Anyone who has sat down for meditation is familiar with the annoying back pain that distracts you from your practice. It’s hard to focus on your object of meditation when your back hurts like hell. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to reduce this pain.
To prevent back pain during meditation, sit properly by following the guidelines for correct posture. Use a meditation chair or cushion to support your back and hips, and change how you cross your legs so that your knees can rest on the floor. Regular stretching also helps reduce lower back pain.
It’s also important to know why your back hurts and how long it takes your body to adjust. Read on to learn everything about back pain during meditation. We’ll also discuss how you should sit for your practice, various ways to cross your legs, and how you can use props and stretching to alleviate back pain.
4 steps to avoid back pain while meditating
Here are a few things you can do reduce backache while sitting in meditation:
1. Sit correctly for meditation
The first step to reducing back pain is to make sure you’re sitting correctly. One of the reasons your lower back hurts is that your posture isn’t right. When you sit correctly, you allow your body to relax and your mind to concentrate.
Here’s a short guide to help you sit straight during meditation:
- Cross your legs. It’s better to sit on the ground and cross your legs, but if you can’t do that because of a medical condition, that’s okay. Do the next best thing: sit on a chair. All the other guidelines remain the same.
- Hold your hands together. Put one hand on top of the other, palms facing upward, and place them in your lap. Ideally, your thumbs should meet to form a teardrop. Or you can simply intertwine your fingers and drop your hands in front of you, almost touching the floor.
- Maintain a straight back. Do not slouch or overarch. Your back should be firm but not stiff. You can use props to help find the sweet spot (more on that later).
- Keep your eyes closed. You can also keep them slightly open, which is usually how Zen practitioners do it. If your eyes are half-open, direct your gaze downward and don’t focus it on anything.
- Relax your jaw and mouth. Keep your lips lightly joined–don’t close your mouth tightly. And keep the teeth slightly apart—don’t clench them. The tongue should rest lightly on the upper palate, with the tip lightly touching the back of your upper teeth.
2. Use props to support your posture
Properly sitting in a meditation posture requires stability, which many of us lack. So crossing our legs and sitting on the ground can be overwhelming for the lower back. That’s where meditation props can help us achieve the proper pose.
The simplest way to determine whether your body is flexible enough for sitting meditation is to check your knees. If your knees can touch the ground, it means your hips are open and flexible. But if your knees are in the air, use props to raise your buttocks and rest them on the ground.
To let our legs rest, some people suggest placing blocks under your knees. I don’t recommend doing that because it brings the knees higher than the hips, which is not preferable. Also, the edges of the blocks will start to hurt after some time.
Ideally, a meditator’s body should be flexible and stable enough to sit in meditation for hours. But since most of us aren’t there yet, it’s a good idea to use one of the following props to support our posture. They’ll help you keep your back, neck, and head aligned during the practice.
Meditation chairs provide you with cushioning from the hard floor and promote a straight back. The best position for your spine is when it is erect with the lower back slightly curved in. If your hip bones get stiff from sitting on the ground or you find yourself slouching, a meditation chair is an excellent choice. Remember, it’s all about making things easier for your back and comfortably sitting in the proper posture.
Meditation pillows raise your buttocks so that your legs can rest comfortably on the floor. When you sit on the edge of a cushion, your hips roll forward, positioning your back correctly. If you don’t want to purchase a meditation cushion, try placing a three-to-five-inch-high pile of blankets. Your knees should be lower than your hips, and if you find that it’s not the case, increase the height of blankets or get a higher cushion.
3. Change the position of your legs
As we’ve said, the position of your knees determines the pressure on your lower back. If the knees are resting on the ground, you’ll have an easier time maintaining your posture. Let’s discuss some meditation postures so that you can experiment and pick the most comfortable position for yourself.
Note: All the following postures can also be practiced by interchanging your legs.
Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
This is the simplest pose that’s commonly practiced by meditators. It’s what you should practice if you are new to meditation. To sit in Sukhasana, cross your legs, and sit on the ground. Both your legs should be bent and placed under, or in front of, the other thigh.
This posture is comfortable, but it doesn’t offer much stability. You may be able to sit for 10-20 minutes, but soon your back will start troubling you. This position is suitable for beginners, but it’s better to switch to a more stable posture as you progress.
Padmasana (Full Lotus Pose)
Full Lotus Pose is an intermediate-to-advanced posture that requires flexibility of the hips. It is popular in Buddhism. You’ll often see statues of Buddha sitting in the Padmasana with his eyes half-closed. This posture is not recommended for absolute beginners as forcing your legs into a lotus position can cause knee injury.
To sit in Padmasana, sit on the floor, bend your left leg, and place the foot on top of your right thigh. Do the same with your right foot. Both your knees should be touching the ground, and your body should remain upright.
Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose)
For those who have been practicing some other posture and want to transition to Padmasana, Half Lotus Pose is the way to go. It is easier than the Full Lotus and has similar benefits. You don’t have to be as flexible for this posture, but you still shouldn’t force your legs if they’re not ready for it.
As the name suggests, Half Lotus Pose requires you to place only one leg on your opposite thigh instead of both. The other leg simply stays on the ground.
Siddhasana (Accomplished pose)
Siddhasana is another ideal posture for long meditation sessions. It promotes a straight back, stretches your legs and hips, and increases concentration. Sitting in this posture is not very difficult, and you can always use props to support yourself.
To practice Siddhasana, bend your right leg and place its foot against your left thigh such that your right heel touches the perineum. Then, bend your left leg and place its heel against your pubic bone. After making sure that both your knees are touching the ground, push the fingers of your left leg between your right thigh and calf.
Swastikasana (Auspicious pose)
Swastikasana is a stable and convenient posture for those who don’t want to or cannot practice more challenging poses like Padmasana or Siddhasana. It’s similar to Siddhasana; the only difference is that it doesn’t require you to place your heel against the perineum. This is also the posture I meditate in.
To sit in Swastikasana, bend your right leg and place it against your left thigh. Then, bend your left leg and put it on the calf of your right one. Push your left fingers between the right calf and thigh, and pull your right toe up from between the left calf and thigh.
4. Stretch regularly to prepare your body
We’ve only talked about on-cushion ways to reduce back pain during meditation, but what can you do off the cushion to make sitting meditation easier for your body?
Stretching before meditation is an excellent idea. You can do a few minutes of Hatha Yoga stretches as a warm-up. It prepares your body for the upcoming stillness session and keeps the spine healthy in the long run. Taking your back through its full range of motion keeps the intervertebral discs healthy, prevents the vertebrae’s calcification, and promotes blood circulation and flexibility.
It’s unnecessary to do them right before meditation; stretching daily in the morning or evening will also yield great results. Following are a few stretches you can perform for a more stable and pain-free meditation posture. The objective here is to work your back and make your hips more flexible.
- Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): This pose is terrific as it counters the back’s normal tendency to be rounded forward.It strengthens and stretches your entire back and shoulders. Other stretches like the Half Moon Pose, Camel Pose, and Bridge Pose also work similarly.
- Marjaryasana (Cat-Cow Pose): This stretch alternates between rounding and arching the back. This flexion-and-extension is an excellent way to wake up your spine and relieve any tension in the lower back. Apart from the back, it also stretches your neck, shoulders, and chest.
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose): This stretch strengthens your core and muscles supporting your spine. It stretches your back, thighs, and hips. Practicing it daily also improves your general posture and counters the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
- Bhadrasana (Butterfly Pose): We’ve already discussed the importance of flexible hips, and the butterfly pose helps you achieve just that. It’s a simple pose that takes stress off your back and helps you sit more easily. It does this by stretching the inner thighs, groins, and knees.
- Balasana (Child’s Pose): This pose stretches your hamstrings and gluteus maximus muscle. It relieves pain and tension along your necks, shoulders, and spine. Practicing it daily makes your back more flexible and loosens up tight lower back muscles, alleviating pain.
When it comes to yogic stretches, remember to be gentle and not force your body in any way. If you feel uncomfortable doing a pose, google its modifications. If you’re still struggling or want to make sure you get it right, consult a yoga teacher.
There are many more yogic stretches for your lower back, but we’ve discussed some of the important ones. These should be enough to help you sit longer and more comfortably during meditation.
Why does your back hurt during meditation?
Ever notice how you keep shifting positions even while working at the computer or watching TV? It’s because the human body was not designed to sit still and motionless for long periods. Your back hurts during meditation simply because it’s not accustomed to sitting still for more than a few minutes.
Your body responds sharply to the discomfort arising from physical inactivity. And back pain isn’t the only response; itching, numbness, weird sensations, etc. are all methods of the body to trick you into moving.
In a way, when you sit down for meditation, you’re going against the nature of your body (which is just survival and procreation). You want to sit motionless for the duration of your meditation session, and your body doesn’t like it. So after a few minutes of stillness, restlessness or lethargy kicks in and disturb your posture. Your legs also go numb, and your lower back starts aching.
The good news is that there’s nothing unusual about any of this. It’s all normal, and pain is part of the process. We’ve discussed how incorrect posture and inflexibility can accentuate this pain and how we can reduce it. Still, as a rule of thumb, you’re bound to run into discomfort when you sit for meditation long enough.
The journey from discomfort to stability
The best advice when it comes to meditation posture is to just keep meditating. The tips we’ve discussed are helpful, but you’ll ultimately have to bear and get over that pain if you’re serious about meditation. Unless you have health issues related to the spine, you don’t have to do anything about back pain. It’s part of the process and will go away with time.
It takes a few months for your body to start adapting to a sitting posture. Your progress also depends on the amount of practice, your level of flexibility, and willingness to sit through pain. But a conservative estimate is that in about six months, you should be able to hold the posture for at least 30 minutes, with minimal discomfort at worst.
Back pain is normal when we’re new to meditation. Our bodies are not accustomed to sitting still for long periods. While this pain cannot be avoided entirely, there are a few things you can do to reduce its intensity and eventually overcome it.
Sitting in the correct meditation posture is crucial to make sure your body gets used to it after a few months. In the meantime, you can use props like a meditation cushion or chair to support your back. Your knees should be resting on the ground as it reduces the pressure on your lower back.
To do that, you can change how you cross your legs by choosing from the several poses we’ve discussed in this article. Finally, regular stretching makes your body flexible and helps you settle into the posture.