How to fight drowsiness in your meditation

Have you felt discouraged because you tend to nod off into drowsy slumberland everytime you sit down to meditate?

Well you are not alone. One of Buddha’s great disciple had the same problem and here’s the advice from Buddha.


“Are you nodding, Moggallana, are you nodding?”

— “Yes. Lord.”

1. “Well then, Moggallana, at whatever thought drowsiness befalls you, to that thought you should not give attention and not dwell on that thought. Then, by doing so, it is possible that your drowsiness will vanish.

(For those who are mindful of their thought pattern and can identify the thoughts that trigger the slumber state, then one needs to arrest the thought before it trigger the body mechanism to sleep)

2. “But if, by doing so, drowsiness does not vanish, then you should reflect upon the Teaching as you have heard and learned it, you should ponder over it and examine it closely in your mind. Then, by doing so, it is possible that your drowsiness will vanish.

For example to reflect on preciousness of human life, impermanence and then to motivate oneself to work hard on meditation etc.

3. “But if, by doing so, drowsiness does not vanish, then you should repeat in full detail the Teaching as you have heard and learned it. Then, by doing so, it is possible that drowsiness will vanish.

This refers to chanting sutta that one had memorized. By utilizing our mind to recall the sutta from memory, it may rouse our mental energy.

4. “But if, by doing so, drowsiness does not vanish, then you should pull both ear-lobes and rub your limbs with your hand. Then, by doing so, it is possible that drowsiness will vanish.

This refers to simple movement of body to enhance blood circulation. Such as gentle stretching and yoga posture. There are some buddhist yoga posture that help us raise the energy level without sacrificing mindfulness and concentration.

5. “But if, by doing so, drowsiness does not vanish, you should get up from your seat and, after washing your eyes with water, you should look around in all directions and upwards to the stars and constellations. Then, by doing so, it is possible that your drowsiness will vanish.

This simply means to stop meditating, get up and freshen up. Wash your face etc. Then resume meditation.

6. “But if, by doing so, drowsiness does not vanish, you should give attention to the perception of light, to the perception of day (-light): as by day so by night, as by night so by day. Thus, with your mind clear and unclouded, you should cultivate a mind that is full of brightness. Then, by doing so, it is possible that your drowsiness will vanish.

Some practitioners see light or experience light when they meditate with eyes shut. This advice is to call forth that inner brilliance to fight off sleepiness.

Alternatively, we can also open our eyes lightly to allow some light in.

7. “But if, by doing so, drowsiness does not vanish, then, with your senses turned inward and your mind not straying outward, you should take to walking up and down, being aware of going to and fro. Then, by doing so, it is possible that your drowsiness will vanish.

This refer to walking meditation.
The mind should still be mindful and concentrated. For Mahayana practitioners, we may also do prostration.

8. “But if, by doing so, drowsiness does not vanish, you may, mindfully and clearly aware, lie down, lion-like, on your right side, placing foot on foot, keeping in mind the thought of rising; and on awakening, you should quickly get up, thinking ‘I must not indulge in the comfort of resting and reclining, in the pleasure of sleeping.’

This means that we should lie down and sleep mindfully if everything fails
Note that the posture adopted does not allow a careless slumber. Try sleeping like that on a hard floor without mattress and you will know what I mean. And the moment we awake, we have to resume meditation. This advice is important because it recognises that our body may be suffering from fatigue. The aforesaid deals with mental hindrance. However, we must not forget our health and physical well being too. When our body is already pushed beyond limit. We rest!

“Thus, Moggallana, should you train yourself.”

— Anguttara Nikaya VII, 58