Top 10 Difficulties in Mindfulness Practice and How to Overcome Them

By Joelle Jane Marshall

As with a lot of practises, mindfulness takes time to learn, understand and incorporate into a daily routine. As with anything new, it will have its share of difficulties but they can all be overcome.

Finding the time for formal mindfulness practise

One of the most difficult things about mindfulness practice is finding the time to get into the habit of doing it. Like all daily habits, such as brushing your teeth, you will have had to learn how to get into it. Plan a time when you can reasonably fit it in to your daily schedule. Find whatever works for you. Try building it into your routine slowly and if you miss a couple of days, don’t berate yourself either. The habit will come.

Finding the time for informal mindfulness practise

You can bring informal mindfulness to the daily activities you were already doing. For example, you could try doing things with the opposite hand like brushing your teeth, showering, cooking and even cleaning. Make sure you give your full attention to the task at hand and remember that mindfulness is not about multitasking. Just let your mindful awareness be in the present moment.

Staying awake during meditation

Staying awake can also be quite a challenge when practising mindfulness meditation. Everyone falls asleep sometimes, even Buddhist monks! Try experimenting with different times of day to practice or even try lying on the floor instead of your bed as long as you are comfortable. Avoid meditating last thing before bed as you will be more likely to fall asleep. You can also try changing your posture, for example, try the body scan meditation sitting on a chair rather than lying on a bed. Make sure you always get enough sleep and have a good sleep routine, otherwise you will always fall asleep in meditation if you are over tired.

Keeping interested

If you have got into a mindfulness routine and are comfortable in it, that is great! However, if the mindfulness you are doing always feels the same and continues to make you sleepy, it might be time to mix it up a bit. Try practising with a friend, a local group, at a different time of day and try mixing up the meditation exercises you are doing.

External distractions

Distractions can be annoying, especially for a beginner. Try and find a quiet place to meditate if you can for at least ten minutes. If you can’t avoid the distraction, try opening up your attention toward it for a little while. Notice the volume, pitch and quality of the sounds you can hear. By opening up your attention you are no longer fighting the distraction and getting annoyed, you are allowing and accepting it, which is the essence of mindfulness.

Becoming uncomfortable

As you are sitting or lying still for quite long periods of time, you may start to experience discomfort. Discomfort is actually a great way to learn mindfulness, because mindfulness is about moving toward difficulties and accepting them. You may have itching, throbbing, stiffness, tension or some other sensation. Try bringing an attitude of curiosity to that sensation. What is the location, the shape and the colour of it? Be as accepting and as curious as you can.

Becoming bored

Being bored is connected to low levels of energy and agitation with high levels of energy. Mindfulness is about a present moment awareness and therefore is about noticing both these states. Try bringing a sense of curiosity to your boredom. It is good to be aware and curious of your boredom when practising, as otherwise it can prevent you from continuing with your meditation.

Odd experiences

At some point you may have an odd experience in your mindfulness experience. This could be feeling like you are floating, an odd dream-like state which one of my clients has reported feeling in the past, feeling itchy or restless and feeling very heavy. These are normal and will pass. If you can, allow the experience to unfold unless it gets too much. If it gets too much, you can stop and take a break and then go back to it. You are in control, not anyone else. If it helps, you can consider working this through with a mindfulness therapist.

Difficult emotions arising

Mindfulness is a powerful way of dealing with emotions. Because mindfulness shines a light and brings to the surface your present moment experience, strong emotions that you may have suppressed may become much more noticeable. If a strong, difficult emotion surfaces in your mindfulness practice such as deep sadness or severe anger, try being with the emotion instead of suppressing it. All emotions really want is to be felt. Then they will pass away just like every other experience. This may be easier said than done of course, but avoiding strong emotions just gives them power and influence over you.

Difficult thoughts

It is important to remember that your thoughts are not facts, they are just merely thoughts. In mindfulness people deal with thoughts using decentring techniques. This means we take a step back and see our thoughts as if we were an observer of them rather than attached to them. There are several ways of doing this like pinning your thoughts on clouds and watching them pass by, imagining you are on a train and watching the scenery out of the window and pinning your thoughts on it. Difficulties can be really disturbing when you avoid them and run away from them, but once you start to move toward them, the more they lose their hold over you.