Do you know what the best thing about meditation is? Sometimes, what seems like ‘sleep’ in meditation is not really it. Here’s the good news for people who thought they were sleeping through their meditation classes—if you were able to hear the instructions of your teacher, you were indeed meditating! But, here are some ways you can be sure to stay awake—and aware—during meditation.
For those of us who have never meditated before, the only form of rest we know is sleep. But there is a deeper rest that our body, mind, and soul craves that we can only get from meditation and being in the present moment. When we do experience such deep rest, we may misunderstand it as sleep, but if you are able to hear the instructions or sounds around you, that is a sign of awareness—a space that is unavailable to you while you are sleeping.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Sleep
Falling asleep while you’re meditating can definitely be part of the process when you’re first starting out, but if you’re consistently having issues staying awake, there could be something deeper going on.
Be sure to do a check of your sleep hygiene for any habits that may be affecting your rest.
Meditation is not a show of austerity. You don’t need to be postured in a toe stand on a rock in the forest to meditate. If you are physically uncomfortable, you probably will not be able to settle down mentally, so the first rule of thumb is to find yourself a comfortable place to sit. You can sit (or even stand!) anywhere—on the floor, in a chair, on the sofa, on a yoga mat or meditation bench—as long as you are comfortable. Your seat should allow you to keep your back straight for a smooth flow of energy and comfortable enough that you can sit in one place for several minutes without twitching a lot.
Do Some Pre-Meditation Physical Movement
For an easier and deeper experience, it is important to release the pent-up rajas guna or restlessness from your body by way of some exercise, yogasanas, dance, or a jog. Just five minutes of moving around physically before you sit down can help you retain your awareness during meditation, and keep you from being fidgety.
Handling the mind for an ideal meditative experience is like having children run around the yard so they expend the energy and settle down. Just telling your mind to settle down through affirmations, probably will not help it settle down if you’ve got a lot of pent up energy and thoughts.
If you are a beginner in the art of meditation, try this experiment for yourself: Sit down for meditation without some stretching or exercise, and see how you feel about it. The next day, practice some stretches, asanas, or dancing before meditation. You will see, your experience is deeper and steadier in the latter.
Learning to stay still!
This is a huge secret that can singularly transform the quality of your meditation. Do whatever it takes to make sure your body is still for a few minutes. This comes with practice and time, but it is a goal worth pursuing. You can use your breath or physical exercises to make your body still effortlessly.
Just as restlessness in the mind makes you fidgety in the body, similarly restlessness or continuously moving your body parts can affect the stillness of your mind because the mind and body are very closely connected. In the same way, when your body is still, you will find the mind is settling down as well.
Using the Tool of Breath
This is yet another effective way of dealing with a restless mind. You see, you cannot control the mind from the level of the mind. What can help you here is your breath. Once you start breathing slowly, while keeping your attention on your breath, the mind begins to settle down on its own. The mind is always looking for a hook. The hook is usually either an event from the past or a worry about the future. But when you hook it to your breath in the present moment, it begins to align with the pace of your breath, becoming calmer and calmer.
Doing some breath work in the form of pranayamas and SKY technique prepares your body and mind for a deep and blissful meditative time. And all of this is quite effortless and really useful for people who struggle to stay awake during meditation because pranayamas increase the flow of prana or life force in you. You need elevated prana or life force to be able to meditate well.
There is a proven connection between the food you eat and your state of mind. Food that is spicy, causes bloating, and high in rajasic qualities can leave you restlessness and uncomfortable. But food that is sattvic, light on the stomach, and fresh can help you deepen your meditation.
Heavy meals increase lethargy, which is counterproductive to a meditation where you are aware. A broad rule is your stomach should be empty and food digested well when you sit for meditation so there is no interference from your digestive system.
When you eat food, the metabolism is active while it slows down during meditation. When you meditate, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, making rest possible. Advanced meditators can probably still pull off a good post-meal meditation, but for most of us who are just starting off, a heavy meal can weigh us down.
Thoughts are Okay
A popular complaint among many who are just starting out on the path of meditation is that their mind is bombarded with just too many thoughts. This concern often leads people to quit on this beautiful art without giving it enough time. But here is the truth—having thoughts during the meditation is OKAY. Having thoughts, or too many of them, is simply a sign of a system that is finally letting go of the impressions, stress, and fatigue. And sometimes, they could also be caused by foods you’ve eaten or by not enough physical movement before meditation.
As you practice meditation daily with sincerity and discipline, you will see the number of thoughts significantly reduce and become infrequent. Here is also when using breathing techniques or a personalized mantra can really help you cut down on incessant thoughts in no time.