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How to Deal with Sitting Discomfort during Meditation

If you sit meditating in the same position for an extended period of time, you’re going to experience some physical pain or discomfort, no matter how much stretching you do! An ache in your back here, some knee pain there, a twinge in your shoulder, pins and needles in your foot — the list of complaints is potentially endless.

And the longer you sit, the more intense the discomfort may become — and the stronger the temptation to move or fidget to avoid it.

Instead of instantly shifting your position or struggling to ignore your discomfort, practice gently expanding your awareness to include your discomfort, while continuing to attend to your breath or other object of meditation. If the pain is strong, you can explore it directly with the same mindful, compassionate attention you bring to your breath.

Notice also how your mind responds to your discomfort. Does it fabricate some story about your discomfort: “I’m not sitting correctly. There must be something wrong with my back. Maybe I’m ruining my knees?” And does your mind intensify your discomfort by judging it as bad or undesirable, causing you to tense up around it?

By opening your awareness to your pain and how your mind responds to it, you can actually begin to soften and relax in relation to the pain — and you may notice that it diminishes accordingly. Because physical and emotional pain are unavoidable, sitting meditation provides a wonderful laboratory for experimenting with new ways of relating to suffering and discomfort in every area of your life — and ultimately moving beyond them.

You also have the option of moving when the pain or discomfort becomes too intense. Just play at your own edge between opening and resisting. And remember that certain kinds of pain may merit your immediate attention — especially shooting pain, pain that begins as soon as you start sitting, and sharp (rather than dull) pain in your knees. In such cases, you’re better off trying a different sitting position.

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