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A Pain in the Neck (Literally)

Hi All,

I'm having a problem with my practice which is minor in itself, but could have very serious implications. In short, I've been significantly increasing my meditation time recently (from zero to about two and a half hours a day), and I have moderate pain in my neck and minor pain in my shoulders towards the end of my sessions. I think my posture's pretty good, so I don't think that's the source of the problem. Now, about the implications: the reason they're serious is because I'm fairly sure that my sitting is the only buffer against major insomnia. And I've had problems with insomnia in the past which have eventually led to very serious mental health issues. So I think it's extremely important to deal with this neck/shoulder pain as soon as possible.

I've noted that if I just bow my head a little more than usual, which is technically not the posture that I should be following, the pain immediately goes away. Do you all think I should just do that? And if so, how soon should I do it after the pain appears? Should I just be mindful of the pain (i.e., incorporate it into my practice) until it becomes unbearable for me to keep the posture? Or should I immediately bow my head when it appears? Any other suggestions/comments are of course appreciated.

Thanks very much for reading, and I really hope you can get back to me very soon with answers; this situation is extremely scary for me.



  • SabreSabre Veteran
    edited August 2013

    We can only guess of course and give suggestions, no solution. It could also be something outside of meditation - a bad chair at the office or something. If it gets really bad of course consider visiting a doctor.

    You can use a chair or something. If meditation is mainly for insomnia, perhaps consider doing it lying down. Normally the problem is easily falling asleep but I don't think that's a problem then. :D

    Also, while you think the posture may be good, it doesn't have to be. Change it around a bit to see what works. Postures others recommend may be good for them, but not necessarily for you. There is no posture you "should be following". I know some traditions are very fixed on the posture, but in the Buddha's teachings we don't find anything like that. Every body is different, so every body benefits from another posture.

    WIth kindness,
  • Thanks so much for your very quick reply Sabre.

    I don't think it's a problem with my posture etc. outside of meditation. I'm generally careful about how I sit, walk, etc. when not meditating.

    And unfortunately the Doctor is not an option. I've read excellently sourced books recently which clearly demonstrate that psychiatric drugs (which I've taken in the past) are almost entirely shams which create more problems than they solve. And I've tried non-psychiatric pills in the past, and found that the sleep that they produce feels artificial. Of course in a real pinch I'd be willing to take sleeping pills as a short-term solution, but nothing beyond that.

    Oh, and I should have mentioned that I always use a chair now after some bad experiences with cushions. Lying down sounds like a good idea though. Think I'll give that a shot this morning. My problem involves both falling asleep and getting up sometimes in the middle of the night.

    And that's a good point about the posture. I'll experiment.

    Thanks again.
  • misterCopemisterCope PA, USA Veteran
    In most of the Q&A sessions with students and meditation teachers that I've read and listened to, this question usually pops up. A lot of people seem to have neck, back, or shoulder pain while meditating for a long period of time. However, like @Sabre said, something that is good for one person may not be good for another.

    Personally, I develop back pain after meditating over about twenty minutes. I'm almost positive that its source is just that my back muscles aren't used to it yet (I don't meditate as often as I should). The nature of the pain feels, to me, similar to the pain in your biceps after holding a heavy box for a while. It seems like this is the case for a lot of people. If your pain is similar to mine, then you probably just need to continue sitting until your muscles adjust to it.

    That being said, it's very possible that your neck pain is caused by something else and you should absolutely alter your posture to avoid injury.
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator
    I think whatever works for you is what works for you. Meditation guidelines are just general guidelines, and you aren't going to suddenly experience no benefit from meditation just because you tuck your chin a little bit more than a picture shows you to do.
    Problems with neck and back can stem from almost anywhere in the body. It could be how your tailbone is seated that causes the problems in your neck and shoulders. How do you sit? Do you just sit on the floor? Do you use a zabuton and zafu? A bench? A chair? The zafu is quite helpful if you don't already use one, because it positions your butt higher up so that your pelvis is tilted more correctly. If you sit in a cross legged position, you should be able to rest your knees lower than your pelvis. If you can't do that sitting on the floor you need (and most people do) a zafu cushion (and that can be anything, you can use a couch pillow, you don't have to run out and buy a cushion) will allow you to lower your legs to a better position.
  • "...the posture I should be following" - according to whom? The posture you should be following is the posture that works for you. Anybody who tells you that this or that specific posture is required for meditation is trying to sell you something.
  • Hi Mister, Karasti, and Mountain,

    Thanks a lot for your comments and suggestions. I've been lying down, which is working like a charm so far. Karasti: I tried a zafu for a while, but it was really tough on my knees, so I moved on to a chair, which then led to the neck/shoulder pain I described above. And yes, I now see that I've been too dogmatic about the posture, so I'll make the necessary adjustments if and when I move back to a chair.

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