I have a confession. I can’t believe I’m saying this but… I couldn’t stand meditation when I first tried it. I know right? The yoga teacher turned mindfulness mentor hated meditation? Yup. And if you’re anything like I was back then, keep reading because I think there’s hope for both of us.
When I first tried meditation, I gave up. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t figure out how to make my mind “go blank” like I thought was expected of me. My clothes wouldn’t feel quite right so I’d have to adjust, or my hair would tickle my ear so I had to fidget. I thought I was just bad at meditation. So I faked it.
I’d literally end a yoga class laying in Savasana, while mentally planning out what I’d write in my next essay due for Child Development or run through new lab protocols I’d learned that day at work. On more than one occasion I was actually quite productive during those last few moments of class. I even came up with the idea for my senior research project during Savasana one night. It was kind of like those epiphany moments you can get in the shower or in the middle of a long drive. It’s as if your mind’s been working away trying to solve a problem for you in the background while you go about your day, and then it suddenly hits you and you can’t believe you didn’t come up with the solution before.
That was what I expected of myself from meditation. I expected to either have these brilliant shifts in perspective and shiny new ideas that would spring from my subconscious, or I expected myself to feel weightless and so relaxed that nothing could phase me the rest of the day. So it’s understandable when neither of those things ever happened when I tried to meditate, I gave up.
I thought I was bad at meditation. Instead of relaxed, meditation stressed me out. Whenever I did try to sit quietly, focusing on my breath, I’d feel this rush as soon as I closed my eyes, almost like the falling sensation you’d get before drifting off to sleep. Looking back, I was probably an exhausted college student and needed sleep not meditation.
Sitting quietly with myself, with nothing but my own thoughts, was honestly scary. And it makes sense now because I wasn’t the nicest to myself back then. I was highly self-critical, never thought what I did was good enough, and always had to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t be left alone with my thoughts. It’s no wonder I didn’t like it. I didn’t even like me.
So I leaned into my physical practice. I moved my body when I felt stuck in my mind and wrote off meditation as something that just wasn’t my thing. It honestly wasn’t until after several years of therapy that I even recognized why I hated meditation and was always keeping myself distracted from the present moment. I was scared. I was afraid of how I would treat myself when it was just me and my thoughts.
It wasn’t until I met one of my own mindfulness mentors many years later that I realized I wasn’t “bad” at meditation because there’s genuinely no way to be good or bad at it. The perfectionist in me could’ve audibly sighed. I could let go of that expectation of myself.
I was relieved when my mindfulness mentor told me if I ever heard a guided meditation, whether it was an audio recording or another teacher, begin the session with “clear your mind…” to get up and leave, delete the app, or X out of the YouTube video because “I don’t know what that is but it’s not meditation.”
In reality, the simple act of noticing that the mind is full of thoughts or becoming aware of when you’re distracted, is the only way anyone can become “good” at meditation. It’s like flexing and building muscle. You can voluntarily tense your muscles as much as you’d like but if you never add a little extra weight, your muscle isn’t going to actually change. Each time you practice meditation and there are lots of distractions, it’s like increasing the weight you’re using to build that muscle. Sometimes it’s too much too fast and we have to adjust. You could consider that the more times you get distracted, the more chances you have to notice this is happening, counted that as me getting “better” at it.
It took some time, and lots of self-compassion, but I learned to appreciate my meditation practice as I got more comfortable with simply being alone with myself.
I still prefer a walking meditation or doing Pilates, but at least now I don’t hate seated meditation. And now I recognize that there are many other ways to practice mindfulness besides sitting in solitude.
I supposed my takeaway is that, if anyone feels like meditation isn’t for them (or more likely feels like they’re bad at it) to please be kind to yourself. I promise, you’re not bad at it.
Perhaps you might like these other ways of settling into the present:
- Go for a walk and look for anything and everything the color yellow (or any color of the rainbow)
- While in line at the grocery store, become aware of the soles of your feet. Maybe shift side to side, foot to foot, or from toes to heel. Use your balance to shift and recenter yourself.
- After parking your car and arriving at your destination, take a moment to notice and appreciate your hands. Maybe even give yourself a little massage (the pressure point between thumb and pointer finger usually loves some extra attention).
- Inhale and let out an audible sigh. Notice any changes in the body, any movement, or different physical sensations that come up as you inhale and exhale.
With a little curiosity and patience with yourself, I know you’ll find the type of mindfulness practice that fits best for what you need in this moment.