The Buddha talked about five potential dangers, or hindrances, you can face during meditation, even if you're normally quite disciplined.
Here I'll present them and give you some pathways out — so your meditations can be smooth and not necessarily easy, but easier:
Sluggishness. Buddhists call this "sloth and torpor," and it can be frustrating to feel this while you're meditating. Know that you're not the only one who feels weak or tired during meditations, or a heaviness or dullness in your body or mind. To counter this, you can stand up and take a few steps wherever you are or even around the block. You could do Pranayama (breathing), perhaps alternate side nostril breathing where you block one nostril, then another, quickly breathing out of each nostril (your body will handle the inhale, I promise). Or you could do a standing meditation, which will make it far less likely you'll fall asleep and will definitely increase your alertness!
Sensory desire. It's common to experience cravings during meditation — for food, something to look at or anything to spark happiness through the five senses: sight, sound, taste, smell or physical feeling. If you're practicing mindfulness, it's powerful to simply observe this inclination. What happens if you watch it, without judgement, then let the feeling of craving or attachment simple float away like a cloud? It's a wonderful exercise of the mind to not indulge each of our cravings but to simply observe them and to realise that these, too, are impermanent.
Ill will. Yes you may feel hostility or resentment towards what's happening during your meditations. Maybe you're angry that you need to meditate at all! Or maybe you feel pain in your knees or thighs or somewhere else in your body. If you're really in pain, it's ok to shift position. But if it's just a faint level of feeling, it could be a nice experiment to simply watch that feeling, observe it without judgement, and then shift your attention to another feeling, perhaps a tingling in your fingers or at the top of your head. Dan Millman says, "Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens." If we don't resist pain, but simply watch it, often at least some of the pain subsides.
Restlessness and worry. This is when the mind won't calm down. Buddhists often call this "monkey mind." It's not just you, this is all human beings and how our brains are wired until we train them! Be easy on yourself with this, and again if you simply observe the mind wandering, without judgement, it will calm down over time as you meditate each day! The key here is not to be angry with yourself but to realise, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, that it's mindfulness to notice your mind wandering.
Doubt. Here you wonder: is this working? Should I be cooking or reading or doing yoga or working instead? Know that the benefits of meditation are not always immediate. Your body doesn't look svelte and fit after one day at the gym. But over times, as literally hundreds of studies show, meditation reduces the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) produced in the body. It adds grey matter to the pre-frontal cortex, which helps you regulate emotions and be more "even" throughout the day. And it increases feelings of happiness and well-being. It helps you gain validation from within rather than seeking external praise or accolades.
So enjoy your meditations. Be easy on you. Know everyone struggles with different elements of meditation. But that in the long term it's doing extraordinary things for you and your mind!
Dina Kaplan started and runs The Path, which teaches meditation for the modern mind. We invite you to join our meditations and to receive awesome invites by going to thepath.com.
“If you want to be healthy & live to 100, do Qigong.”