Why Can’t I Meditate?
5 Feel Good Meditations for People Who Hate Meditating
by Alicia Butler, October 17, 2022
I’m gonna be honest, I don’t really meditate that much. Not in the “traditional” sense anyway.
“Traditional” being when you sit silently for a few minutes, focusing on the breath. But that doesn’t mean I don’t steal away little bits of my day to practice mindfulness.
And when I’m feeling really frustrated, wondering, Why can’t I meditate? I either try to get to the bottom of my obstacles to meditation or a feel good meditation, such as kinhin walking meditation, music meditation, or biofeedback breathing.
If you ever struggle to meditate, it may be because you’re just doing the wrong meditations. I’m no meditation expert, but these tips have helped me reap the benefits of meditation — without forcing myself to mindlessly practice something I actively despise.
This post may contain affiliate links, so if you buy something after clicking on a link, I might (fingers crossed!) just get a little commission. Good news: I only recommend products that I love! Which means you can feel good about all of my recs.
Should meditation ‘feel good’?
When I first started meditating, I rarely felt good about it.
When I lived in NYC, I would go to a meditation studio, and I would dread the entire subway ride there. But meditating with other people was just easier than it was alone. The instructor would help us anticipate feelings that could come up. We’d be assured that while meditation didn’t always feel good “in the moment” (much like exercise), we would feel better over time.
Now that I primarily meditate alone, I don’t have that validation anymore. I also don’t have the anxiety and the stress of commuting 45 minutes from Brooklyn to a meditation studio in the Village or Meatpacking District.
I could download a meditation app or watch a YouTube video or follow meditation teachers on TikTok. But I don’t think meditation will always feel good all the time.
When I find myself asking, Why can’t I meditate? I remind myself that using meditation to feel better is sometimes an uphill battle. Yes, I often feel good after meditation. But I don’t always. And sometimes the process of meditation itself feels really sh*tty. A lot of sticky feelings come up that I have to deal with or let go of before I can move on with my day.
Why Can’t I Meditate? Understanding Obstacles to Meditation
Why Can’t I Meditate? Throughout my meditation journey, I’ve been plagued with some common obstacles to meditation. If you feel these too, just know that you’re not alone and you’re not “doing meditation wrong”.
Thinking You’re Doing It Wrong
When I’m meditating, I often worry I’m just not doing it correctly. Which is hilarious because the no. 1 rule of meditation is… there is no right or wrong way of doing it. There are no wrong answers here.
Are there ways to make meditation more enjoyable? Absofreakin’lutely. Sometimes I employ some of those strategies (but more on that later).
But when something that comes up feels really uncomfortable (memories, boredom, anxiety, etc.), it’s not a bad thing. As psychologist Dr. Susan David says in her book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, emotions are simply information.
What emotions aren’t? Morally good or bad.
Meditation can create space between our emotions and our bodies and help us realize we aren’t our emotions. Yes, they come from us, but we don’t need to self-identify with them.
If Big Feelings come up during meditation, meditation experts recommend noticing them and letting them go.
Expecting Meditation to Always Feel Good
A lot of people (myself included) seem to think that meditation should feel like rainbow smiles and puppy dog kisses. Like you’re a smiling student, sitting on a lily pad (or at least a really cute Pottery Barn meditation cushion you got second-hand on Poshmark), totally above all worldly emotions.
But the reality of the situation is that while the Buddha attained enlightenment by the time artists started rendering him in chubby crossed-legged cherub pose, I still have yet to ascend to other-worldly bliss.
Like exercise, the SATs, or watching Game of Thrones for the first time with friends who have already seen the whole dang series (keep your “Red Wedding” episode spoilers to yourself please), meditation wasn’t designed to be easy or feel good all the time.
It’s supposed to be hard when you’re doing it to make your life less hard later.
Using Meditation as Avoidance
Wondering, Why can’t I meditate? It might be worth it to remind yourself that meditation is hard. And it’s not going to bring any kind of fast happiness. Like most stuff in this world, you need to work at it for a while before finding any kind of relief.
It’s not a quick fix.
I’ve never heard of meditation being used to successfully “block out” annoyances and stressors. In fact, it kind of seems to magnify annoyances. Sit with yourself silently for a few minutes, and tell me the sound of someone else’s dog or feet or breathing doesn’t suddenly annoy the pants off of you.
Being Too Hard on Yourself
One of the lessons of meditation for me is to stop being too hard on myself.
This is actually a good life lesson, too. If you go about your day lambasting yourself (or someone else) every time something doesn’t go “perfectly” or as expected, you’d be pretty miserable.
In fact, it’s probably safe to say that showing some compassion (both for yourself and everyone else) might even prevent future mistakes from happening.
The same goes for meditating.
There’s no world in which someone has a “perfect” or “ideal” meditation session. In fact, I would argue that my meditation sessions tend to reflect what I need in my life at any given moment.
If I feel the need to freak out at my neighbor’s overly loud stomping or my roommate who keeps interrupting me, maybe I either need to practice patience or self-advocacy.
Either way, being too hard on yourself doesn’t really have a place in meditation.
When I find myself lambasting myself for anything that happens during a meditation session, I focus on mantras like, It’s okay. Or, I try a loving-kindness meditation.
How do I know if meditation is working?
How do I know if meditation is working? The short answer? I don’t really ever truly know if it’s “working” — and I often second-guess the process.
The only way I truly know if anything is “working” (my writing process, this website, an exercise routine, etc.) is if I do it for an extended period of time and I can prove that things are better in some way because of it.
And to be honest, it’s hard to know if meditation has helped improve my life in specific, measurable ways.
The only way to know is to either keep a meditation journal (which can be really helpful) and record the thoughts that have come up. When I was in therapy and struggling with topics to talk about during the appointment, I would talk about what came up during my meditations and how it made me feel.
Sometimes I look back on these meditation journals and realize that stuff (or other feelings in the same family of topics) don’t come up as much. Or that I just don’t worry about this stuff as much in everyday life.
1. Music Meditation
Music meditation is one of my favorite forms of feel good meditations.
Whenever I’m feeling like I need a bit of a mental reset, different songs can help facilitate those shifts.
Sidebar: I should note that I use this technique when I need to take a break from my own sh*t or explore Big Emotions in a “safer” container — not to avoid feeling whatever I’m feeling. While toxic positivity (or self-gaslighting feels good in the moment (and trust me, running away from my own feelings is one of my favorite activities), it can come back to bite you in the arse real bad.
Music meditation helps me get into my body and feel my feelings. Like watching Steely Mags when I need to get out a good cry or Legally Blonde if I’ve been in a funk for a few days.
To do a music mediation, just choose a song — any song, really. It doesn’t need to control your mood. Just choose a song you like.
- Play the song, put it on repeat, and close your eyes.
- Pay close attention to the melody and nothing else for the entire song. Whenever a feeling comes up, notice it and let it go.
- The next time the song starts, listen to the words of the song as if you were listening to a friend tell a compelling story. Whenever a feeling comes up, notice it and let it go.
Continue to listen to the song as long as you want. You may want to set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes (or for however long you want to meditate for).
The important thing is to notice your feelings and thoughts and then release them. This is exactly what you would do if you were just following the breath. Yet, you have a song (preferably one you like) to help keep your drifting mind occupied.
2. Morning Pages
I’ve actively avoided morning pages for as long as I’ve known about them.
Not like, Oh, I don’t think that’s for me, avoidance. More like, I hate this idea with all of my being, avoidance.
I have no idea why I felt this resistance to writing (something I do every day by the way for my job), but whenever the subject was broached by a writing teacher, someone in my creativity group — or even a podcast host — I was like, nope. Not for me. Never gonna happen. Not ever.
One could say I felt about morning pages how Taylor Swift feels about John Mayer.
I finally caved in and bought the book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, whilst in the midst of a creativity crisis. For one week, I did a full hour of morning pages each morning and spent the entire hour bawling my eyes out.
Evidently, I had some unresolved issues. And these issues were making their way to the surface in my morning pages.
Now, when I find myself ruminating on past events, stuck on something emotionally, or just can’t let something go, I do some free writing morning-pages style.
The concept is simple: Just choose a predetermined amount of time to free write every day (it doesn’t have to be in the morning). This is usually a time (5, 10, or 15 minutes) or a page goal (one or two pages).
Don’t judge what comes out. Just notice it. If you feel compelled, go deeper into any issue that feels sticky. I am sad today. Why are you sad today? I got into a fight with my friend. What did that fight make you feel? Sad. Disappointed. Unheard.
Sometimes just connecting with a feeling and getting specific about why I’m so upset about an event can help me process that feeling better — and put an end to my rumination or obsessing.
3. Biofeedback Breathing
Biofeedback breathing is a 20-minute meditation that may help relieve the physiological symptoms of Big Feelings.
I discovered this type of breathing about a year ago, after one of my clients interviewed Dr. Leah Lagos, biofeedback breathing expert and author of Heart, Breath, Mind, for her podcast.
Dr. Lagos teaches that biofeedback breathing (breathing in for four counts and out for six) can help lower your heart rate variability or the time between heartbeats. The lower your number, the better your nervous system is at returning to baseline after a stressor.
According to Lagos, to reap the full benefits of biofeedback breathing, you need to practice it twice a day, for 20 minutes each session, for 90 days.
Have I ever practiced biofeedback breathing for 40 minutes a day on any day (never mind for 90 days straight)? Heck to the no.
But I do practice biofeedback breathing when I’m feeling stressed, anxious, angry, or any other emotion that may result in “butterflies” or triggering my sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze).
Practicing this breathing requires you to focus on the breath for 20 minutes. And though my mind drifts sometimes, it’s easy to come back to the breath when I’m diligently counting in-breath and out-breath beats.
And it really does help my body to relax when I’m feeling these Big Feelings. Is this a placebo effect? Maybe. But I honestly don’t really care because it works for me.
4. Kinhin Walking Meditation
Kinhin walking meditation is a moving meditation. I know a lot of people who practice this do so when they want to feel more grounded in their bodies.
The concept (like that of most meditations’) is simple: walk while keeping your attention focused on the act of walking itself.
Feel the pressure beneath your feet, the sound of your shoes crunching in the gravel, the swing of your arms, and the details on the sidewalk in front of you.
This exercise encourages you to simply focus on the act of walking. You can walk as slow or as fast as you want (though you may want to walk slowly as this meditation isn’t about “getting” anywhere; it’s about the physical act of walking itself.
You can do this at home or outdoors; you can spend your 15 minutes walking around your apartment or one room in your home. If you go outdoors, make sure to be aware of your surroundings so that you don’t (like me) fall over or end up in the middle of the street.
Since walking has stress-relieving benefits, such as lowered anxiety and depression, you may experience some physiological benefits as well.
5. Savoring Meditation
I probably practice savoring meditations more than any other type. Savoring is sort of a way to incorporate meditation into your everyday life.
What is savoring? Savoring is the act of drinking in and fully experiencing something. Whether that thing is watching a movie, eating pasta, or enjoying a day at the beach. It’s noticing the sights, smells, sounds, feels, and tastes.
Sure, you can eat a sandwich for lunch every day. But do you really take the time to enjoy that sandwich? Do you notice the crispness of the lettuce, the tang of the mustard, and the savoriness of the turkey?
Savoring meditations take as long as you want them to.
Sometimes I set timers to go off throughout the day. When the timer dings, I stop what I’m doing and I take note of everything. The sound of the lawnmower humming outside. The birds chirping. The sound of my computer keys clacking. How smooth those keys feel. The smell of someone heating up soup in the microwave downstairs.
Whatever you’re doing when the timer goes off, just notice.
Sometimes I add these “noticing items” to a list in the notes app on my phone. I really try to feel whatever I’m feeling in relation to these tangible experiences. Even if those feelings aren’t inherently “positive”.
Bonus Feel Good Meditation – Mindfulness Morning Routine
Want a bonus feel good meditation?
Use this mindful morning routine as inspiration from experts for getting more mindful about your mornings. Or (even better) create your own morning routine by figuring out what will help you feel your best throughout your day.
No, meditation doesn’t always need to feel good. And I’ve often noticed that meditating when I feel resistance to it helps me uncover why I’m resisting sessions in the first place.
But if you need a break from your own sh*t or need to switch things up, these meditations have worked for me in a pinch.