Overcoming the Barriers to Meditation

A regular meditation practice can have many benefits to health and wellbeing, but it can be challenging to achieve, which is what has prompted me to write this post. I will outline the benefits of meditation to help motivate you and then cover the barriers to establishing a regular meditation practice, before providing some simple techniques to try in order to help you find one that works for you and is sustainable.


Regular meditation can help counter negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety and unhappiness. As well as boosting your mood, meditation can enhance your mental function too: improving concentration and memory, and making space for your creativity to come through, including problem solving. Meditation can also alleviate physical and mental fatigue.

Meditation isn’t about never feeling negative emotions. Even monks experience stress, anger, sadness and fear. It is about experiencing the full range of emotions without getting stuck in unhelpful ones. What a regular meditation practice can do is to help you recalibrate more quickly if something throws you off balance. Meditation facilitates the smooth transition back to a calm state, to neutral. It can also facilitate positive feelings: love, joy, contentment, peace.


Trying to Empty the Mind

Probably the biggest barrier is believing that meditation is about emptying the mind of all thoughts, which is frustratingly difficult to do and like trying to run before you can walk. The key principle of meditation is non doing. It is time out for the body and the brain, however you want to do that. It can be about sitting with your thoughts, observing them and then letting them go like clouds passing across the sky. Or it can be focusing on the breath or sounds, then noticing when your mind has wandered to thoughts and bringing it back to what you were focusing on. The more you practise, the quieter your mind may become, but don’t give up if it doesn’t. It will be easier some days than others; accept that, don’t fight it. You may get to a point where you can calm your mind for a few moments or maybe more, in which case enjoy the experience, but it is not the be all and end all of meditation.


One of the main barriers to regular practice is time. To help you overcome that hurdle, what is the minimum amount of time that you could commit to meditating each day? That you couldn’t say ‘I haven’t got time for’? One minute? Five? Ten? Start small. You can always do more if you want to, but don’t build a huge wall in front of the start line!


What existing daily habit could you hook that short meditation time onto? Is it after cleaning your teeth in the morning or at bedtime? Is it immediately after or before lunch? When would work best for you? No matter what happens, persevere. If you miss a day or two, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just resume the next day.

A daily practice is ideal, more often is even better if you can. I have realised that meditation is like any skill, it requires regular practice, building up bit by bit and finding what works best for you along the way, like training for a marathon. I certainly stopped and started for years before finally settling into a daily practice. My next goal is to make it twice daily…

How to Meditate

There are so many ways to meditate that it can be daunting and confusing to know where to start, let alone how to continue. Here I offer a handful of different techniques that you could try to see which you prefer. None of these involve emptying the mind of all thoughts. Meditation is about focused attention and calming the mind.

Tuning in to the Senses

One way to meditate is to become aware by tuning in to your senses, one at a time. The mindful cup of tea meditation is a good example of that, which you can practise with any hot drink:

  • Notice the colour of the liquid and any shapes on the surface, such as froth or swirls, and how those move and change. Gaze at those for as long as feels good. Then take in the colour, shape and pattern of the cup or mug.

  • Next notice any sounds around you and how they change, or appreciate peace and quiet.

  • Moving onto the sense of smell now, take in the aroma of your drink, taking time to take it in and register it.

  • Only now take a sip to savour the taste of the tea or other beverage. Linger over it, don’t rush.

  • And how does it feel in your mouth and throat? How far down do you feel it as you swallow? Really pay attention with each sip.

  • Finish drinking your tea slowly and mindfully, tuning into one sense at a time.

The mindful cup of tea can be a good way to introduce a regular meditation practice, because it is a daily activity. Try to make at least one cuppa each day a mindful one and notice any difference in how you feel immediately after and over the longer term.

Using the Breath as a Meditation Tool

Meditating on the breath is another way to focus on something that we do all the time in order to move away from our thoughts and into physical sensations. There are so many ways to meditate on the breath, but this is one of the simplest to start with. Try to spend a few minutes once or twice a day quietly concentrating on your breathing. Find a quiet, comfortable environment for this, ideally sitting with both feet flat on the floor and your hands loose in your lap or resting gently on your thighs:

  • Just breathe normally

  • Be aware of your inbreath and outbreath and any pause between

  • If your mind wanders, don’t berate yourself, just acknowledge it and come back to your breathing

  • Notice how the experience changes from day to day, depending on how you are feeling.

Body Scanning

Another way to meditate is to tune in to your body by scanning through it one part at a time. You can guide yourself through the practice or, better still, listen to a guided body scan on one of the apps that I mention below. I talk you through a body scan in my previous blog post Mindfulness: re-engaging with your body. You can also try tensing and releasing one part of your body at a time, tensing with the in breath and releasing with the outbreath.

Meditation Apps

There are many meditation apps out there, which can help you get started with meditation or maintain a regular practice. Calm, Headspace and Waking Up are some of the best known subscription services. I enjoy working with the free Plumb Village app: “A free app with guided meditations, deep relaxations and other practices offered by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastic community.”  Another free app is Insight Timer.

Meditation in Movement

Moving mindfully is another way to meditate. Qigong is an excellent example of that, with the slow repetitive movements inducing a meditative state as we focus on how the movement feels. Walking is another good way to meditate if you use your senses to tune in to your environment. I talk more about that in a previous blog post Walking Mindfully.

Music for Meditation

You can even use music to enter a meditative state. Apparently, listening to music that gives you goosebumps has the same effect as other meditation techniques, so it couldn’t get easier than that! Try putting together a playlist of music that has that tingle factor for you and set aside a few minutes each day to listen to it.

To Conclude

With meditation, if at first you don’t succeed, persevere with a different way of meditating. If you are very agitated, sitting quietly may not work for you, so you could try walking mindfully instead. Or perhaps listening to tingle-factor music works better for you than focusing on your breath or a cup of tea. Play with it, explore. Eventually you may develop a repertoire of techniques to pick and choose from depending on how you are feeling. I use an alternate nostril breathing meditation if I wake in the night feeling physically restless or a sleep meditation if my mind is busy. If I feel fairly calm, I like to still my mind further and if I feel agitated I find humming a helpful way to meditate and soothe myself. 

I sincerely hope that you have found something here to inspire you to meditate and support your regular practice. To learn more about meditation, I can recommend listening to this interview with Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten on the Feel Better Live More podcast.