Dear Therapist: I find it hard to concentrate when I sit in meditation

Making sense of the world we inhabit

By Prateeksha Shetty

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Published: Thu 20 Jan 2022, 11:57 PM

I can’t seem to concentrate while meditating. I know it’s a helpful practice for mindfulness and can help me with my anxiety but I’m unable to sit still and focus. — Name Withheld

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Dear Writer, I consider being mindful a skill. Like any other skill (driving, cycling, etc.), it takes practice! Beginners often make the error in pressurising themselves to stay still and go blank, or focus. But it is this hyper-intention that makes mindfulness practice harder. We tend to be fickle-minded and any efforts to control or suppress thoughts, sensations or emotions, only aggravates it. Therefore, when you practise mindfulness exercise, I suggest that you observe what is happening within you rather than put in efforts to regulate your inner world. The idea behind mindfulness is not to become empty of thoughts. It should change your relationship and interaction to them — instead of responding or talking back to them, you take a step back and observe them or watch them move on. You are allowed to fidget and get distracted as long as you remember to keep coming back to your breathing. With time, your responses or the distractions fade and that is when you are in a mindful state.

I suggest that you break down these practices to smaller chunks, beginning with 10 minutes twice a day and when you are better with it, level up to 20 mins a day. Short mindful breathing exercises in between a busy day can also help you immensely. These can be as short as two to five minutes and serve as a reminder or an anchor. Making sure that you have a set time and place and have the mental space for it is also important. Fatigue, hunger, extremes in any emotional state or even pain are some common barriers and you may find it harder to be mindful in these states.

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