The inability to sit still is not an uncommon problem for beginners and seasoned meditators alike. Try one of these four meditation techniques to keep your practice going.
Excited to meditate, you get into a comfortable seat and begin to slow down the breath. One minute in, your nose gets exceptionally itchy. A second later, the body starts aching in all the wrong places, and a double flow of thoughts floods the brain. Sounds familiar?
The fret of not being able to sit still stops some from starting a meditation practice and makes others quit it early on. No wonder, since the pop-culture image of a meditator in the lotus pose bombards our eyes. Meanwhile, this picture is somewhat misleading and strays us away from the true definition of meditation.
Take a look at how John Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Technique, scientist and meditation teacher, defines the practice:
Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.
None of the four components require absolute stillness or a specific posture. Thus even if the body denies lotus pose or the mind is restless, you can carry on with your meditation practice. Here are four techniques that can help.
1. Meditate while you walk
At times you might not have an isolated, quiet spot for seated meditation or are so anxious you can only walk back and forth. Then do it mindfully with a walking meditation! The key is to focus on your sensations as legs touch the ground while observing any thoughts as they pass by without judgment.
Ideally, you find a spot six-nine meters long; it can be outside or in a hallway of your apartment. If that isn’t available at the moment, you can walk along the perimeter of your room. In the warmer months, it is great to do it barefoot. Find your posture by maintaining a natural s-shape of the spine, let the hands rest comfortably by your sides. Keep the jaw relaxed and set a soft gaze about two meters in front of you.
Then turn attention to your legs, notice the sensation in your feet. Begin to move very slowly and sense how your leg lifts. In your mind, you can say, “lifting.” As you put the leg forward, mentally acknowledge “moving.” As if in slow motion, place the foot on the ground noticing the sensations: light tingling, warmth, pressure, etc. Continue this mindful walk for about ten minutes.
During walking meditation, it is common to feel like you are losing balance and getting disturbed by your environment. Allow these distractions to become a part of the meditation as you let go of them and continue the practice.
2. Meditating while standing
Standing meditation is well-known in Qigong and Taoist tradition. It is considered that positioning your body in a certain way allows restoring the natural flow of energy through the channels — meridians. Hence standing meditation not only calms of the mind but has a healing effect on your body.
Standing meditation can be done elsewhere, but it is advised to do it inside to begin with. Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes pointing forward. Keep a slight bend in the knees, so your pelvis tucks slightly. For a moment, take note of the grounding energy flowing through the feet into the earth.
Keep the body relaxed and upright, eyes open, gazing forward. A soft smile will enhance the positive effects of the practice. Extend your hands forward as if you are hugging a tree trunk with the elbows slightly bent. Let your palms remain at the level of your dantian — an energy center located just below your navel.
Breathe slowly through the nose, and feel free to adjust your posture. For a moment, imagine yourself as steady and mighty as a mountain. Keep the natural rhythm of the breath and bring attention to your dantain. Observe the energy shifts in the body. You will sense an upward flow of energy at some point that lets you maintain the posture effortlessly.
You can start with five minutes and increase the duration of this meditation over time.
3. Meditating on a mantra
Frequently it is not our body but the mind that does not allow us to sit still. Disturbing thoughts that are especially hard to ignore for beginner meditators force you to escape an uncomfortable feeling or begin problem-solving. Mantra meditation allows you to calm down the mind by repeating a sound — the traditional yogic OM, a single word, or a sentence meaningful for you.
One of the most popular mantras for beginners is So Ham from Sanskrit, “I am that.” Feel free to take the original or translated version. Statements like I am love, I am light, I am peace also work. Just make sure any affirmations you choose are in the present tense and do not include “no” particle.
You can do the entire practice out loud, mumbling, or repeating the mantra silently. You can also combine the three, and as you gradually go into a trance-like state, switch from voice to silence. For this meditation, you can set a timer or repeat the mantra a certain number of times.
Find a comfortable sit on a chair or pillow, listen to the sound of your breath for a moment. Begin repeating the mantra syncing the repetition with your inhale and exhale. For example, So — inhale, Hum — exhale. As you keep repeating, your attention slowly turns inward, the breath slows down, and the mind gets calm.
4. Meditating on something visual
If you are a visual thinker, it is not uncommon to be distracted not by the mind chatter but by the images created in your imagination. Not only the visuals in our heads are often negative, but they also change rapidly. This, combined with the constant flow of visual data from our environment, does not let the brain rest and relax. Visualization meditation gives the brain a still object to focus on.
So what should you visualize? Commonly this meditation uses images of nature: light, fire, sky, mountains, or water. You can go back to your favourite place, take a picture as an example, visualize a candle flame, or a particular crystal. The idea is to imagine something that is relaxing and brings a state of peace. Set a timer for ten minutes, and let your imagination guide you into a relaxed state.
If you want to feel grounded and centered, chose visual of a mountain, need some energy — go for fire, lacking lightness in mind and body — visualise the sky. Do this meditation preferably inside in slightly lit or dark space. Close your eyes and relax the face muscles. Take a few moments to catch the natural flow of breath. Then begin to draw the chosen image in your mind. Once the visual feels complete, let your attention rest on it.
Overall, if you struggle with sitting still during meditation, it is worth paying some extra attention to your yoga asana practice. Since traditionally, it is meant to prepare our body to maintain an effortless posture during meditation for prolonged periods. When it comes to mental distractions, do your best to stop resisting intrusive thoughts and images. As we know “what you resist, persists.”
Lastly, no matter which meditation technique you choose, keep your mind open, drop the expectations, and let the non-judgmental awareness flow.
Have you tried any of the meditations from this list? How do you deal with restlessness during your practice? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments.