By Emma Stessman
So you’ve decided to hop on the meditation train. You picked out the perfect sunny spot in your apartment, curated the ultimate Zen playlist, and are so ready for Deepak Chopra to become your new BFF. But after a few sessions, you feel like it’s not working.
Before you write off the practice, consider that there might be a few things holding you back—starting with your own expectations.
Meditation, and how you experience it, is different for everyone. “It’s a personal, subjective journey,” says Ralph De La Rosa, a meditation expert and psychotherapist. “It’s going to work, look, and feel different for each of us.”
6 Common Meditation Mistakes
1. You think of it as something you have to do
When someone tells you that you have to do something, it makes you want to do it a whole lot less, right? It’s the same with meditation, explains De La Rosa. “We start these conversations with ourselves like, ‘Oh, I really should meditate because I committed myself to it,’ and then we beat ourselves up because we’re not doing it.” he says. So how do you escape this mentality? Think about why you meditate—for stress management, improved focus, whatever it may be—and make that your main focus.
2. You’re actively working to stop your thoughts
“As long as you have a pulse, you’re going to have thoughts,” says Megan Monahan, the director of meditation at Wanderlust Hollywood. “Love your wandering mind. Instead of fighting it, notice when your mind drifts away from whatever your point of focus is––a mantra or the breath, perhaps––and gently bring it back.”
3. You always meditate alone
In the same way that working out in a group class can push you to do those five extra burpees when you just want to give up, meditating with others can help you go further and deeper into your meditation, De La Rosa says. Try out a class at a local meditation studio or make your next girls night in a group meditation session.
4. You have (crazy) high expectations
Most meditations aren’t going to end in some otherworldly feeling of transcendence. In fact, you might not even feel any different at the end of a sit-down session. “In large part, the benefits of meditation show up outside of meditation,” says Monahan. “So, instead of having an expectation of what your meditation should look or feel like, allow whatever experience that shows up to be—and look for the shifts in other areas of your life.” Pay attention to things like your quality of sleep, your stress levels, or your ability to stay present in daily life, because these are the areas where you’ll likely see the most change, she explains.
5. You’re not consistent
“Meditation is like a mental workout,” says Monahan. “Doing it once is better than nothing, but if you want to build that muscle of awareness you have to keep doing the mental reps.” She suggests scheduling time in your calendar for meditation––like you would a meeting or a lunch date––and setting a timer for when you actually sit down to meditate so you don’t tap out if you get bored.
6. You judge yourself
“There’s one thing that never, ever belongs in practice and that is self-recrimination,” says De La Rosa. “Whatever you’re focusing on [during meditation], you’re training yourself to have more of in your life. So if you’re focusing on hatred, you’re just training yourself to have more self-hatred.” Instead of judging your inability to fully immerse yourself in the practice or questioning if you’re meditating the “right” way, try focusing on a positive or self-encouraging thought.
Here’s one to start with: you’ve made the conscious effort to meditate, and that in itself is a serious accomplishment.