What is the greatest challenge in meditation? Without a doubt, it’s a busy mind that continually generates thoughts.

The mind is a powerful force and trying to calm it down in meditation is a great challenge.

To overpower a tough adversary, it’s wise to find out as much as possible about his strengths and weaknesses before devising a suitable strategy to overpower him.

Similarly, it’s important to first understand what feeds the mind and where the distractions are coming from, so you can begin to take control and subdue it.

Only two sources of distractions for the mind

The two main obstacles that stand in the way of a peaceful meditation are distractions that come from outer and inner sources.

Outer sources: The outer sources of distractions are the body and the senses. A body that is tense, in pain or unwell, will not be able to sit still for meditation. The senses bring in stimuli from the outer environment that set off desires, memories and new trains of thoughts.

Inner sources: The inner distractions are the thoughts that the mind itself generates. The mind has a tendency to relive past memories and plan future activities. It also feels emotions such as excitement or anxiety in the present moment. This makes it very difficult to calm the mind for meditation. 

How to prevent the disturbances from the body in meditation

The importance of keeping the body healthy and the muscles free from tension is an obvious fact.

You may be able to overlook minor aches and pains when you’re busy living your life, but those very same aches and pains become a huge problem when you’re trying to sit still and focus in meditation.

If you are serious about meditation, you can’t neglect your body. Eating wholesome foods and regular exercise, especially simple stretches will help alleviate discomfort and muscular tension when trying to quiet the mind for meditation.

It may be a good idea to do some yoga or gentle stretches before sitting down to meditate.

To prevent discomfort or itchiness from the clothes you wear, use loose, comfortable clothing that is made from natural fibres such as cotton.

How to control the senses during meditation

Our five senses—the tongue, skin, eyes, nose, and ears have an insatiable appetite—the tongue for tasty food, the skin for pleasant sensations, the eyes for enchanting forms and colours, the nose for fragrant smells, and the ears for delightful sounds.

To cut down the stimuli coming in from the senses, you can make sure that you don’t feed them.

Tongue: Don’t eat or chew on anything. Relax your jaws and the muscles around your mouth.

Skin: Sit still on a medium-firm seat covered with a folded blanket made of cotton or wool. You may use a shawl to cover your shoulders during your practice to keep you from feeling cold in the winter.

Eyes: Shut out the outer world by gently closing your eyes.

Nose: Essential oils or incense can be soothing, but not for everyone. If you do use them, make sure that you use products that contain natural ingredients so they don’t cause a headache or dry up your throat.

Ears: Your meditation can be disturbed by traffic, neighbours, the telephone and so on. It’s not possible to completely shut out sounds.To minimize the disturbance from outer sounds, find a quiet time of the day to sit for meditation.

The spiritual masters of Vedanta tell us that the morning pre-dawn hours between 4.30 am to 6 am are the most favourable for meditation. Not only will you be free from the usual busy sounds of the later part of the morning, you will find it easier to calm your mind. This is because there is a stillness and purity in the atmosphere that is most conducive for meditation.

Ideally you should be able to calm your mind without the help of soothing smells or music. This is because you don’t want to create a dependency on them.

This suggestion also applies to guided meditations and recordings. The goal is to be able to calm your mind on your own.

Half the battle won

If the distractions arising from the body and senses are reduced, you would have won half the battle toward maintaining a peaceful mind for meditation.

The greater obstacle to overcome is the mind’s chatter from within. What are the ways to maintain an inner silence?

Read the solutions in my next article, 6 Simple Strategies to Calm Your Mind for Meditation.

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Manisha Melwani

Manisha Melwani is a teacher and the author of, "So You're a Spiritual Being–Now What?" She offers spiritual and wellness solutions for life and stress management. She teaches classes in personal growth, stress management and meditation. She is based in Richmond Hill and Markham, Ontario. Contact her for more information or to have her speak to your group or organization. She also offers private counselling sessions in person or on-line.
Manisha Melwani

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