Pain during meditation is one of the most common ailments when beginning a meditation practice.

In particular, pain usually manifests in one of two forms:

  1. Back pain
  2. Leg pain

“Pain” is typically defined as numbness, tingling, pins and needles, stretching, tenderness, stiffness, tightness, heat, and any other kind of physical discomfort.

Many meditators, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, tend to report experiences of painful sensations in the legs and back during lengthy sitting periods.

It’s important to recognize that this is perfectly natural. If you experience these sensations, there is nothing wrong with you or your meditation practice.

These things happen to everyone.

The following guide will list out 3 things that can help you deal with pain during meditation, but it needs to be noted:

Numbers 1 and 2 are not as important as number 3.

  • Number 3 is really important.

Numbers 1 and 2 are important. They need to be taken care of so that number 3 can safely happen, but number 3 is really important.

That said…

1. Ensure Proper Posture

Meditation posture

This girl clearly wants to experience pain…

Posture is one of the hardest things to master for beginning meditators. It’s also a common reason why people think they *cant* meditate.

Of course you *can* meditate, even if your posture is bad. It’s just something you need to strive to improve upon.

If you’re sitting on the floor, you need to ensure two main things:

  1. Your back is straight (imagine a string pulling you into the sky from the crown of your head)
  2. Your hips are above your knees

These two things will mitigate most postural back pain.

For leg pain, make sure that you aren’t forcing yourself to sit in an unnatural position.

If you can comfortably sit in a lotus position, that’s great. In this case, leg pain is commonly the result of the lotus not being “tight” enough. For any lotus, both knees should be touching the ground.

If you’re sitting in a way that is pinching a nerve, your legs are going to “fall asleep”. This means that there is not enough blood flow going to your legs and sitting like this for an extended period of time (several hours) could potentially cause relatively serious damage.

Make sure you are balancing as best as possible on the “sits bones” (the two bony points underneath the gluteus muscles).

2. Sit Comfortably

Not too comfortable; don’t become… cat-atonic.

A comfortable sitting posture does not necessarily mean you need to sit cross-legged on the floor.

If you experience a lot of postural pain, you may want to experiment with sitting in a chair or lying down. Certain kinds of meditations will even allow for you to stand. And don’t forget about walking meditation. These are surefire postures which will undercut a lot of painful sensations.

That said, sitting cross-legged on the ground is a great way to practice sitting meditation.

But yes, it can be uncomfortable.

3. Accept The Pain

Meditation Pain

I accept being made of stone.

This is the most important point.

While it is possible to mitigate some of the pain, pain during meditation is an inevitability that needs to be addressed. Some might even argue that experiencing meditation pain is the sole purpose of a meditation practice.

With meditation, we are forcing ourselves to acknowledge how life exists naturally, as it does, without our personal interferences.

When we start to experience pain, we are seeing an experience manifest as it does, free of our choices and free of our desires. We are starting to experience reality at it really is, not as we want it to be.

It is a monumental moment in our meditation practice.

We are starting to recognize the first noble truth: Life is Suffering.

Life, existing as it naturally exists, is suffering. We can put a lot of band-aids on that suffering life to make it seem like we aren’t actually suffering, but when we take those band-aids off (in this case in the arena of meditation), we start to experience that naturally uncomfortable sensation that is “Life”.

What happens when the pain arises is we naturally want to “shift” into a position where we are not suffering.

And we *can* move, yes, but as soon as we do, we put ourselves back into a state of delusion – the idea that we can remove suffering from life.

When these painful sensations occur, we need to recognize them as they are – otherwise meaningless sensations. They only become “painful” when we attach our emotions to them. Seeing this, we can step into a state of mindfulness.

When mindfulness is present, the painful sensation will become just another sensation and it will succumb to the natural falling away of all phenomena. There is no painful sensation that will last forever.

Eventually, it will cease.

Much of the time, we turn tiny problems into large problems just by expecting the experience we want versus getting the experience we have. Simply stepping into a place of acceptance with whatever the moment is bringing up is all that is required.

Pain Is Our Friend

Pain During Meditaiton

“No need for this net; mosquitoes are my friends.”

One of the great meditation masters of the world said that “pain is our best friend” when meditating. He said this not because he was cruel, but because when the sensation of pain arises, our awareness becomes highly concentrated on that sensation.

It’s with this high level of concentration that we can penetrate that feeling and experience mindfulness. This pain gives us the greatest gift of an obvious sensation to practice with.

For that, we can be grateful that pain has arisen.

Here’s a story:

When I was on a two-month vipassana retreat, my legs were a constant source of suffering for me and my practice. A few minutes into almost every sitting period, severe bouts of every kind of pain would arise – burning, tingling, strain, tightness, etc. I would bring this up to my meditation teacher and he would say, “That’s OK. Uncomfortable sensations are OK. Just keep practicing.”

It took me a long time into this retreat (and a LOT of pain) to understand what he was saying – “good” and “bad” sensations are just sensations; it needs to be acknowledged that they, like all sensations, will come and go as they see fit.

They certainly came, and eventually, with enough patience, they would go.

Sometimes they would come on really strongly, and if I could be mindful with them as they arrived, it would only take a few moments before they went away.

After getting into the rhythm of “being mindful”, feelings that had caused me serious amounts of suffering before were nothing more than fleeting bouts of neutral sensations.

I had begun to learn the teaching that my pain was bringing with it.

While there is no need to force ourselves into painful situations, painful situations will happen.

Period.

You will be sitting in a chair and you will experience a severe bout of leg pain. It will happen. You can’t avoid it.

While it’s possible to mitigate some of these painful sensations, you will need to face your suffering at many different points in your meditation practice.

Accept it.

Only after you accept it can you move on.

Pain Can Also Not Be Our Friend

“Doc, I’ve got this pain in my lumber spine.”

All that said, pain can also be indicative that something is wrong.

One time I had assumed my lotus position for a one hour sit and I felt an odd twinge in my knee. I assumed it was nothing and sat through the pain for the entire hour sit. As I stood to get up an hour later, my knee was badly hurting.

Every time I tried to put pressure on my knee, I would experience a very painful sensation. And that painful sensation did not leave… for 6 months.

Now, this is not to scare you, but it needs to be noted that it is possible to hurt yourself if you force your body into positions it doesn’t want to get into.

There is a lesson here:

  • If the body is hurting almost immediately into a meditation period and the sensation does not rise and fall the way that phenomena naturally does, it is likely not good for the body.

If 5 minutes after an excruciatingly painful sit, you can get up and walk away as if nothing happened, there is no need to worry; that is pain that can be overcome.

But if you need several hours of recovery to feel “normal” after a sit, then you are probably hurting the body.

Use this as a basic guide, and don’t take your practice anywhere it doesn’t need to go.

Pain Is Inevitable; Suffering Is Optional

Pain Meditation

Water is everything. Rain is good.

The people that tell you meditation is a “blissful” experience are misguided.

Meditation is hard work. And sitting through pain is one manifestation of that hard work.

We must learn to accept the struggle.

We must learn to overcome the pain and appease our suffering bodies and minds.

We must learn what it means to “be mindful”.

Once we can accept that pain is not inherently a bad thing, we can accept that there is a way to overcome the sensations we typically react to as “discomforting”.

Anytime there is an uncomfortable situation that arises in our meditation practice, we should be grateful that such a unique opportunity has presented itself for our attention. We can learn how to deal with these situations in a way that is accepting, loving, and forever at ease.

We can’t get rid of the pain, but we can overcome it.

Keep in mind the old Buddhist saying: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

 

What kind of pain are you struggling with during meditation? What do you do to mitigate that pain? Let us know in the comments below…

Eric Michelson

Eric Michelson is a writer, blogger, philosopher, activist, artist, Buddhist, and mindfulness enthusiast. He is the founder of and editor-in-chief for Perspective Earth - an online discussion space for revolutionaries and thinkers. His lifelong mission is to serve and serve he will. You can follow him and PVEarth on Facebook and Twitter.

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