Meditation has become very popular over the last decade. Many people swear by its benefits, which include stress relief, improved focus and enhanced productivity. The goal of meditation is to clear your mind of distractions and encourage you to focus on the present moment, become aware of your breath, and notice various bodily sensations. But does meditation really work? And how can we achieve these supposed benefits?
“It’s a great way to de-stress,” says Dr David Rizzo, author of Mindfulness for Dummies. “But it’s also a powerful tool for improving sleep, reducing anxiety and depression, and even boosting creativity and productivity.” The kind of meditation most closely associated with these benefits is mindfulness meditation, which advocates believe can transform the lives and attitudes of those who practise it. But how?
In this article, we’ll explore exactly how mindfulness meditation works, and take note of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to meditation practice. We’ll let you know what you can do when meditation isn’t working for you — so let’s dive in!
Does Meditation Work?
You might have some questions about how exactly meditation and mindfulness work, particularly since they’ve become the new fad words for many brands and celebrities to throw around. The term meditation describes a collection of techniques used to induce greater calmness, equanimity, and emotional health, and train our minds for better awareness and attention. One of these techniques is mindfulness, which is the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment and taking notice of your surroundings without judgement. Mindfulness meditation uses breathing exercises, body scans, and other techniques to bring us a moment of calm, expand our awareness, and reduce the impact of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
The positive effects of meditation have been backed up by research such as the John Hopkins University’s 8-week study tracking the positive impact of mindfulness meditation on depression and anxiety when combined with psychological treatment. This study also showed that psychological treatment was demonstrably more effective when combined with meditation.
Another of the key benefits of meditation is improved sleep. Sleep is closely linked to anxiety and stress, a fact any of us who have spent nights tossing and turning due to worries and dilemmas will know. Consistent meditation practice is proven to reduce the negative effects of insomnia and other sleep issues. Meditation will help you make it easier to doze off, stay asleep, and have a more peaceful sleep experience overall. A US National Institute of Health study into the positive impact of mindfulness meditation interventions for those experiencing disturbed sleep found that those who incorporated mindfulness meditation into their life had a markedly better quality of sleep.
Experiences of stress, anxiety, and disturbed sleep can have a broader negative impact on our lives, causing us to struggle at work and perform worse in other areas of life. Mindfulness meditation can not increase productivity and creativity in our everyday lives, not only by tackling those root issues and improving our attention skills, but also by expanding our sense of awareness and causing us to look at the world in a more insightful and innovative way.
Is Meditation Not Working for You? Here’s Why
When you become a regular meditation practitioner, but you still aren’t seeing those benefits, it can be super frustrating. You might hear about the better quality of life you are supposed to feel with mindfulness practice, and wonder why it’s not happening for you. In these moments, try to remind yourself that it’s not always easy. A lot of the time, we go into our practice of meditation with a clear mind and a relaxed body, set up our space, and sit down, but the moment we start meditating, our mind is flooded with thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
Humans are so prone to distraction that we can often experiences battles between ourselves and our thoughts. Mindfulness meditators sometimes call the overactive part of our brains the ‘Monkey Mind’, due to its chaotic, energetic nature. Check out our article on What the Monkey Mind is and How to Train it for more information on this subject. For now though, let’s explore some of the common ways in which meditative practice can be interrupted or broken.
Common Mistakes People Make When Starting a Meditation Practice:
A lot of the time when we are meditating, we feel as though we’re losing out to the distracting side of our brains. This can manifest in different ways, but here are some of the most common experiences we have heard about that make people think that meditation doesn’t work for them:
- Your mind races
- You struggle to concentrate and your mind wanders
- You struggle to find consistency
- You get bored
- You experience chronic pain
- You judge yourself
- You try to meditate for too long
- You don’t stick with it
- You expect a spiritual experience and are disappointed when it doesn’t materialise
It’s important not to start feeling downbeat if any of these issues arise; even the most experienced meditators sometimes struggle to get what they want from a meditation session. Ultimately, mindfulness meditation is a process of mental training, so it’s no surprise that there can be hiccups along the way. One of the best things to do when you experience these bumps in the road is to ask yourself a simple question: What are you meditating for?
What are you meditating for?
Often, these meditation obstacles arise because we’re not engaging with the real intentions we have for our meditation practice. Maybe you want to meditate to help you communicate better with a difficult family member, or perhaps you think it will help you enjoy your job more. It’s great to have an intention or meditation purpose; however, it’s worth considering whether the type of meditation we’re using aligns closely with that purpose.
It’s worth exploring the many different types of meditation and finding out which ones work best for you. Whether it’s Loving-kindness practice, concentration or “mantra” meditation, direct inquiry meditation, noting practices, or even everyday mindfulness, different things work for different people. To find out more about each of these practices and more, explore our article on The Six Main Types of Meditation. It is best to set your intention before you even begin your meditation practice. When considering what type of meditation to use, when to use it and how to use it, defining your personal meditative goals can be a great help.
You should also consider the benefits of finding a meditation retreat or enrolling on a meditation course. This can enhance your experience of meditation by connecting you with an expert teacher and a community of other meditation practitioners. Studies have shown that when we practise guided meditation in a group setting, even if it’s online, there can be a more positive impact on our mental and physical health than if we were alone.
What to Do When Meditation Doesn’t Work for You
In this section, we’ll go over some of the best ways of fine-tuning your meditation practice so it suits you well and allows you to get the best possible results. Let’s dive in.
1. Change your mindset
When our expectations and reality do not match, we feel stressed and anxious, and it can be really difficult to switch up our thinking. The key to changing our mindset comes from practising radical acceptance by accepting the situation as it is, remaining open-minded, and refusing to depend on something or someone changing for our peace to be restored. Changing your expectations can make a big difference! Read our article on Effortless Meditation: how letting go of effort can help you meditate better for more on this.
2. Consider a group setting
Have you ever noticed that when you join a group exercise class, it’s easier to participate and feel the benefits of your exercise? The same idea applies to group meditation. Try out different meditation sessions that are provided around you. The help and guidance provided by meditation teachers, which can include demonstrations of breathing techniques or guided meditation exercises, can make a big difference. Check out our article on How To Access A Quality Meditation Course In London to get started!
3. Do a “meditation warm-up”
What happens when you exercise without a warm-up? You can pull a muscle, strain yourself, and potentially cause real damage. The same applies to your meditation routine, although this is an aspect of meditation that many people don’t think about. Try out different meditation warm-ups until you find the ones that work the best for you. Warm-ups can include reading a book, trying some yoga, avoiding social media, or any other activity that can put you in the right frame of mind for meditation. Maybe try a meditation app to get yourself started, or a course like ours!
4. Implement informal mindfulness practices throughout your day
Before you whip out the cushion and start meditating, try some relaxed exercises. Simply try to apply the mindful approach to your everyday life as often as possible and you’ll begin to develop the ability to keep a cool head when it’s really needed. Everyday mindfulness can allow you to better deal with the challenges, demands, and pressures of modern life. To explore this concept in more detail, check out our resource: Mindfulness Meditation: a short guide with all you need to know about it.
Let’s Wrap Up
We hope that the guidance, tips, and tricks explored in this article will help you get to grips with what meditation is and how it can improve your life. Meditation can be really hard at times, and it’s important to know that if you’re struggling to practise, you’re not alone.
You should also now know how to identify what’s stopping you from meditating and what you can do to counteract the things that are holding you back. Your approach to developing an effective meditation routine should be guided by your own motivations, problems, intentions, and goals. But whatever your meditation journey, we’ve got loads of resources to help you explore the world of mindfulness and meditation. If you’re in need of a helping hand right now, try our Meditation Taster course.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How do you know if meditation isn’t working?
Rather than telling you how to tell when it isn’t working, let’s give you some signs to look out for to let you know you are truly engaging with the meditation practice.
- Mind and body awareness increases.
- Mood regulation increases.
- You can cope better with stressful, confronting or irritating situations.
- You’ll be able to change your bad mental habits.
- When you meditate, you’ll feel refreshed and crave those relieving sensations.
Can meditation be for everyone?
Our mind has the capacity to be naturally drawn to rest. When you sit comfortably in meditation, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest state – and your mind has a tendency to go within. This essentially means that anyone and everyone can meditate. The meditation process is a natural, inherent skill we all possess. All it takes is training and building that mental muscle.
How can I make meditation work for me?
It’s best to try various different types of meditation techniques, meditation warm-ups and mindfulness exercises to determine which one works best for you. This will help you get the most out of your meditation practice. Remember to think about your intentions and goals before each meditation session, and start your meditation journey using short, manageable sessions — the time you can meditate will extend as you keep meditating.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.