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Obstacles to Mindfulness Meditation (and How to Overcome Them)

articles Jan 16, 2023
obstacles to mindfulness meditation

Many people are becoming interested in mindfulness, yet only a small percentage sustain the kind of mindfulness practice that produces the scientific benefits, such as improved wellbeing and lower depression and anxiety, capturing people’s interest.

What may be holding us back from practicing mindfulness are inner and outer obstacles we may not be aware of.

Researchers have identified that inner obstacles include a lack of an understanding of why we practice, the value of practice, and the ebb and flow of change over time. Outer obstacles include a society that doesn't reinforce mindfulness and may actively pull us away from our practice.

When it comes to inner obstacles, a study on the experience of meditators found that many people may experience mindfulness practice as challenging and boring, and they may need help understanding the value of mindfulness in the early stages of practice.

Another recent study from the University of Maryland found that many people may be facing a lack of knowledge about practicing mindfulness, frequently thinking, “Am I doing it right?”.

In addition, groundbreaking research identifying the challenges people experience while meditating brings to light the importance of neurodiversity-informed mindfulness. We all have our own trauma, childhood experiences, emotional states and brain profiles that each influence our practice.

When it comes to outer obstacles, the study from the University of Maryland also found that people may struggle to create and sustain a regular practice because they're dealing with practical barriers such as time and money constraints or they don't have adequate space in their lives for it. Also, the social circles people are in, for example, work colleagues and family members, may not create a conducive environment for practicing mindfulness.

If this sounds like you or someone you know aspiring to build a lasting practice, then we can help! To overcome these obstacles and create an ongoing mindfulness practice, it's essential to understand why they exist so that we can set the right foundations for success.

With the research in mindfulness growing exponentially over the past 20 years, scientific findings are showing that mindfulness can be helpful for anxiety, depression, stress, and chronic pain and support overall well-being. By understanding what gets in the way of practicing mindfulness, we can set ourselves up for success to create a practice that stands the test of time.

Here are some solutions, from Dr. Elisha Goldstein’s Creating a Practice That Lasts online course, that can help you set yourself up for success:

1. It’s essential to personalize your practice. 

Nothing is one size fits all. We all have our own trauma, childhood experiences, emotional states and brain profiles. So we're all going to need different methods to help us be more gentle with ourselves along the process, and not get hooked on making practice too serious. You can try the Neurodiversity-Informed Mindfulness online course if you're interested in neurodiversity-informed practices.

2. Find your North Star. Identify your why?

By understanding why you like to practice and the benefits you can gain, you’ll become more motivated to practice. Try this intention and goal-setting practice to get you started.

3. Establish a time and space to practice.

Curate your environment in a way that inspires you to practice or at least makes it easy for you to do it. You may not have a dedicated meditation room available, but a simple corner can be made inspirational by including a chair or cushion and comfortable blanket, and other meaningful items like images of loved ones or a candle. With your space set (or refreshed), you can experiment with times of day that work best for you.

4. Check-in with your capacity and practice continually “Relaxing and Re-tuning.”

Mindfulness practice can be experienced as overly difficult and boring for those struggling with attention and emotions. Bestselling author and clinical psychologist Dr. Elisha Goldstein recommends continually relaxing into your experience and not taking your practice too seriously to help lighten the pressure.

5. Understand the change journey and find a trusted guide.

It can be easy to become discouraged as you practice over time. A trusted guide can help you develop your confidence to create and sustain your practice. Understand that a practice ebbs and flows and changes over time. Retreats, new practices and learning can all help rekindle and refresh your practice.

6. Craft your social environment to support practice.

A supportive community plays a critical role in sustaining and deepening your practice. Our research has found that people who uphold their practice choose selectively who they share their practice with. If your family and friends do not understand your choice to practice mindfulness, someone at work may. Join a supportive, like-minded community like the Mindful Society Global Institute or one of the many other mindfulness communities emerging.

7. Be kind, gentle and playful.

Let your practice journey unfold and take you in directions you may not be expecting. By staying curious and having fun, you’ll help keep the spark to practice alive!


 Michael Apollo MHSc RP is the founder of the Mindful Society Global Institute. Prior to founding MSGI in 2014, he was the Program Director of Mindfulness at the University of Toronto. He is an educator, licensed mental health clinician and certified facilitator in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.


Assessing Perceived Barriers to Meditation: the Determinants of Meditation Practice Inventory-Revised (DMPI-R) | Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation experiences of novice practitioners in an online intervention: Trajectories, predictors, and challenges | International Association of Applied Psychology

Can mindfulness be too much of a good thing? The value of a middle way | Current Opinion in Psychology

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