"Am I Practicing Meditation All Wrong?"

Clearing your mind and grounding yourself in the present isn't something that comes naturally for most. Dr. Kristen Race shares some tips on the right and wrong way to practice meditation...

Contributor: Dr. Kristen Race

Me: "How come you don’t meditate any more?"

My Husband: "I got tired of doing it wrong?"

Me: "Wrong?"

My Husband: "Yah, wrong. My mind is way too busy, I can’t clear my thoughts, I can’t sit in that position without cramping! The last time I tried I thought of a date I went on to Wrestlemania, and I came out and my car had a flat tire. That date was 33 years ago!! Trust me, I do it wrong. "

Me: "Well, then trust me when I say this, there is no “wrong” in meditating. "

The more I told my girl friends about my husband’s story, the more they each would say “Ohh, yah, I totally get that. I don’t meditate anymore because I suck at it. I just could never clear my mind.”

And that got me thinking about two things. First, the goal of meditation is not to clear your mind. It’s more accurate to say that the goal of meditation is to have clear focus. Even if your mind is jumping from thought to thought during meditation, you can still develop this clear focus.

Think about a time when you meditated and couldn’t get comfortable. Your back was achy, so you kept shifting your position. Then you developed an irresistible urge to itch your nose, but a voice in your head said, “Absolutely not. You can control this urge. Do. Not. Touch. Your. Nose.” Which prompted five minutes of struggle over whether or not to relieve the itch, leaving you feeling like you’re just not cut out for this meditation stuff.

A meditation experience like the one I just described is COMPLETELY normal, even though your mind might be the furthest thing from “Clear”. Expecting meditation to be a blissful experience every time will only leave you disappointed.

And this leads me to my second thought -- There isn’t a right or a wrong way when it comes to meditating. It’s a personal practice that is designed to be done without judgment.

So, with these two thoughts in place, here are a few tips that will help you get over the need to meditate the “right” way.

Let Go of Expectations

Let go of the expectation that you will be able to have clear focus during meditation. Often, the pressure we place on ourselves to do things correctly is what creates our struggle when reality doesn’t match our expectations. It’s why we often shy away from that yoga class, or giving a speech in public. Meditation is no different Don’t worry about the goal of meditation. Set any expectations you have aside and view the practice with curiosity. Each time we notice that our mind has wandered and we bring it back, we are strengthening the skill of mindfulness – sometimes the more our mind wanders the more effective the practice!

Just Show Up

The hardest part of meditation—and of most things in life—is showing up. Your meditation may be a couple minutes. It might be fidgety. You might even open your eyes and check the clock a couple times. It happens to all of us. The most important thing is that you show up. Make an attempt to bring your attention to your breath, or your mantra, or to focus your attention on an object. And when you worry about the forty things on your to-do list instead, just notice you’ve wandered and return to your point of focus.

Get Curious

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If your meditation practice is uncomfortable, you're distracted, or your session is cut short, instead of getting caught up in your own judgments about how you’re doing it “wrong,” simply notice what happened instead. “Hmm. My body is uncomfortable today.” Or, “My mind is distracted today.” Or, “Well, it looks like today’s practice is a short one.” And leave it at that. No judgment. Just notice the facts. When you become a witness of your thoughts, emotions and experiences, you will be less likely to fall into the judgment trap, which is where you will struggle most.

I hope these simple tips help you get back to your mat without feeling pressured. They help me when I get caught up in my own judgments and have made my practice that much more rewarding.

Do you have a meditation routine? Share your thoughts in the comments below!