How do I deal with pain during meditation?
Some early obstacles while sitting include various pains in the body, like…
- Stiffness or burning in the legs or knees,
- Back pain,
- Leg or foot cramps,
- Sleepiness, and
A typical reaction is, “Should I stop now?” The best thing is to continue meditating, but first fix the problem or distraction. (Many teachers say otherwise, as I’ll explain below.)
A common problem for beginners (or at any level!) is back or leg pain while sitting on a cushion.
===> Start by meditating in a chair, which also encourages a straight posture
Most teachers will instruct you to shift focus from your breathing to the pain, to really investigate the source in a mindful way. This method is usually disheartening for new practitioners, similar to working through the discomfort of a new exercise regimen.
The first instinct is to avoid the pain by altering your position very slightly, so you don’t lose concentration, or distract other meditators in a group setting. But the discomfort persists, whether it’s lower back pain, tightness in the neck and shoulders, or burning in the knees or thighs. Sometimes I will even get foot cramps.
===> Alter your position completely: knees to chest, or legs out straight, or knees on the floor with legs tucked under.
Instead, I’m going to suggest that you shift your position dramatically, for a fresh start, so you may continue to train your mind without the nagging of physical pain. (There will be plenty of time later for moving your focus from breathing to noticing sensations in the body.)
In the beginning, we wish to foster a pattern returning to the breath until we have the established a routine of find a calmer mind, with few distractions.
When I sit cross-legged, my knees start to tighten and cramp. Rather than tilting a slight degree, or inch my leg out a tad, I will completely unfold my legs and bring my knees to my chest, sometimes hugging them with my arms. I do this slowly and mindfully, knowing that I will return to the breath once I have removed the source of pain.
Sleepiness during meditation
We may often get the feeling that we are falling asleep, when your mind shifts from day-to-day distractions to telling dream-like stories. Your head will start to nod, or your body will sway to the side. To fix this issue…
===> Open your eyes and adopt a “fuzzy” gaze (by focusing between close and far)
You can achieve this even when facing a wall. Just continue your breathing and ignore the objects in your vision. If the sleepiness persists, you can try a walking meditation (covered elsewhere), or maybe it’s just time for a nap.
A common cause of tiredness is sitting after a meal, when your body saps your energy from digesting food.
===> Avoid meditating after a heavy meal.
You might schedule your sits at a different time (in the morning instead of evening), or meditate following a session of exercise or yoga, after you have generated some energy in the body.
Meditations that are shortened by this feeling of sleepiness do NOT make you a bad meditator. You will find a routine that is best for you. Don’t give up!