How to meditate when you can’t sit still

How to meditate when you can’t sit still

Closing your eyes and focusing on your breath can be difficult for those who are easily distracted. But it is possible.

But in our world of chronic distractions and phone addicts, sitting still for ten or twenty minutes takes a lot of work and often sends our brains going from one passing thought to another. Meditation teachers say to acknowledge these urges and then return to your breath or whatever catches your attention.

But what if you can’t get back to where you were? What if you just end up feeling frustrated?

“That feeling is very common,” said Dan Harris, co-author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics and founder of mindfulness app Ten Percent Happier. However, “distraction in meditation is not proof of failure,” he added.

Either way, getting distracted while meditating can discourage us and make us feel like we’re failing or falling short of our goal. But the benefits of mindfulness can outweigh the frustrations; Even meditating for a few moments helps people feel more attentive, less anxious and depressed , and this applies even to those who have more trouble concentrating in their daily lives.

“There are several reasons why mindfulness helps people, including helping them learn how to regulate their attention,” explained John Mitchell, an associate professor at Duke University and an expert in mindfulness and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder ( ADHD).

Much of the research on distraction and meditation comes from ADHD experts like Mitchell, who over the last 15 years have shown that it can be very beneficial for people with attention disorders, despite the specific challenge of sitting still. And the discoveries these experts have made can benefit everyone seeking help to improve their meditation skills.

But you have to start, and that can be the most difficult. We have asked meditation teachers and doctors for advice on how to start this practice and keep it up.

failure is success

The first thing to know is that you are going to get distracted over and over again. That can give rise to some negative opinions about your brain. Everyone has a hard time at first, says David Austern, associate professor of clinical medicine in the department of psychiatry at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. However, these feelings of being “bad” at meditating are often more acute for people with attention disorders.

Nobody is good or bad to meditate. That is not the goal. Every time you get distracted, start over; so noticing distraction is actually proof of success, says Jeff Warren, a meditation teacher with ADHD and co-author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics . “The best thing you can do is observe where you are and accept who you are,” even if you get distracted every 10 seconds, he says. You are human, you have to allow yourself to be. That is the beauty of meditation. It’s about being human and being in this moment, no matter how distracted you are.

Another tool to combat feelings of failure that arise in the middle of meditation is something experts call “loving-kindness meditation,” which can help you forgive yourself when your mind wanders. It is about giving words of encouragement and kindness to others and to yourself while meditating. “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free from suffering, these are some classic meditation phrases,” explained Lidia Zylowska, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota and one of the first to study how meditation can benefit people with ADHD.

You can also practice this type of meditation by offering yourself compassion and kindness when you feel your attention starting to wander. When you find yourself trying to remember the names of the five Spice Girls instead of meditating, feel pride and love for a brain that only wants to think about 90s pop groups. This can develop a kinder, more supportive attitude toward mental distractions in everyday life.

You don’t have to meditate to practice mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation are related, but they’re not the same thing, Mitchell explained. Mindfulness is the practice of being attentive and aware at all times. It is noticing the moment when your brain begins to repeat the unfortunate phrase that you mentioned in a work meeting, while you are supposed to be paying attention to your partner while he tells how his day went. Mindfulness meditation involves taking time to actively focus on the present, often concentrating on your breath.

Zylowska starts her patients with mindfulness exercises that they can do without having to allocate a specific time in their day for that activity. For example, you can brush your teeth mindfully if during those two minutes you notice the taste of the toothpaste, the feel of the toothbrush on your gums, or the brightness of the light in your bathroom. Since you’re already in the habit of brushing your teeth (hopefully you are), you’re more likely to be able to do this exercise.

In general, mindfulness exercises are also very short, which is especially helpful for people with chronic distractions. Zylowska recommends an exercise for beginners that only takes two seconds. Every time your phone rings during the day (or when you get a text or work notification), take a breath before answering. That breath will give you a moment to control your breathing and find a sense of calm before starting a conversation.

Consider micromeditations

Many apps often have meditations that are 10, 15, or even 30 minutes long. That may be too much for a beginner, especially those with concentration problems, Mitchell said.

Harris and Warren have a motto that they often tell novice meditators: “A minute counts.” “Shame is a horrible motivator,” Harris said. If you’re going to try to sit for 30 minutes because you feel like it’s the right thing to do, you’re not going to continue with your practice. And he added: “If you feel that it is torture, start with something more bearable.”

Start with three to five minutes and gradually increase the time, Mitchell said. It is a skill that requires development and the more you meditate, the better you will do.

Take your meditation with you

“You don’t need to sit on a cushion to reap the benefits of meditation,” Warren noted.

Incorporating movement allows people to release energy, Mitchell recommended. “When people walk, they engage their body,” which can improve the ability to concentrate.

Zylowska recommends walking in nature, even in the middle of urban nature, if that option exists. “Nature is a great inducer of consciousness in the present moment,” she said, adding that even looking at animals like dogs and squirrels can help us. Warren also loves activities like yoga and tai chi, which allow him to move his body, but at a pace that allows him to be aware of what he’s doing.

Or just count your steps or focus on matching your breath to the rhythm of your steps, Mitchell suggested.

Curiosity kills boredom

“It’s very normal to feel bored during meditation,” it happens to all of us, Austern said. The human brain likes novelty. That’s what makes it so hard to beat the urge to check Twitter (quickly, glance, and go!) during meditation.

“One way to beat boredom is to focus on being curious,” Austern recommended. To cultivate curiosity—especially curiosity in the present moment—he tries to notice things you hadn’t noticed. Are there bird songs you’ve never heard? How does your breath feel as it moves through your nose hairs? Do you think those hairs flutter like trees in the breeze when you exhale? It sure is weird, but those thoughts will keep you in the present moment.

Also, it’s worth being curious as to why, exactly, we want to check our phones during meditation. In general, there are two reasons, Austern said. One is that our brains crave the dopamine boost of novelty. The other is that we can feel anxious about missing a crucial email. Take a moment to understand what is driving that desire, and then acknowledge that feeling so you can return to meditation.