Making meditation into a regular habit is hard. One of the main obstacles that beginner meditators face is restlessness. People find it difficult to calm down and settle into their meditation for long enough.
Where restlessness comes from
There are things happening around us all the time. Internet advertisers, our colleagues and all kinds of other things are fighting for our attention. No surprise that our minds find it hard to settle down. We are simply not used to it.
However, restlessness can come from many sources and some days are worse than others. An argument with a colleague can put our nervous system on alert mode throughout the day. Too much coffee might do the same. On other days, the reason for one's restlessness is completely unclear. Whatever the reason, though, it will typically affect you in two ways. In your body and your mind.
Restlessness in the body
Most people who've tried meditation will know this feeling. You sit down and after a little while you feel the urge to move. You want to get up again, you start to shift left and right, you rock back and forth.
At the same time, your heart may beat a little faster, there could be an itch in your toes or a sore in your back. It feels somehow wrong to remain still, your whole body seems to tell you that you should get up.
Restlessness in the mind
Yet not only the body can be restless. The mind can be all over the place as well.
Even on a normal day, there are thoughts all the time. But when you're really restless, thoughts shoot through your head left and right. And your attention behaves like an agitated wasp.
In these moments it can be hard to keep a steady mind for even a single breath. Before too long, a special type of thought will creep up: 'I need to do something else' thoughts.
'There's too much going on today, I should meditate another time'
'I need to get up and do [insert any excuse here]'
'I'd love to listen to some music now'
How to handle it
There's a recipe to combat restlessness which involves a couple of steps. There's no need to follow them rigorously but you will find them helpful if you practice them repeatedly.
In order to handle restlessness during mindfulness meditation, the very first step is to acknowledge that you're being restless right now. That's your experience in this moment. Period.
2. Moments of observing
The next step is to observe the thoughts and sensations without reacting to them. Like a scientist, watch with curiosity what happens in your body and your mind. See if you can get interested in this experience of restlessness. What does it feel like? Can you take a step back and notice without judgment? Is the experience changing?
3. Surrender to the thoughts and feelings
Eventually, see if you can stop trying to change it for a moment and surrender to it completely. Give up the fight, just for one moment at first.
What happens if you give space to the feelings of restlessness in your body? What happens if you allow your thoughts to continue without believing them? Can you experience the urge to move without reacting to it? As you use these questions to continue to attend to your moment-to-moment experience, you might discover more about yourself.
5. Treat yourself with kindness
Last but not least, remember to treat yourself not like a drill sergeant but rather like a loving grandmother. Your attitude is a central ingredient to facing your restlessness. Mindfulness doesn't work without kindness. (In fact, that's why some people have come up with a new term - kindfulness.) Soften your self-talk and practice with kindness instead of impatience and resistance.
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