The 2 most common objections I hear about meditation are:
- It’s boring (which is what I used to think)
- It’s really hard to let go
I totally get it. When we’re stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious, it can be very difficult to let go during meditation. It can almost feel impossible.
Maybe you just lost someone you love, had a breakup, or are just trying to let go of life’s noise.
Fret not, there are tried-and-tested tools to help you let go during meditation. The tools I will share include both ancient and modern techniques, that can help you achieve a deep sense of peace and joy.
We take our breath for granted, but breathing is an art and science.
As with so much of modern wisdom, breathing techniques have ancient roots in the Hindu Yoga traditions. Their system of breathing is called pranayama (meaning life energy control).
If breath is life, pranayama is about helping life flourish within us.
Here are a couple pranayama techniques to help you let go during meditation:
Sama Vritti (Box Breathing)
Box breathing is a classic technique that brings an almost immediate sense of inner peace.
It’s quite simple:
- Inhale for 4 Seconds
- Hold for 4 Seconds
- Exhale for 4 Seconds
- Hold the Exhale for 4 Seconds
- Repeat Until Calm
Nadi Shadhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
I learned this technique from Susan Weis-Bohlen in her book, Ayurveda Beginner’s Guide. At the time of this writing, I have just started practicing this technique, and have found it to be even more powerful than box breathing.
Classically, this technique requires you form a certain hand position called the vishnu mudra. This involves pressing your index and middle finger to your palm, and extending your other fingers (and almost “hang ten” kinda way).
I have not read (or can think of) a reason for you to form this mudra every time. I don’t think it really matters in my opinion, but I could be wrong (I’m just a beginner at pranayama at the moment).
Anyhoo, here’s the breathing technique itself:
- Plug your right nostril and inhale through your left
- Exhale through the same left nostril
- Now plug your left nostril and inhale through your right nostril
- Exhale through your right nostril again
- Repeat Until Calm
When internal attachments are particularly difficult, sometimes we need an equally powerful force to overcome them. Gratitude is one such force.
In the Mind Illuminated, Dr. John Yates suggests noticing specific things in the moment that bring you pleasure, and then meditating on that sensation of pleasure with gratitude. This is a great way to let our attachments go, and replace them with something that brings us joy.
Practice Vipassana Meditation
Often we have trouble letting go, because we don’t know how to properly deal with our thoughts and attachments. We try really hard to let go, but the harder we try, the more difficult it gets.
The solution is to have more grace on the thoughts that arise in your practice. In the Vipassana Buddhism tradition, we let thoughts arise, then label them as “thought”, and let them go.
Thoughts are just like clouds, but we control the weather. Notice each thought, then let each thought pass you by like a cloud in the sky.
Every time a thought arises, don’t get frustrated with yourself. Instead, congratulate yourself for noticing that you’re thinking, then come back to the breath (or whatever your focus of meditation is). The more you notice your thinking mind, the more you’re training your mind to let go at will.
Someone else might have a more technical explanation of how exercise helps us let go – I just know that it works. Whether it’s walking in nature, exercising, or doing yoga, physical movement is an excellent way to soften the mind’s attachments for meditation.
Check Your Sleep, Nutrition & Stimulants
It is very difficult to out-meditate poor sleep, nutrition or excessive stimulants.
If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, I would definitely suggest starting there. Sleep is absolutely crucial and foundational to our spiritual wellbeing.
“Sleep is the best meditation.”The Dalai Lama
Here in the West (and probably many other places), stimulants like coffee and alcohol are a lifestyle. Unfortunately, they are known to throw fire on anxiety, making it difficult for the most experienced practitioner to let go during meditation (and sleep). Make sure you reduce these stimulants (and all other stimulants) in your life, in order to have a fruitful meditation practice and restful sleep.
Same goes for nutrition. It is difficult to achieve a sense of calm when we’re eating a diet of high-salt junk food. Salt and inflammatory foods are known to create stress and anxiety in the body, making it difficult to let go and meditate (and sleep!).
2 quick tips for elevating your nutrition and reducing anxiety: Add potassium into your diet (potassium helps you flush out salt), and swap any vegetable oils in your house for extra virgin olive oil. Vegetable oils are one of the most dangerous foods you can consume, as it basically causes micro-explosions in your bloods vessels and inflammation, causing cancer and many other ailments.
“I think vegetable oils are the No. 1 cause of health problems in this country.”Dr. Catherine Shanahan
In my career as a marketing analyst, I have learned that the best way to change something, is to find its root cause. If you find the root cause, you can pull the correct lever in order to produce a different result.
It’s cause and effect: If you find the cause, you can change the effect.
If you don’t try to find the cause for life’s suffering or attachments, I believe anything else you do is just a band-aid.
For instance, if you carry a lot of anxiety from a toxic relationship, two things will happen:
- You will have trouble letting go during meditation (obvi)
- Your anxiety will keep coming back after you meditate (if it even goes away in the first place)
You could do yoga, walk in nature, practice pranayama breathing, or vipassana meditation, but if you don’t deal with the root cause of your suffering or attachment, that suffering will keep coming back.
In this case, there are several things you can do:
- Get Counseling
- Talk It Out With Friends or Family
If you struggle with chronic anxiety and stress (as so many people do in this world), I would highly recommend seeing a therapist. Thankfully the stigma is going away, and there are few better ways to tackle any mental health issues you may have.
A good therapist will give you tools for journaling, understanding your triggers, finding things in your life that are causing chronic anxiety, meditation, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Second is talking with a friend or family member. I love journaling, but I don’t know how often I journal incessantly about a life problem or mental health issue, but don’t get an “aha” moment until I actually talk it out with someone.