Most people who know me well know that I have a propensity for narcolepsy. I love my beauty sleep and generally I fall asleep pretty easily...a little too easily sometimes. (There may or may not be a photo of me asleep on a fork while eating poutine late at night in my teenage years.) Somewhat sad, but true, and kind of hilarious.
Nevertheless, it turns out that falling asleep while meditating is a common problem (not just mine). While one of the objectives of meditation is to calm and focus the mind, it is not to fall asleep. Meditation should happen when we are awake.
Wendy from thecalmmonkey.com says that falling asleep in meditation can happen for a few reasons: being tired or actually resisting meditation (an unconscious psychological reaction). Here are four tips from Wendy on how to prevent falling asleep while meditating:
1) Try keeping your eyes very slightly open and keeping a soft gaze.
2) Sit tall, with a nice long neutral spine.
3) Use a guided meditation to stay focused (a recording).
4) Try moving meditations like a walking meditation, yoga or tai chi.
Tips and tricks for other common meditation problems
For many of us who have busy brains, meditation is a great too help calm the mind, especially before bed. By the same token, a busy mind can also keep us from focusing and experiencing good meditations.
For those of us with a busy brain, she suggests beginning each meditation by imagining that there is an empty box next to you, placing all thoughts in the box next to you; ready for you when you finish your meditation practice.
Similarly, thinking of thoughts that come through your mind as visitors, just noticing them, and then allowing the to leave, can be a useful tool a well.
Noise can also be a hindrance to meditation. Wendy suggests using earplugs, which can allow you to experience a whole different meditation experience. If the noise is unavoidable or you don't want to wear earplugs, simply acknowledge it is there, and then let it go away.
Lastly, feeling uncomfortable in a seated position can be a challenge to new meditation practitioners, but Wendy ensures us that it is ok to move and re-adjust while meditating.
In the meantime, here is a great mantra for those of us with busy brains and busy bodies (myself included). It comes from a fellow yogi, who says you have to slow down to find that childlike joy in just being and playing:
"Slow down, kids at play."
Meditation is one of those words that scares people a little. It evokes thoughts of chanting (heaven forbid) and conjures images of tree-hugging, crunchy-granola, hippy-dippy types sitting around cross-legged, swaying in the breeze (kind of like this picture, right?)!
There is something about the idea, at least in the recent past, that somehow hasn't always jived with mainstream, western societies.
But lately it is almost hard to pick up a newspaper and read a recent report without reading about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
I must admit, while my yoga practice is my own moving meditation, I don't carve time out of my day to purposefully meditate. So being the eternal student that I am, I decided to take a short course through UBC Health Promotion on learning to meditate.
The course is taught by Wendy Quan at The Calm Monkey, a really inspiring woman who has now taught thousands of people to meditate over the last ten years. Her years of teaching and her own research have shown that meditation can increase "personal resiliency", which she describes as one's own ability to bounce back from difficult situations, and allow things to easily bounce off of oneself.
Wendy's demeanour, needless to say, is calm, collected and soothing - I suppose only to be expected from a teacher of meditation.
"When you are the most stressed out," she says, "that's when you should be meditating the most."
Words from the wise.
So for all of you type As out there whose brains are buzzing and you're thinking, "I don't have time to read about meditation," I know where you are coming from... because I am one of them.
So I will cut to the chase. My homework for this class is to meditate for at least 5 minutes a day for the duration of this course over the next four weeks.
Interested in joining me?
Here is the quick and dirty of what I learned about meditation to get started:
And here is the very basic on how to meditate:
Lastly, here are some final meditation tips from Wendy:
Finally, here is an example of how NOT to meditate below. This was me, a couple of years ago, attempting a mystical meditation in Hawaii. Although the view is alright, my knees are above my hips, and my ankles are stacked. #meditationfail
Now that you know what to do, keep calm and and meditate on.
Nikki Johnston Beaudoin is an outdoorsy Mountain Mermaid, and the Founder of Sea to Sky Fitness.