ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY?
Insider secrets that make meditating less painful!
Welcome to day 2.
One of the most common objections I hear when talking to people about meditation, is that they can’t sit still for that long; it makes their legs hurt and their back ache.
We live in a society where being busy and multi-tasking are badges of honour that we wear with pride. The idea of sitting still and doing nothing can be a real shocker!
As you’ll remember from yesterday, one of the keys to enjoying meditation is acceptance:
- accepting your surroundings
- accepting your mind
- accepting your emotions
- accepting your body
- accepting your breathing
But if meditation hurts, it’s worth getting advice on your posture.
Meditation shouldn’t hurt!
It’s not about turning your legs into a pretzel.
In fact one of the best places to do meditation, when you are starting out, is on a chair, rather than on the floor. But many of us find it uncomfortable to sit still.
Why is that?
Often it is down to tension.
It might be physical tension in the body or due to stress, which is effectively mental tension.
How Should You Sit To Meditate?
We often think we have to sit in a particular way to meditate, conjuring up images of über-serene models, with their legs contorted into the lotus position. Yes, certain traditions have their ‘usual’ postures. But if they don’t work for you, that’s ok.
There’s no such thing as ‘should’ or ‘have to’, when it comes to getting meditation to work for you.
I have a wonderful, inspirational friend, Rosa, who is in her eighties. We studied together to become meditation teachers. Rosa suffers from genuine physical pain when she sits, and it can take her over an hour to get her body moving in the mornings.
But despite all that, she is still able to find a way to sit still and meditate. I figure that if she can do it, there’s no way I’m entitled to any excuses!
The most important way to sit when you are meditating is in a way that allows you to feel comfortable, but awake, to make it easy to accept your body. Sometimes if, at a deeper level, we are resisting our meditation, it can make our body tense up, causing discomfort and physical pain – all caused by mental tension. But sitting still for ten minutes is perfectly achievable – think about a typical day:
- when we are driving, we sit for more than 10 minutes
- when we are at work, we manage
- at mealtimes, most of us do it
- watching television, we can sit for hours
- on Facebook. . . well. . . ’nuff said!
So we know we can sit still for 10 minutes.
But there is something about meditation that can make us tense up into an artificial sitting position.
What To Do If Meditating Hurts
The first tactic in dealing with meditation pain is to notice whether it is ‘real pain’ or ‘give me attention’ pain. If you make a slight movement of the bit of you that is aching, does the pain go away? Yes? Then it’s most likely ‘give me attention’ pain – your monkey mind trying to distract you from your meditation. And that’s ok!
In that case, here’s a solution:
Imagine you’re breathing into the area that feels tense.
As you breathe in, imagine filling that area with a soft, golden light.
As you breathe out, imagine the tension and discomfort melting away, allowing the area to relax.
Do that for three breaths and the discomfort almost always goes.
Even the simple action of renaming this ‘pain’ as ‘discomfort’ takes away its potency.
If it’s ‘real’ pain…
If pain doesn’t go away when you make a small movement, then it’s ‘legitimate’ or ‘real’ pain. Don’t ignore it! Change your position. If it happens regularly, ask for help with your posture. A good meditation teacher, chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist should be able to help.
What About ‘Pins & Needles’?
This is a really common problem for meditators. If a part of your body has its blood flow restricted, the familiar sensation of ‘pins and needles’ will be the result.
If you get this during your meditation, don’t be a martyr. Change your position, let the blood flow return and then go back to meditating. If it happens regularly, then you need to revisit the posture advice in today’s message and in the ‘Getting Started’ section. If you are really stuck, then ask for help with your meditation posture, as for the ‘real pain’ advice.
Good Posture Is Key
Sitting with good posture is key to enjoying your meditation.
Meditation isn’t supposed to hurt. It’s not about turning your legs into a pretzel!
If you’re sitting on a chair, it is important to have your back quite straight, rather than slouching. You want to be feeling relaxed, but alert. The easiest way to achieve this is to have the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems in balance. The parasympathetic nervous system is about relaxation, the sympathetic nervous system is about the body’s stress response.
To get them in balance, hold your back quite straight, with a slight tension at the midpoint. This activates both the nervous systems and helps to bring them into balance, leaving you relaxed, but alert.
That’s why we don’t meditate lying down – lying down is how we fall asleep!
Also, poor back posture during meditation can make you feel breathless. If your back is curved and your belly is squashed, your diaphragm will struggle to work properly and your lungs will also be squashed. This can trigger the uncomfortable feeling of breathlessness, which becomes more obvious when you’re sitting still and silently during meditation.
If you notice yourself feeling breathless, you might like to take 3 deep, sighing breaths – as we do at the beginning of each meditation – and to stretch your back gently. This should sort things. It’s also worth checking you’re not holding your breath – easy to do when you’re concentrating!
Note: persistent breathlessness should not be ignored – go and get appropriate medical help!
What Does Good Posture Feel Like?
To get a sense of what good meditation posture feels like:
- Imagine a string is connected to the crown of your head.
- Imagine someone is gently pulling that string, to help you lengthen your spine, from the base all the way up to your neck.
- Then tuck your chin slightly under – you’ll feel your neck and jaw relaxing.
- Make sure your shoulders aren’t around your ears, but are feeling relaxed.
There you go!
This might feel a little strange at first, but it can really help with your meditation practice.
The key to good meditation posture is stability.
A stable posture allows your body – and mind – to relax. Once you are used to it, it takes very little effort to maintain it, allowing you to get on with your meditation.
How To Make Meditation More Comfortable
Playing with this at regular points during your day, when you’re not meditating, will help your body get used to relaxing into this posture – as well as gently strengthening your back muscles. Improving your posture generally during the day will make a big difference. Good posture releases tension and strengthens the muscles you use during seated meditation practice.
When you’re meditating in a chair, you might want to:
- add a cushion, just under your pelvis, to tilt it slightly forwards.
If you are like me, with shorter legs, you might want to:
- add something under your feet, so that your thighs can be level, your back relaxed and your feet firmly resting on something. Dangling feet and meditation don’t go well together. I often use the phonebook, but you could use a cushion or a rolled up blanket.
If you have the opposite problem – long legs – then you might like to:
- use a cushion under your bottom, to raise yourself up, so that your knees aren’t pointing towards the ceiling.
Longer term, if you are finding meditation uncomfortable, you might want to consider chiropractic or osteopathy treatment, or consulting a posture expert, to correct any structural problems and to give you exercises to strengthen your back muscles.
If you really find you can’t sit still, for physiological reasons, don’t worry. There are other types of meditation, such as mindfulness, that you can easily practice while you are moving around. We will be covering those in week three.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, please make sure you visit the online forum, to get your answers. There’s a special Q&A thread to cover how to sit, so you can enjoy meditation:
Aside: It’s not uncommon for people to find it hard to get started, when they’re beginning a new habit, such as meditating for 10 minutes a day. If that resonates for you, there’s a bonus article, which shares how others have handled it and made a start:
Day 2 Affirmation
I choose a comfortable position, to help me meditate.
I hope you really enjoy today’s meditation!
Got questions? Pop by the forum or email firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂
P.S. Each day has an image, with a key quote, as you saw above.
All of these are available for you to download, free of charge, to print out and use around your home, if they inspire you. You could even share them with your friends. Just click on the image to go to a high resolution version of it, then right click on that one and choose ‘save as’ (or similar), to save it to your computer.
Getting Started: www.clarejosa.com/how-to-meditate-made-easy/week-one-how-to-meditate-made-easy/