Last updated on November 1st, 2018 at 11:21 am

Meditation often results in moments of drowsiness. We’ll often slump forward in our posture, constricting the chest area and breathing, our head will dip forward and our jaw will drop—like driving a car at night and finding it hard to stay alert behind the wheel with drifting concentration. If you meditate at the end of the day rather than the beginning, you’ll notice more drowsiness because you’re naturally more tired. Lately I’ve been meditating morning and night and have noticed it definitely happens more at night. During these times it’s good to have tools to lift our concentration back up again, so I want to offer a couple of tips here.

Recently I read Ajahn Chah’s book Food for the Heart. In a chapter called Samma Samadhi – Detachment Within Activity he talks about this process of detachment in the most precise explanation I’ve ever read. It’s definitely worth a read. Here’s a small section from that:

When practicing samadhi we fix our attention on the in and out-breaths at the nose tip or the upper lip. This “lifting” the mind to fix it is called vitakka, or “lifting up.” When we have thus “lifted” the mind and are fixed on an object, this is called vicara, the contemplation of the breath at the nose tip. This quality of vicara will naturally mingle with other mental sensations, and we may think that our mind is not still, that it won’t calm down, but actually this is simply the workings of vicara as it mingles with those sensations. Now if this goes too far in the wrong direction, our mind will lose its collectedness, so then we must set up the mind afresh, lifting it up to the object of concentration with vitakka. As soon as we have thus established our attention vicara takes over, mingling with the various mental sensations.– Ajahn Chah

Often just acknowledging that you’ve drifted is enough to then lift up the mind again on the meditation object, but this can be difficult if the mind is drowsy. Here are a few tips that may help (I’m sure there are probably more). Note: Typically you should resist moving while in sitting meditation. Though some of the below tips indicate correcting your posture this is because it’s likely you’ve slumped into a bad posture when drowsy. Use some discernment about whether to move or not. If you’re drowsy but your posture hasn’t changed then don’t move, use some of the non-moving tips below.

  1. Take one or two slightly larger in and out breaths to supply more blood throughout the body and invigorate the mind slightly. Then relax back into breathing again and settle back into concentration.
  2. If you’ve noticed that you’re hunched forward slightly then very slowly straighten yourself and bring your shoulders back, which will bring your chest up and out (like a pigeon). Again this will open the chest area supplying more oxygen to the body and give you a subtle invigoration in the mind. Be sure to do it slowly as sudden movement can pull you out the meditation too much.
  3. Typically you’ll slump your head if you’re drowsy. If so then raise your chin back up very slowly. If your head hasn’t moved then lifting your chin up about a centimetre or so (so your head is level) will give you a subtle lift as well. Again, do it slowly.
  4. Lastly, during any of the above adjustments set a clear intention in your mind to hold the concentration for as long as possible. This can help sustain the mind for longer periods and your intention over time will get stronger.

All of these tips will help invigorate the mind slightly and allow you to lift your awareness back onto the object with a renewed focus. Over time you’ll find the meditation will be less impacted by drowsiness and the sustained awareness won’t allow the body and mind to slump. If all else fails to hold off the tiredness then you can try opening your eyes, or standing up on the spot in front of your meditation cushion and meditating. You’re much less likely to feel drowsy if your eyes are open of if you’re standing up.

Jagaro is a Buddhist meditation and mindfulness teacher in Helensburgh, Australia whose name means “one who is awake and mindful.” Visit him online at www.jagaro.net.

image: televiseus (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)