Getting Out of a Meditation Rut
Even mindful people slip into meditation ruts. I've fallen out of my meditation practice when life gets busy, when I'm feeling really good, during challenging weeks or months and sometimes for no obvious reason at all. So many articles about mindfulness say how important it is to meditate daily, and although this is a wonderful goal and achievable for some people, I believe once you've tapped into the power of meditation you can still get so much benefit from more sporadic or infrequent time sitting with your thoughts and noticing your breath.
I'm a routine driven person, but living with chronic illness and unpredictable daily symptoms has made it difficult to stick to the traditional schedules I used to live by. When I first began meditating, I tried so many different ways to set a routine that would be the same every single day. It seemed like that was the right way to do things, from everything I read, and I felt like it was an essential part of any mindfulness practice. For months I tried different times of the day - meditating first thing in the morning, after my shower, before bed, at 12pm daily… and was constantly annoyed that I couldn't settle on a time that worked for me.
Ultimately, what did work for me was accepting that my routine would be different every day. Some days, I'd wake up with a splitting migraine and be unable to meditate until afternoon or evening. Other days, I'd have a good morning but be bed-bound by mid-afternoon with pain that kept me from focusing on anything other than getting through each moment. And some days it just wasn't going to happen at all. When I was able to let go of the frustration of not being able to follow a set meditation routine, I found room to flow and adapt to each day's circumstances.
Today, my meditation practice is hardly ever the same from one day to the next. Sometimes I meditate lying in bed, other days I sit by the window, sometimes I do it right before drifting off to sleep and other times right when I wake up. Giving myself permission to change what my meditation practice looks like daily finally unlocked the key to creating my routine.
All of that being said, I still fall into ruts where weeks go by and I haven't made time to be still. I find a few minutes of daily mindfulness has a truly cumulative effect and when I do let it slip from my daily routine, I am more anxious, irritable and reactive. When I am feeling this way, the last thing I want to do is meditate. But I know it is what I need, and I know that within a few days of regular practice it's soothing effects will flow back into my mind and body. For me, meditation creates space between a stimulus and my response, increases my resilience to everyday stressors and allows me to observe my emotions without being carried away by them. Below are some of the tools I always use when I need to get out of a rut:
My top tips:
- Start small. Even 5 minutes can make a difference. It's always better to meditate for 3-5 minutes than to not do it at all.
- Use mantras to help focus on your breath. My favorite mantra to ground myself during meditation is "inhale here, exhale now". Pick something that works for you and that feels natural and easy to remember.
- Try to let go of frustration and judgment. As a perfectionist, this is an ongoing part of my practice. Each time you notice your mind has wandered, return to your breath and repeat your mantra. When I haven't meditated for a while, my mind has such a difficult time sitting and being present. But it's still a successful meditation if you literally have to return to your mantra every 10 seconds for five minutes.
- Make sure you're comfortable. Don't be focused on trying to sit cross legged with a perfectly straight spine. If you feel like lying down, lie down. If you want to cover your eyes with a mask or pillow, go for it! It still counts and isn't cheating to meditate in bed with a cozy blanket pulled over you.
I hope these are helpful! My favorite meditation resource for my daily practice is the Calm app. I'd love to hear what you guys use and what your tricks are for climbing out of a meditation slump.
Happy healing and happy meditating!