Meditation Troubleshooting: 3 Ways to Prepare for Calm

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meditation, half lotus pose, ardha padmasana

Whether you’re new to meditation or practice on a regular basis, sometimes getting quiet and turning inward can be really tough. Here’s how to drop in, even when it feels out of reach.

Meditation can be challenging. Even after you’ve had a taste of its benefits—those sweet moments of inner calm, clarity, and deep connection—accessing them again can prove frustratingly elusive. If you’re like most, you may find that one day your mind is speeding into the future, your body feels agitated, and you can’t sit still, while the next day you’re so lethargic you can hardly stay awake.

Don’t be discouraged. Resting with ease in meditation doesn’t happen magically. But there is a path to help you get there: Through your breath, you can tap into the flow of prana (life force) to help increase, decrease, or focus your energy, making it easier to find that desired state of relaxed attention.

How to set yourself up for success

Too often, we try to start meditating without acknowledging how we feel—mentally, physically, and emotionally. So, begin by doing a quick body scan. Lie on your back with your legs extended and fill your body with awareness, as if you were filling a glass with water. Notice how your body responds: Does it begin to relax, or is there resistance? Close your eyes and feel the weight of your skull and pelvis, the contact of your back on the floor. Then mentally scan your body one area at a time. Begin with your toes and travel up to your legs, spine, and shoulders, then down your arms and hands, and back up your arms to your neck and head. Are there places that pull away from the floor and areas that are more in contact?

Check out the flow of thoughts moving through your mind. Do you have a perpetual to-do list? Are you rehashing some past ­conversation or planning the future? Then, place one hand on your chest and take a moment to feel the beating of your physical heart. Let your awareness settle into its rhythm, then drop your attention in a little deeper, sensing the emotional heart. Is there sadness, joy, or anxiety? Don’t go deeply into any one feeling; just get a sense of the overall tone in this moment. Notice the relationship between your emotional state and your breath, between your feelings and your physical body.

Finally, feel all of these dimensions at once: physical, energetic, mental, and emotional. Now rest in this spacious awareness.
Remember, your observations may change from day to day, depending on the hour, your schedule, and all of the other variables that affect your energy and mood.

Beat your meditation roadblock

If you observed that your breathing was labored, your mind dull, and your heart heavy, try an energizing practice. Was your breathing rapid, your mind racing, and your body tense? A calming practice might be most appropriate. Feeling scattered and disoriented? A focusing practice can help you quiet your monkey mind. Listen to your brain, body, and heart for guidance about a movement practice that can bring you into balance, ready to sit and draw your attention inward.