Ask Omni: Why Can't I Focus When I Meditate?
Updated: Aug 12
“Every time I try to meditate, thoughts keep popping into my head. I try to focus on my breathing and it becomes hard to breathe. How can I get better at it?”
You are not alone! Personally, I struggled with meditation for years. As I tried to “clear my mind,” persistent (sometimes frightening) thoughts would distract me, session after session. I tried to focus on my heartbeat and my heart would start racing. Meditation was supposed to be calming!
I was surprised (and relieved) to find out many people find meditation difficult, especially people with anxiety, trauma or PTSD. Here are a few things that helped me develop my meditation practice.
I exercise before meditating.
Exercise (especially movement that crosses the midline of the body, from right to left) helps activate the vagus nerve, preparing a great environment for meditation. When I exercise before meditating, or even do a little bit of movement and forward folding, I am less distracted by my body and mind.
I explore my senses.
Focusing on my own body, breath, or heartbeat can be stressful for me. Sometimes (especially in times of stress), I use certain scents (candles, essential oils), sounds (soft music, white noise) or physical sensations (a hot bath or kneading bread) to help me focus on the present moment. It’s easier for me to explore my senses with curiosity and a sense of wonder, rather than intensely focusing on them.
I acknowledge my intrusive thoughts.
Instead of banishing the thoughts that pop into my head, I try to greet them with the phrase, “that’s an interesting thought,” and return my attention to my practice. I try not to judge my thoughts (or myself) as good or bad.
I try to allow myself to feel my feelings.
Sometimes I find myself experiencing emotions in meditation that are seemingly “out of nowhere.” This is normal and okay, and can be caused by many things. (Spoiler: most of the time, it’s not *actually* from nowhere!) Even if it seems ridiculous to cry when “nothing is wrong,” I just try to let the feeling be what it is, without judgement.
I practice during routine tasks.
My brain is used to “thoughting.” I’m trying to establish new mental patterns, and it takes practice! If sitting still in the dark isn’t working for me, I practice while doing a repetitive task, like knitting, or chopping vegetables, or holding a yoga pose. Anything I can do to stay “in the moment” in my daily life, noticing my senses and thoughts and emotions without judgement, is progress to celebrate.
Begin a meditation practice by connecting with your body in ways that feel safe, then gradually remove the supports as you feel ready. And connect with a meditation teacher for help with the questions that arise in your practice - we would love to help!
Written By: Katie Carter
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