3

I'm brand-new to meditation! I have just completed one week of daily vipassana meditation -- 10 minutes twice daily; once in the morning, once in the evening. I'm unfortunately experiencing extremely uncomfortable back pain from meditating, and would appreciate some advice on how to fix the problem:

The Details:

  1. I'm flexible enough for a comfortable half-lotus, but have been utilizing Burmese position, as it lets me breathe deeper. I also really like the visual symmetry it provides.

  2. The pain is in my mid to lower back, slightly above my kidneys, and just below the back of my ribcage.

  3. I've used video / photography to verify that my posture is good going into meditation. I know I sometimes slouch a little after a few moments, but I usually correct myself upon noticing any slouching. I currently sit on a folded pillow, and have ordered myself a zafu-style cushion.

  4. The pain is typically minimal to absent during the meditation itself, but sets in around three-four hours afterwards and often lasts the remainder of the day. I wake up feeling pretty sore, but not in "pain."

  5. I have poor posture during my non-meditative moments, though I am working on improving it. Still, I have never experienced back pain before; are my back-muscles just weak from adjusting to a new sitting-style?

Any thoughts? Is this just a beginner's phase that I have to power through, or should I meditate in a chair for a few days to give my muscles a break? Maybe a different posture? Thicker cushion / no cushion? Alternatively, any ideas on how I might better diagnose the problem?

Really appreciate your thoughts. Best, Ian

2

It sounds to me like it's definitely a muscle problem. The back muscles don't usually get much use unless a person does a lot of lifting or sitting on the floor, and the dead giveaway is that the pain only starts after sitting in meditation.

This kind of problem should go away after your muscles have strengthened, so I would just continue sitting in whatever way you prefer, and it should go away in about a month. If it doesn't get better by then, switching to a chair would be better.

2

Based on your list of details, I can share some of your experiences. I meditate in Burmese position, I get pain in my mid-to-lower back, and I also have poor posture in general. So here are some suggestions:

Hard Carpet

My preference is to meditate on a hard carpet and you might also find it beneficial. Cushions and thick carpets can both throw off our balance and cause us to over-exert the back or some other set of muscles. And on the other hand, meditation on a hardwood or worse, concrete floor presents its own set of problems.

Next, we have a pretty standard approach to back pain:

Apply the meditation practice to the back pain.

This is sort of like powering through it as you suggested, but it's powering through it with the right set of tools. You don't want to make yourself miserable.

For example: Usually pain arises first; then we identify with the pain; disliking arises; then we identify with that; thoughts, narratives, stories arise; and it keeps going on and on. The untrained mind creates suffering out of a natural phenomenon.

So try to catch it at the very beginning: Observe the pain as pain. Should that fail and you move on to disliking, observe the disliking. If you move on to anything else, observe that, ad infinitum.

While this doesn't seem to address the problem of how to avoid back pain, it actually does in two ways:

  1. Like Bakmoon said, this help your back muscles to strengthen over time. During the sitting posture you are breaking down the muscles the same way an athlete strengthens his or her whole body; and when you sleep the muscles rebuild and come back stronger than before. And like Bakmoon says, it will probably take a month or even several months.

  2. Your mind will learn to stop making it worse. By seeing the back pain just as it is (nothing more, nothing less), your aversion and thus your desire to avoid the pain will decrease. When your mind is not making the problem worse, the body will have more resources it can devote to healing and general upkeep. And then, if your back really needs something, you will probably see that more clearly too.

I would also suggest to try sitting for longer periods of time, like 15 minutes, or even 20, 25, 30 if your mind can tolerate it. 10 minutes at a time may not be enough for your back muscles, or for your mind, to really get the point.

Don't take my word for it anyway, as I'm still learning and we all have to figure this out for ourselves. Hopefully this is helpful.

  • 1
    i selected Bakmoon's answer as it most directly and clinically addressed my question. However, I definitely appreciate the meditation suggestion (both the contemplation you suggested and increasing the time) and will bear it in mind. Thanks! – Ian Taylor Feb 17 '15 at 2:49
1

You need to check if the pain is caused by (sore) muscles or spine. If this is a muscle problem then doing some back excercises should help in two or three weeks time. Also you may try some streching after meditation to relieve muscle tension if there is any.
If this is a spine problem then you need to check with a doctor because that may be sign of some deeper problems.

  • Can you advise how to "check if the pain is caused by (sore) muscles or spine"? – ChrisW Feb 16 '15 at 11:13
  • 1
    @ChrisW, it probably depends on person but generally spine pain is located more to the middle of your back whereas muscle pain is located where the muscle is. Also you can check if this is a muscle pain by stretching muscles and observing how the sensation changes. But I am no doctor and this is only my experience that I share here. One shoudl always consult a doctor if he or she has any suspicions. – Sok Pomaranczowy Feb 17 '15 at 10:55
1

Where the pain is happening is really important in determining how to adjust your sitting posture. If the pain is in your lower back, believe it or not, you are probably fine. That is an indication of poor muscular strength which will gradually improve as you practice. Judging by how your pain creeps up on you afterwards, this sounds like it might be what's going on. What you are feeling may be delayed onset muscle soreness. It's no different than what a bodybuilder might feel after squatting heavy. The next day, walking gets tricky!

If the pain is not in your lower back, but rather in your middle and upper back, your issues are probably posture related. Most people rightly try to maintain an upright sitting position. What they may be doing may even look perfectly fine. Nevertheless, there can sometimes be a subtle curving of the spine that will result in pain that radiates throughout the middle of the back or shoulders. The best advice I ever got on how to fix this was to lean back ever so slightly. Don't go overboard, obviously. You should go back just until you begin to feel your chin lift. This is one of the easiest ways to ensure that your shoulders are aligned over your hips and that everything is coming down in a straight line and into the cushion.

0

You could stand, lay down flat on your back or on your side like the Buddha. Maybe a monk wouldn't do it but sitting on a Zafu in a recliner is nice on the back. Laying down and sitting in recliners can lead to falling aslee-p more often but one can sort of keep a mindful eye on the first signs of of falling asleep and conquer falling asleep. I know you can practice mindfulness in any position. Have you tried walking meditation? One pointed meditation obviously needs a steady and stable posture.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.