Dear Willow: Need Help With Low Back Pain During Meditation and Yoga

Do you get back pain while sitting in meditation or certain yoga positions? This week Willow walks us through the reasons for this pain and how to develop a strategy to work with it.

Dear Willow,

I’ve been practicing Yoga for a couple of years and have seen improvement in most asanas. One of the only times I experience real discomfort or pain during yoga is when I’m in a seated position. Whether it’s a simple cross-legged position, staff pose, or on my shins, my low back or hips are always in pain or my feet fall asleep. I either want to lean back onto my hands or I fidget a lot and get anxious. Is it something to be concerned with, when the circulation to my feet gets shut off during a seated posture or meditation? Do you have any suggestions on how to sit comfortably? Thank you for all of your advice!


Can’t Sit Still

Dear Can’t Sit Still,

I can appreciate what you are writing about. Back in 1996, I went to Japan and stayed in a formal Rinzai Zen Buddhist monastery for a ten day sesshin (meditation retreat) and was sitting for up to ten hours a day in meditation. In this tradition, meditation was seen as a way to transcend from the physical body, consciously override any pain, and create a pathway to our unconscious mind. My body ached and my legs would go to sleep. I remember vividly a couple times I stood up from sitting and fell to the ground because I had no sensation in my legs – the circulation of blood and nerve induction was completely cut off. It was quite humorous as the zendo was lit up with the sound of a boom from falling back to the ground.

For your example, addressing the cause of the symptoms of discomfort in a cross-legged or seated staff position will be advantageous. In my experience, the inguinal ligament was placing pressure on the femoral artery or the hip flexors were cramping. Have you thought about stretching these muscles prior to sitting in a seated posture?

The single most important thing to remember is that you have choices and options available to do what is right for you. Pain is a signal the unconscious mind sends to create a shift either with physiology, physical positions, or psychology. What do you think is the root of the discomfort you experience?

For your example, it sounds as though your body is creating muscular impulses to change positions. Congratulations, there are many choices of how to be still with greater ease. Have you thought about using blocks, bolsters, blankets, stools, or chairs as tools for moderating your positioning? Increasing ease in the body will allow for the deeper flow of prana to come from within.

One of the prime directives of our unconscious mind is that it brings to surface repressed memories for resolution. When we are still, as in meditation, the body receives signals from the brain that now is a great time to present suppressed emotions or repressed memories because the body is with safety.

Our physical position simulates our experience. By consciously creating sitting for meditation or being in yoga positions, the unconscious mind senses there is no danger around and it is appropriate to relax. Create a wonderful experience and create a compelling life.



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