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The Habits of Highly Successful Meditators

Learn to Train Without Strain During Meditation


Meditation is one of the most worthwhile activities you’ll ever do. But it’s not easy—particularly at first. When you sit quietly, you’ll first notice the thoughts. Sometimes they’re like a dull ache that trickles throughout your body. Sometimes they come rapid-fire, like bullets from a machine gun. In either case, avoid getting upset at yourself for becoming consumed by the thoughts. The thoughts are like stereotypical teens, the more you get angry at them, the more rebellion will set in.

Rather than criticize yourself for becoming distracted, I suggest a gentler approach. The technique is based on the same principle that I teach my clients who need help disciplining their children or pets: go about it softly and consistently. Being harsh isn’t helpful and will encourage our minds to wander off. It’s natural for our minds to veer off course, but it’s also natural for them to focus as well. When thoughts distract us, we simply need to redirect our attention—kindly and gently—back to what we want to focus on. When we take this compassionate approach, meditation becomes light. Just as a soothing stretch of the body invigorates and relaxes us, our meditation sessions should feel equally as refreshing.

If meditating gives you a headache or pains in your back or neck, these are often signs that you're pushing yourself harder than is good for you. Furthermore, when meditation feels like “it’s tough to do!” that's usually a result of straining during your practice.

The remedy to a stressful practice is to have a meditative anchor. Let’s explore one of these anchors—the mantra.

Many meditation teachers, particularly those whose backgrounds are rooted in Asia, instruct their students to repeat a word or phrase silently as they meditate. These can be non-English, such as words from Sanskrit—the ancient language of the Indian subcontinent. They are sometimes described as being meaningless sounds designed to calm the mind. But I disagree.

Meditation systems that have their origins in Asia are typically rooted in religion. As a result, mantras from countries like India use names of gods that come from the religions that developed in those regions. For instance, “namah” means “I bow down.” If you’ve learned to use a mantra that has “nam,” which is a shortened version of “namah,” then your mantra most likely translates to something along the lines of “I bow down to the god __________ (insert the god’s name here).”

If bowing down to the gods is what you intend to do, then continue using your particular mantra. But if your goal is to bring your mind to its simplest, quietest state of awarenessr, then you need to ask yourself if you want this religious aspect to be part of your routine. Whether you continue with your mantra or not, it’s best to understand the origins of what you’re making a part of your regular practice.

In the past few decades, many teachers of meditation systems that have their roots in the religions of Asia have come under fire for various corrupt acts. While I won’t get into detail of their controversial behavior, what I do recommend is to take responsibility for your own practice. When the practice is yours and yours only, and you don’t blindly follow anyone, it won’t be affected when people you respect are accused of bad behavior.

When you’ve meditated for a while, you may find yourself wanting to explore different types of anchors. There’s one that doesn't rely on a breath pattern, prayer word, or mantra. Instead you place your attention on awareness itself. In this technique, you close your eyes and simply let your attention go to itself. Allow your awareness to observe itself. This may feel as if you’re looking inside of your head or forehead. That's OK. Just have the intention of quietly being aware without the attention being distracted by thoughts. When thoughts do come up, return your focus to awareness itself. This can be a very powerful technique. And it usually is most effective for advanced practitioners.

Meditation Makes Me Fall Asleep

If you find yourself dozing off regularly, it may be a result of the following:

1. Timing

Let’s say that you decide to commit to a sitting practice before you go to bed. Unfortunately, you may be so tired by the end of the day that meditating will put you to sleep. If you experience this regularly, try going to bed earlier or consider meditating earlier in the day. Many people like to have their second sitting session at 4:00, 5:00 or 6:00 PM—after work and before dinner. It’s usually best not to meditate after dinner because the digestive process makes it tough for the mind and body to settle into a meditative state.

2. Sleep Deprivation

If no matter what time of day you meditate that you find your body slumping over, then consider it a sign that you may need more sleep. If your body isn’t rested, the relaxing state of your meditative practice may cause you to doze off. But don’t let falling asleep discourage you. Routine drowsiness may mean that your body is telling you to pay attention to its sleep-deprived state. Perhaps the solution is to simply sleep more. Once you've given your body exactly what it needs, it will reward you by providing you with clear and blissful meditation.

In fact, when the body is rested, it’s easy for the mind to slip into quieter states of awareness and remain alert at the same time. Some people like to take an afternoon nap, and then meditate afterwards. Experiment with what works for you.

Meditation gives you the gift of awareness. Awareness may result in identifying areas in your life that you’ve neglected, such as sleep. It may show you that your tendency is to criticize rather than be gentle. The good news is that no matter how uncomfortable you may be with what meditation makes you aware of, change is possible when awareness is present. Awareness makes meditation one of the most power acts of self-transformation.