If you practice yoga but don’t meditate, you’re missing out. Seriously—four of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga refer directly to the meditative experience. Yama, niyama, asana and pranayama provide the foundation upon which meditation is built. And while you might be interested in meditation, it’s not unusual to let preconceived notions or excuses to get in your way.
Here we address five big reasons people tend to avoid meditation—helping you hop over the hurdles and finally start your meditation journey.
I’m not prepared.
“How can I possibly meditate when I can’t even remember all the yamas and niyamas much less practice them? How am I supposed to sit in lotus pose when I can’t even touch my toes?”
Lucky for us, yoga is not a linear process, which means we get to practice all the aspects all at once. Don’t wait for perfection before you start—that’s why they call it practice. The best time to start a meditation practice is this very moment.
This obstacle also arises as “the need to clean the whole house,” or waiting until you feel entirely worthy to host your meditation. This obstacle can also exist as an obsession over the proper placement of the objects on your altar, or where you practice. Truly, however, an upright spine is all that is truly necessary to meditate; lotus is a bonus, but not available or even recommended for every body. Support yourself with pillows or sit in a chair if you have to, but don’t let external details deter you from engaging your internal self.
I’m afraid of the responsibility.
“I had time to do the dishes yesterday, and there will be time to do them later today, but no, I’m doing the dishes now, because I would rather do that than meditate.”
Do not fall victim to such distractions. The to-do list of worldly life is unending. Set aside a dedicated time and space for self-reflection and make it non-negotiable. There will be time for all your super important responsibilities later. For now, remember that the yogi’s highest duty in this life is to realize his or her true nature.
Think of meditation as necessary as working out, or even brushing your teeth. Yes, it’s a responsibility, and yes you must dedicate time to your responsibilities, but it’s a worthy effort with myriad rewards. Accept the duty of meditation, knowing that it will ultimately enrich your life.
I don’t have enough time.
A perceived lack of time is the number one obstacle to meditation. Many of us fall victim to the idea that “time is money,” which means a single moment sitting around “doing nothing” is an unforgivable sin, a brazen affront to our possible productivity.
Mahatma Gandhi provides excellent counterpoint to that perspective when, on a particularly hectic morning he proclaimed, “Today I have so much to accomplish I must meditate for two hours instead of just one.” While meditation should not be solely utilized for productivity, it is true that a calm, centered mind is more able to identify and accomplish necessary tasks.
Saying “I don’t have time” is equivalent to saying “I don’t care about this enough to make time for it.” It’s about priorities. These choices can be more or less conscious—like when we stay up late Netflix-binging then suffer from lack of sleep the next day. Time taken to cultivate a more refined awareness of one’s self is never wasted.
I don’t want to deal with what comes up.
Richard Freeman is famous for saying “yoga ruins your life.” Which essentially means, you can never go back. Once you peek through the keyhole at your true self, all the illusory layers become forever untenable.
Most 21st century humans spend irreplaceable time and energy maintaining various masks. Some of these are perfectly healthy and appropriate as we navigate the different roles that daily life demands; many, however, are out-of-date, externally-imposed answers to the question, “who am I?” In general, these misplaced concepts of self were unconsciously installed by one or both parents, teachers, ministers, friends or television, and are now playing on a loop, keeping us trapped in state of psycho-emotional programming that is not even ours.
One function of meditation is to illuminate these unconscious patterns. These habitual tendencies very much prefer to live in the shadows, precisely because they rarely survive the light of awareness. Many of us fear a meditation practice, because the work of breaking up these “masks” is likely to lead us into thoughts that we may have previously avoided. But by doing this work, by fearlessly developing awareness, we develop confidence in our true self.
Awareness is only the first step to resolving any concern. The noticing is relatively easy compared to actually changing long-held habits—but a meditation practice is the simplest and most beneficial way to get started.
I can’t find the motivation.
Understandably, the invitation to challenge your mind is not one you will always eagerly accept. You may notice a similar feeling when you’ve reached a plateau and there is seemingly nothing happening in your practice. Boredom can be a powerful nemesis—and sometimes it’s hard to find motivation when we feel as though we’re not immediately reaping the benefits.
This is a good time to cultivate shraddha, which is faith, that no effort towards self-realization is ever wasted. Although your progress may be imperceptible to your conscious mind, you are nonetheless proceeding apace, if only by cultivating discipline and determination.
You might also consider mixing it up and experimenting with a different style of meditation. Classical forms include walking, flower-arranging, calligraphy, and archery. While seated, perhaps you’ve been practicing open awareness, so then put those fancy mala beads to work and practice japa, or light a candle and practice trataka. If you’re really brave, you may even experiment with tonglen.
It has been said that asana prepares the breath for pranayama; pranayama prepares the mind for meditation; and meditation prepares the heart for devotion. Devotion is a state of natural reverence wherein the simplest actions are infused with divine grace. Is the promise of a heart full of devotion sufficient motivation to meditate for a few minutes every day? We think so.