somatic resource

If we’re feeling particularly upset or agitated, it can be hard to still the mind and to focus meditatively. In these moments, somatic resources can be a great ally. Somatic simply means related to the body – and these techniques are all about reconnecting to a sense of embodiment. Try standing and shaking your body for a couple of minutes to release tension; lightly brushing or tapping yourself with your hands from the top of your head all the way downwards; sitting and gently rocking yourself; or going for a walk, ideally in a natural environment. All of these simple yet effective tools can help to stop looping thoughts and create a calmer, more grounded state of being.

Take just one breath

Instead of setting high expectations for your meditation practice, try taking just one breath – fully, deeply, consciously. Draw it in right to your edges, feel it fill your body, whole and complete, then see how it releases just as sweetly. As you do so, become aware that the entire universe is also pulsing and contracting in this same endless rhythm. And maybe that’s it, maybe that’s enough. Perhaps this one mindful breath creates just a tiny bit of space – and this in turn takes you somewhere else, opening into the next breath, and the next moment, with fresh eyes.

Be gentle with yourself

Whatever it is you’re experiencing, be kind to yourself. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we might be too busy, too tired, too tightly wound, too afraid to face what’s within, to sit and meditate. And that’s okay. Meditation doesn’t have to be a hard, rigid practice. Mindfulness is about embracing all of yourself and your experience, wherever you’re at. It’s about loving and supporting yourself, learning to be with the difficulties, the light and the shadow, and being gentle with yourself as you do so. In those moments when it’s all too much and meditation in any form doesn’t feel accessible, simply be kind to yourself, let it go, and return again at another time.

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