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 fourth of these in more detail:

Sloth and Torpor

Sloth refers to the physical experience of tiredness, whilst torpor refers to mental sluggishness. Of course the mind and body are linked and physical sleepiness can exacerbate mental drowsiness and vice versa. It is useful to identify whether the difficulty is physical or mental in nature so that you can apply the appropriate antidote.

1. Use the breath to invigorate.
When we are feeling sluggish, it can be useful to focus on the sensations of breathing higher in the body, such as in the nostrils or the throat. Many people find that this can give a sense of energy. It can sometimes be helpful to visualise breathing in white light.

2. Watch your posture.
It is important to meditate in an upright posture if possible (although body scan meditations are often practiced lying down). When we are tired we tend to slouch and this can exacerbate. Try checking in with your posture every couple of minutes to make sure you are maintaining a good posture. It may also be helpful to open your eyes slightly. This can lead to distraction – so ensure that you find a spot on the floor or wall in front of you to look at – something that isn’t too interesting! Alternatively try investigating your own physical experience, with curiosity, and notice whether there are any parts of the body that feel more energised than others – and focus on these areas.

3. Remind yourself of your purpose
It can be useful to reflect on why you are meditating in the first place, particularly the aspects that you find interesting and enjoyable. Getting back in touch with a sense of purpose and motivation can help us to feel more enthusiastic and give us some energy to practice. It may also be useful to notice the transient nature of this mental state – that this will pass.

4. Challenge sluggish thinking
Sometimes when our minds are sluggish we are actually avoiding something – maybe we feel a little foggy-minded because we are afraid to meditate. Perhaps we are worried that we might experience an unpleasant emotion during meditation and vagueness helps us to avoid. It is worth remembering that meditation often requires courage!

5. Get some sleep!
Perhaps you are feeling drowsy simply because your body needs some sleep. If you need to sleep, maybe stop trying to meditate and get some rest. Try meditating at a different time of day, when you are more likely to be alert. For instance, it is often difficult to meditate late at night or just after a large meal. It may also be worth asking yourself whether you are getting enough sleep in general.

Next week we will be looking at the last of the hindrances – doubt and indecision.