Meditation: the key to peace of mind. Many believe it is, 18 million U.S adults in 2012 in fact, and probably more now. So why is it I hear time and time again, “I know meditation is good for me, but I just find it stressful.”?

With countless health benefits both physically and mentally (I have come to learn the two are, in truth, inseparable), such as reduced stress, anxiety, depression, pain, as well as the slowing of aging, improved concentration and immune system function…the list goes on, surely we should leap at the chance to try it out? But really, while there are those who seem to take to it like a duck to water, there are also those who feel like they are fighting a losing battle and generally just failing at it.

Compassion is a fundamental part of meditation. Learning to accept when you may be finding something difficult and to understand why you might be, rather than berate yourself for not doing it how you ‘should’, is at the very heart of it. Cultivating that compassion however isn’t something that happens easily, and equally, we can get caught up in the vicious cycle of thinking, “why am I not compassionate towards myself yet, what’s wrong with me?”.

Ultimately, meditation can bring out in us the very core of why we need to do it in the first place: learning to love and accept ourselves. Our lives are increasingly full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’, “I should be doing better, I should be able to cope, I shouldn’t be so sensitive.”. Beware of these and confront them with, “it’s ok, I’m learning, I’m doing my best.”.

High levels of self-criticism have been linked to low levels of self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and more. It is a dangerous demon that sits on our shoulder. Stepping beside this part of ourselves, instead of letting it look down on us, can help within our meditation practice. Here are some tips to help make this process easier:

  • Set yourself realistic timings. If 1 hour a day feels like too much then start with less. Studies have shown that even just 10 minutes a day can be helpful.
  • Move around. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting down. You can walk and take in your surroundings, take time to observe and appreciate.
  • Don’t even attempt to not have thoughts. You won’t be able to. Instead let them come and simply observe them. Even better, treat them like leaves falling from a tree. Watch them simply float away. Don’t get caught up in them.
  • Similarly, understand that it’s natural for the mind to wander. Just notice that it’s wandering and bring it back to the activity without judgment.
  • If you feel anxious and your heart begins to race, instead of trying to calm it down and rather than trying to focus on the breath, just give the feeling your undivided attention. Where is it you’re feeling it? How would you describe the sensation? How would you describe the intensity? Just being curious about the anxiety helps you to learn about it and change your relationship to it.
  • Above all – don’t forget to be understanding. If you find yourself struggling and, in turn, giving yourself a hard time, try and repeat phrases like, “I am doing the best I can.”.