Why do I feel worse sometimes after I meditate?

Sometimes when you meditate and pay attention to your body and mind, you'll discover that you're trying too hard and maybe forcing yourself to be mindful. You might feel tension, tightness, contraction or stiffening in your body. Try checking in with the area of your body where you commonly hold tension. Check the small muscles around your eyes that might be scrunched up, a frown in your forehead or your jaw muscles. How does your chest feel and of course, are you holding your breath or breathing easily?

If you notice tension in any of these areas, invite it - instead of pushing it - to release, to relax, then gently return to the breath. If there’s some residue of tension that doesn’t relax, that’s ok. Don’t try to force it since that would be counter-productive. Instead, try to just accept that it’s there in the background and continue with your meditation. The goals not to 'never feel tension' but to be aware of it when it's there.

Another way to recognize forced effort is to notice if you're having any self-judgmental thoughts as you return your attention to the breath. If you can simply notice that the mind has wandered and then come back to the breath, it doesn’t usually take much effort or feel particularly forced. But if there is any background sense of, “Oh, no, wandering again. How many times has it been now? This is hopeless. Get back to the breath, dammit!” then that extra layer of judgement can create a sense of needing to force the process. That's a lot of work and it can be tiring.

The bottom line is that being nice to yourself can go a long way towards meditation being fun and helpful. George Mumford's got a great saying, "Welcome back," that you can try. In the Ten Percent Happier you can practice some self-compassion meditations or one of these:

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