We all know how it feels: we’re trying to concentrate on something and our mind just keeps drifting away to something else — or a dozen other things. We drag it back to the task at hand, only for it to wander away again. It makes what we’re trying to do feel like drudgery, and that’s only if we don’t give up entirely.
When it comes to meditation, this can be even more frustrating. And since meditation is, in a sense, doing nothing, it can be much more difficult to bring your mind back to it at times.
But there are a few things you can do that can help to quiet and calm your wandering mind. And each of them can also be applied to your meditation even if your mind doesn’t wander.
Get more sleep
You’ve seen the studies. Lack of sleep increases blood pressure, makes you more likely to be in a car accident, and weakens your immune system. But it also causes memory problems and decreases your ability to concentrate and focus.
It’s that last bit, the concentration and focus, that you need for meditation. While meditation might seem like you’re doing nothing, it actually takes quite a bit of concentration to do nothing in this way.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, your mind will wander much more easily. And like a tired toddler, it will be much more difficult to get your mind to settle and do what you want it to do: meditate.
Even if you feel like you get enough sleep, try getting just a few extra minutes each night and see if it helps. And if you know you don’t get enough sleep, this is your cue to change that. Go to bed earlier, sleep in later, or talk to your doctor if you think there might be a medical reason for it such as sleep apnea.
Exercise and eat well
We all love sitting on the couch, binging on Netflix and chocolate ice cream or potato chips or whatever our vice is. And there’s nothing wrong with that occasionally. But the mind does its best work when the body is healthy.
Getting some exercise every day will not only keep you fit but will also burn off any excess energy that might be contributing to your distraction.
As delicious as a bacon cheeseburger or nachos might be (and I agree, they are delicious!), your body and mind both function much better when your overall diet is made up of fresh fruits and veggies, healthy fats, proteins, and some carbs.
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that you often feel much lighter after a meal like a salad with some tuna or chicken on it, and heavier after you eat something like a cheeseburger or fast food. This feeling translates to meditation as well: if your body is working super hard to digest a heavy meal, there’s less blood flowing to the mind and therefore, less concentration and focus to be had. But if you’re meditating on an empty stomach or after a lighter meal, you’ll feel better and find it easier to stay focused.
Naturally, you should also keep in mind any food allergies or health conditions you have that might require a special diet and always talk to your doctor before you make any significant changes.
Lying down feels so good, doesn’t it? Especially when it’s been a rough day, that comfy mattress with those cool sheets just feels amazing! Lying down is a clear sign to your body that it’s time to relax, to chill out and get ready for sleep.
Slouching isn’t great for you either. It can cause neck, shoulder and back pain which will distract you from your meditation. It can also make you feel sleepy, less confident, nervous and even afraid. All of these can lead to your mind wandering and a struggle to bring it back to meditation.
Instead, sit up. Sitting up straight can improve your confidence and self-esteem, make you feel happier and less stressed. More confidence, happiness, and lower stress all make it easier to focus and make it more likely that you’ll be distracted by positive thoughts when you are distracted.
But even while you’re sitting up, make sure you…
Make yourself comfortable
Sitting up straight is important but being so rigid that all your muscles ache isn’t. Sit up straight, but also relaxed and comfortable.
If you’re sitting on a surface that’s too hard or soft, or the space is too hot or cold, or you’re uncomfortable in other ways, you’ll find your mind wandering to the reason for your discomfort, among other things.
Of course, if you’re in a situation where you can’t get rid of the discomfort, you could use the discomfort as part of your meditation. You could focus on the discomfort, contemplate why it makes you uncomfortable, and consider whether you could find a way to be comfortable with it.
But for the most part, you need to ensure that you’re comfortable when you meditate. Find the right seat, make sure the room is a good temperature, make sure your clothing is not too loose or restrictive, and do anything else you need to do to ensure your comfort.
Take deep breaths
You can change your mood just by changing your breathing. If you feel calm right now, you could start taking short, shallow, fast breaths and make yourself feel anxious, stressed, or angry. If you feel anxious, stressed, or angry, you could calm yourself by taking long, deep, slow breaths.
Your breath has an incredible impact on your body and mind. By taking deep breaths, you let your mind know that this is a calm time. This is a time for peace, relaxation, and concentration. The increased oxygen can help your mind become and remain more alert, leading to more concentration. The longer, deeper breaths also signal to your sympathetic nervous system that it can take a break while activating your parasympathetic nervous system for even more relaxation.
When you feel your mind beginning to wander, check in with your breath. Take a few deep breaths and see if that doesn’t help you bring your mind back to your meditation.
When the mind wanders
The mind doesn’t just wander during meditation. Distraction can happen at any time, and it can be very frustrating.
The great thing about these tips is that while they’re useful for returning to your meditation, they’re also handy any other time you find yourself distracted. Incorporate them into your daily life and you might find that you don’t get distracted nearly as often.