We are currently looking at the five traditional hindrances to meditation. These are five challenges that often come up, and seem to get in the way of our meditation practice. These are: craving and desire; anger and ill-will; restlessness and anxiety; sloth and torpor; and doubt and indecision. This week we will be exploring the third of these in more detail:

Restlessness and Anxiety

1. Use the breath as an anchor.
When we are feeling anxious, it can be useful to focus on sensations of breathing lower in the body, such as in the abdomen. It might be helpful to place your hands on your tummy so that you can feel the natural rhythm of your breath.

2. Be curious!
As with anger, anxiety can be a strong emotion that we can feel in the body. We can observe these sensations with interest and curiosity. Notice your heart rate, notice any sense of tension, and notice how these sensations change, moment-by-moment. In this way, your anxiety becomes part of your meditation, rather than a distraction from it. It may also be helpful to reframe your experience – so instead of feeling that your anxiety is ‘bad’ or even ‘unpleasant’, it becomes interesting. You don’t need to know why you are anxious; you don’t need to ‘solve’ it; just observe!

3. Be kind!
Often when we are anxious, we can become self-critical. We can be our own worst enemy. However, how would you respond to a friend or loved one who was feeling anxious? Chances are you are kinder and more compassionate towards others than yourself! However, we can learn to respond to ourselves with more compassion. Firstly, acknowledge that you are finding things difficult; secondly, remind yourself that this is part of being human and everyone feels this way sometimes; thirdly find something kind to say to yourself. How might you speak to a loved one? Try repeating a phrase such as ‘you’re ok’ or’ ‘may I be kind to myself’ or ‘it’s ok, this will pass.’ Notice how this feels.

4. Write a list.
Often when we sit to meditate, we suddenly remember lots of tasks that we need to do. When we are meditating those tasks can seem so important that it can become a distraction. Sometimes it can be helpful to write down a to-do list. And then if we find ourselves

5. Go for a walk.
Gentle exercise such as mindful walking or yoga can be a great way to let go of physical restlessness. It can also be a useful way to prepare for meditation. Often people try to meditate straight after a period of busy activity and then wonder why their minds won’t settle! Just as you might prepare for a run or a gym workout with some gentle stretches, it can be useful to prepare the mind for meditation.

Next week we will be looking at sloth and torpor.