What If I Fall Asleep During Meditation?

I have been discussing feelings and emotions – recognising your feelings and naming those feelings.  But what If I fall asleep during meditating on my feelings?  That happened to me the other day when I was doing a mindful breathing meditation for five minutes.

The natural tendency is to “beat up” on yourself.  It was only five minutes, why couldn’t I stay awake for that short time?  I must be doing it wrong.  How can I ever sustain the effort for 20 or 40 minutes?  I’ll never be able to master this meditation process!

Being non-judgmental about sleepiness during meditation

Jack Kornfield suggests that it is important to be non-judgmental – doing so, is not only counter-productive but may feed your natural tendency to judge yourself negatively.  He suggests that you can get in touch with the feeling of sleepiness and treat yourself with kindness.

Sometimes, we feel sleepy because of the strain of dealing with negative feelings – of allowing them to come to the surface.  The body may feel overwhelmed by the strength of the emotion and decide it is too difficult to handle. Alternatively, your body may take this opportunity to catch some rest if you have been living a very fast-paced life.

Meditation involves relaxation – relaxing into our breath and freeing our body from points of tension.  So, it is only natural that this will open us up to the challenge of falling asleep during meditation.  However, if it happens in the early stages or only occasionally, it is nothing to worry about.

If falling asleep does occur in the early stages of your learning to meditate, accept that this is part of the learning process.  Your body and mind have to adjust to the new pace and focus (the present)- and this takes time.  It will help you to build your patience to persist without judging yourself – a patience that will increase your capacity for self-management.

If sleepiness during meditation persists for months, you may need to take a serious look at your lifestyle – it may indicate that you are constantly consuming your emergency energy supply (drawing on a second breath all the time or persisting through sheer will power).

Some helpful hints for overcoming sleepiness during meditation

Mindspace.com has some very good suggestions to manage your sleepiness if it occurs frequently during meditation.  These suggestions relate mainly to considering your environment, your timing and your posture during meditation.

It is important that your environment is conducive to meditation.  Having a flow of fresh air by opening a window may help – this is similar to the recommendation to open the windows of a car if you are feeling drowsy as the fresh air may help to keep you awake as it blows on you.  Location is important too – so avoid meditating on or in your bed.  Besides inducing sleep because this is where you go to sleep each day, it potentially develops the habit of wakefulness when in bed – which is the last thing you want!

Timing for your meditation is important.  I have suggested having a set time each day to meditate to build the habit of meditating.  However, if this timing coincides with when your are typically very tired, then you will have great difficulty overcoming sleepiness during meditation.  If you are a “morning person” (who wakes up early and declines in energy as the day progresses) perhaps a morning meditation session is best; if you are “night person” (slow to wake up and gains energy as the day progresses) then maybe a night meditation session is best.  You need to find what best suits your own body clock.

Your posture can affect your meditation and your capacity to stay awake.  It is suggested that you sit upright rather than lying down during meditation.  Some even suggest placing a pillow behind your back to maintain this upright position.  If you are a yoga practitioner, then a sitting yoga position may be conducive to effective meditation.

Other hints to avoid sleepiness during meditation relate to food and drink.  Meditating immediately after a meal can induce sleep because your body tends to be drowsy as it digests the food.  Coffee, on the other hand, can act as a stimulant and can create dependence as well as reinforcement of the linkage between the stimulant and the act of meditating.  Meditation is a natural process and involves becoming attuned to your body, so using stimulants, such as coffee, can work against the goals of meditation – hence it is good to leave the coffee to after meditation.

I will leave the final word to Andy Puddicombe who has some summary advice in his video on Why do I keep falling asleep?

As you grow in mindfulness, you will progressively overcome sleepiness during meditation because your body and mind will gradually adjust to the unfamiliar activity.  You will not overcome sleepiness during meditation entirely – there will still be times when you are very tired and fall asleep while meditating.  However, if you treat yourself non-judgmentally and gently, you will overcome these minor setbacks to your progress in mindfulness.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of JessicaJohnson on Pixabay

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Sustaining Meditation Practice

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Elisha Goldstein discussed the theme, Towards Sustainable Happiness.  He covered the barriers to sustaining meditation practice and offered ways to overcome them. Elisha is the author of a number of books, including Uncovering Happiness and The Now Effect.

Elisha acknowledged that integrating a new habit, such as meditation, into our daily lives is a challenging task. Starting the habit is relatively easy but sustaining it over time can be extremely difficult.

He identified a number of barriers that make it difficult for us to achieve the desired integration:

1. Our negative bias

As we mentioned previously, our brain is wired to perceive danger and threat and persists in a negative orientation as an evolutionary safety mechanism. This manifests as doubts, anxiety or uncertainty when we are trying to sustain the habit of meditation. We tend to question not only the way we are meditating but also the utility (usefulness/ benefit) of meditation. We can focus on the effort involved without seeing the benefits.

2. Fractured attention

In this day and age, we are constantly interrupted by technology, advertising and noise pollution. Our attention is continuously fractured by interruption – we now talk about disruptive marketing as a means to capture the attention of our desired audience. This continuous disruption to our attention makes it increasingly difficult to meditate and feeds our doubts and uncertainties.

3. Our cultural environment

The acceptance of busyness as laudable and inactivity as blameworthy, translates into little tolerance for being still, taking time out or meditating. This means that there are very few positive models within our immediate environment to inspire us to sustain our meditation practice. There are few rewarding or supporting social cues that motivate us to maintain the effort.

4. Our loss of connectedness

The development of our social norms means that increasingly we are superficially connected to lots of people (via social media) and see ourselves as separate and independent. Images of meditation practitioners reinforce this separateness. However, neuroscience confirms the view that we are social beings that are interconnected and interdependent. We have a reliance on each other whether we are conscious of this or not. Research also highlights the fact that social isolation can lead to physical and mental illness including depression.

Elisha’s very strong recommendation, based on his own research and experience, is to work towards enriching our environment as a way of building sustainability in our meditation practice and enhancing our experience of happiness.

He suggests that this can be done in two ways, (1) enrich our physical environment, and (2) build social connections that provide positive social cues and inspiration.

On a physical level, we can surround ourselves with inspiring books and sayings, clear clutter than distracts us and detracts from the inner journey, value the beauty and calmness of our natural surroundings and develop a space that engenders calm and ease of meditation.

On a social level, we can get connected to like-minded people by participating in retreats, workshops, online conferences and courses. What is more likely to be sustaining for our meditation practice, however, is regular participation with a group of people who engage in meditation.

If we enrich our physical and social environments, we are better able to grow in mindfulness by sustaining our meditation practice, so that the benefits are longer lasting and flow into our everyday lives outside the meditative environment.

Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of RitaE on Pixabay