Tips for Dealing with Resistance to Meditation
It is very common for beginners to feel resistance to meditating and/or restless during meditation. Even experienced meditators will experience this from time to time. In this article we will look at why this is the case, the different forms of resistance to look out for and what you can do when you are feeling strong resistance to meditating. To help with this last point, I have recorded a meditation (available below) to guide you through this process.
Why do I experience so much resistance to meditation?
During the introduction of the Meditation 1 course I refer to the ‘hard outer crust’ that forms on the ‘surface’ of our psyche as a way of explaining why people experience resistance before and during meditation. This crust is a build-up of the force or energy of busyness, momentum, stress, thinking, emotion and overstimulation, which accumulate in the subconscious and accompanies most people in their lives. It forms a barrier to our natural, creative, relaxed, free flowing psyche and dulls the perception of our natural state of being. To penetrate this resistant crust often takes committed practise and persistence in the beginning, which gets easier over time.
Resistance is also strengthened by the avoidance of certain feelings, thoughts or emotions. Unfortunately, avoidance has the result of speeding us up inside, creating the need for more distraction, busyness and a whirlwind-like existence so as to not come into contact with what is uncomfortable. Going back to the metaphor of the outer crust, avoidance creates a harder crust, just as the surface of water becomes ‘harder’ if approached at high speed.
Meditation allows us to slow down inside so that we can start to see ourselves and our life in a wider perspective. Solutions to our problems, then begin to come easier and spontaneously.
What do I do when I feel a strong resistance to meditating?
Rather than approaching meditation with the aim of becoming more relaxed, peaceful or to enter ‘the zone’, sit down with the intention of being fully aware of the emotional and/or mental resistance you are feeling. Being fully aware of this resistance is the meditation.
By making the resistance the focus of the meditation, it will reduce the tendency to struggle or fight with the resistance, or the urge to avoid meditation altogether.
When you are ready, sit down and bring your full awareness to the resistance you are feeling - without thinking about it. This is the key. Keep your attention on the actual feeling or sensation, but as much as possible, do not think about it. The meditation below will help guide and assist you through this process.
Guidance on how to move through Resistance to Meditation
15-Minute Guided Meditation - Listen Now!
Additional Practises for Clearing Resistant & Restless Energies/Emotions
For some, there can be a substantial build-up and habit of stress, tension, emotion, anxiety and/or trauma. This accumulation of energy can create excessive restlessness and inability to focus or relax. Everyone new to meditation experiences this from time to time, but if you often experience this, then it is recommended you do these additional activities before meditation or during the day.
Breaking the habit and force of these accumulated energies can take a great deal of perseverance, as they dictate how we behave, what we feel, what we think and what we believe.
The practises and activities below cultivate presence when done mindfully and help to naturally discharge the accumulated energies which make it difficult to be present:
- Being grateful/practising gratitude
- Being in nature
- Walking (especially barefoot, when possible)
- Yoga, Tai Chi
- Other exercise done mindfully (e.g. being present in body, no music or screens)
- Cold exposure, cold shower (not recommended if you are depleted of energy or have weak constitution)
- Singing, dancing, laughing
- Being affectionate with a partner, giving your dog or cat a pat, watering your plants/garden
- Bilateral sounds
- Bowen Therapy, Craniosacral Therapy, Massage
When practising or participating in any of these activities, being present and mindful is the key as to whether they allow for a natural discharge and release of stress and tension or whether they are an unconscious expulsion of energy. Be aware of your inner state and focus, is there a forceful push or drive to release/get rid of energy or to go harder or further? Or are you present and aware?
Be aware of activities you engage in where there is a force or push to release or dissipate energy or the urge to express an emotion. These are areas that are ‘leaking’ energy and perpetuate unconscious, habitual patterns.
A note on Group Meditation:
If you are not doing so already, meditating in a group is a good way to overcome or get around resistance to meditation. Whether the group is online or face-to-face a group environment is effective for several reasons:
- You're committed to others in the group
- You've set aside the day/time of the meditation
- There is some level of accountability
- The energy of the group is naturally supportive of experiencing a deeper meditation than on your own.
- If the group meditation is guided, then that facilitates and easier entry into a meditative state.
If you would like to meditate with a group you might like to consider the 30-Minute Online Guided Meditation Sessions.
Types of Resistance During Meditation
As well as the resistance one may feel to sit down and meditate, resistance can take many forms during a meditation session. The ability to notice and clearly identify these forms of resistance, when they arise, is important. When seen, you will be able to say “ah, yes, I am feeling a strong feeling of restlessness in my legs (for example). It’s ok though, I know what it is.” This understanding of what is happening makes it easier to relax and be ok with what you are feeling.
If these forms of resistance are not consciously seen, your meditation will be more uncomfortable than it needs to be or you will be persuaded to end your meditation session altogether.
Everyone is familiar with the feeling of restlessness. When it becomes strong, you feel like you’ve just got to get up, move and do something. For those that are often busy, stressed or anxious, the mind and emotions easily get bored and often exert themselves as restlessness during meditation as it does not provide the stimulation that they are used to.
Being able to identify, name and be present to restlessness is the key to passing through it – there is a period of discomfort when breaking any habit, compulsion or addiction. In all of my years of teaching meditation I have only had one person actually get up and run out of the room (even though I know others have felt like doing so!). She persevered though and had some wonderful breakthroughs over the next two years in the Meditation 1 and Meditation 2 classes.
Physical and Emotional Pain
As one begins meditation, the force of unseen, unfelt feelings, emotions and disturbances in the subconscious often exert themselves as physical or emotional pain and tension. This is often a reaction to the conscious attention being applied in meditation and a greater awareness of what was previously avoided or unconscious.
It is important to be clear on this, as without this understanding you could start to believe that meditation is not good for you, that it is creating this pain – this is not the case. The physical and emotional pain are not unlike the temporary malaise one may feel when going through a dietary detox. The key is to remain present and aware throughout.
Physical and emotional pain may arise at any stage of meditation. The backlog of stored impressions, traumas and beliefs have accumulated over a lifetime, and more deeply held material is not accessible until more superficial layers have been seen and moved through. This is why I encourage people to think of meditation as an on-going practice, just as physical exercise is on-going.
As the spotlight of our conscious awareness lights up the subconscious, the moods and emotions that have been hidden can start to react and will often put people to sleep during meditation. It is important to distinguish this from actual physical fatigue. It can be tricky in the beginning because much of the fatigue that people normally feel is at least partly due to stress and emotion, rather than physical tiredness.
Meditation naturally allows people to observe and make this distinction. This not only helps one to remain awake in meditation, but also to not get pulled into emotional reactivity in day-to-day situations.
Summary: Dealing with Resistance to Meditation
We have looked at why you may be feeling a resistance to meditation, the types of resistance you may experience during meditation and I’ve taken you through a meditation you can use whenever you are feeling resistance. The most important point is to identify and name resistance when it is present. Once identified, it becomes much easier to take action and use the tips and meditation provided. Wishing you well!
“When Joshua’s Meditation 1 course was recommended to me I laughed and thought ‘I don’t need that, it will be quacky and too spiritual and carry no personal meaning for me’. Despite the reservation and skepticism, I realised that I needed some help to become more calm, so I went ahead and joined. It turned out to be very, very different from what I was expecting. I found that Meditation 1 is absolutely grounded in practical exercises that have really assisted my life and which I continue to practise.
Joshua is supportive, informative and very knowledgeable, yet not impersonal. He’s happy to share his own personal experience to help us understand ours.“
Wholebeing Meditation Courses and Sessions
About Joshua Rasco
Growing up on fast food and pharmaceuticals in Southern California and continuing with a fit but unhealthy and unhappy lifestyle in the U.S. Air Force, I fortunately discovered meditation at the age of 19 during an intense period of anxiety.
Over the 25 years since, I have been with different spiritual teachers and masters, attended countless retreats, and given many hours a day to reading, listening, watching, meditating, integrating and applying a deeper sense of presence in my daily life.
I first started teaching meditation in 2013 when a Bowen Therapy client asked if I could teach her son meditation. I am not sure how she knew that I meditated, but I agreed. The idea of teaching classes came soon after and the classes have continued to grow organically since then.
I particularly enjoy guiding others in becoming more aware of and moving through the unseen, unresolved emotion driving the pressure, stress, thinking and unhelpful behaviours they experience in their lives.
The inspiration behind teaching these meditation classes stems from a deep commitment of service to Life and those who participate in the classes.