pain and sitting meditation

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

pain and sitting meditation

Postby acinteyyo » Wed Mar 17, 2010 12:22 pm

Hello,
I have difficulties with sitting meditation for some time now. I practice anapanasati nearly every day for about 2 years now . I sit on a cushion (zafu) with the right foot on top of the left thigh, sometimes on top of the left shank. After about 30 min. I feel pain around the right groin, right knee and right ankle. I already tried to change the posture of the feet the other way around and the burmese style. Changing the feet changes nothing, pain on one side ceases and arises a bit later on the other side. The burmese style is uncomfortable in general. The pain is getting very intense and I can't bear up against the pain. So I'm not able to sit more than 45 min.. I tried to sit through the pain but in the end I gave up, once I managed to sit up to 1 hour. But when I try to sit through it's more a fighting to maintain the posture against the pain with lots of thoughts and small movements instead of being mindful, anyway far away from one-pointedness. Now I try to sit at least 1 hour a day. When I can't bear up against the pain anymore I stop the sitting session (trying to maintain mindfulness) and start walking meditation. Sometimes when the pain ceases quickly I stop walking meditation after some time and practice sitting meditation again.
I would like to know if you have some advise for me? How do Bhikkhus handle such an issue? I mean they don't used to sit in chairs instead, do they?
I also tried to change attitude instead of posture but I'm not quite sure if I really did it, because when there's pain I'm not really concentrated anymore (it's very difficult not to get lost/involved with the situation) thus I'm not sure whether I changed attitude or not, in the end I changed posture, this is certain. What I mean is at some point I'm not able to observe how the mind acts, guess this is the point when there's no more mindfulness.
Do I have to or should I sit through the pain and try to keep up mindfulness? What is to do with the breath? Shall I still take the breath as meditationobject or should I switch to the pain? I try to gain some samadhi, would it be better in this case to go more into the vipassanā direction instead of samatha? Maybe I'm practicing wrongly in one way or the other (micchā-samādhi?)
I think I never experienced pīti or sukha (I'm not quite sure) most of the time what I've developed is some kind of numb awareness. Sometimes there's nearly nothing. No breath, no feelings (sensations and vedanā), here and there arises a thought but not completely, it's like as if I would have caught the thought while it arises and then it instantly vanishes, in the end there arises the pain which I described or too much thinking comes back.
I'm having a hard time, seems that I got stuck so help is very much appreciated.
best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

:anjali:
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Guy » Wed Mar 17, 2010 12:55 pm

Hi Acinteyyo,

acinteyyo wrote:Do I have to or should I sit through the pain and try to keep up mindfulness?


The Buddha taught the Middle Way, he didn't teach self-torture. If you are experiencing a lot of pain why not try sitting on a chair or a meditation stool?

If you really want to sit on the floor you could always do some stretches to increase your flexibility which might help you to sit more comfortably.

With Metta,

Guy
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:01 pm

Hi acinteyyo

My recommendation is to try and play around with your posture if you can. Elevate your backside, take your ankles off your thighs or calf muscles, also, see how inclining your hips forward or backwards affects the pain in your groin. For many years i sat in half-lotus but as I got older I just couldn't do it anymore and so i now sit in plain cross-legged. Don;t be disheartened if none of that works and you need to resort to a chair.
I would encourage you to continue with your meditation object.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby appicchato » Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:05 pm

Know that you're not alone friend...I can't answer all your questions but I can suggest doing some stretching of some kind prior to sitting...it helps me...and if the pain continues (I would personally say not to sit through pain, it's not what meditation is about) there's always a chair...no shame there... also just standing...or lying down (preferably on a hard surface)...
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Mar 17, 2010 10:51 pm

appicchato wrote:Know that you're not alone friend...I can't answer all your questions but I can suggest doing some stretching of some kind prior to sitting...it helps me...and if the pain continues (I would personally say not to sit through pain, it's not what meditation is about) there's always a chair...no shame there... also just standing...or lying down (preferably on a hard surface)...

:thumbsup:
I use a bench because of my knee painand numbing that happend during crossed legged sitting! I also do stretches to stop the cause of the pain (my muscles tense up out of sync.)

I occasionally get pain in my shins and knees due to the surface but that normally is simply down to either too much time in the posture, poor posture that sit, or harder surface than normal, and usually is just a minor thing for a couple of sits.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby acinteyyo » Wed Mar 17, 2010 10:55 pm

Guy wrote:Hi Acinteyyo,
acinteyyo wrote:Do I have to or should I sit through the pain and try to keep up mindfulness?

The Buddha taught the Middle Way, he didn't teach self-torture. If you are experiencing a lot of pain why not try sitting on a chair or a meditation stool?
If you really want to sit on the floor you could always do some stretches to increase your flexibility which might help you to sit more comfortably.
With Metta,
Guy

Hi
I don't know if stretches would help. I'm already quite flexible, it's more the time sitting without moving which leads to pain. I sit very often in half-lotus on the sofa or on the ground when not formally meditating. When pain comes up I change position slightly and can sit easily a few hours but when sitting not moving the pain "behaves" differnt. I'm not sure whether it is the pain (as a bodily sensation) which causes me trouble or rather the vedana which arise with the pain.
Anyway thank you for you advice, I'll give it a try.
Ben wrote:Hi acinteyyo
My recommendation is to try and play around with your posture if you can. Elevate your backside, take your ankles off your thighs or calf muscles, also, see how inclining your hips forward or backwards affects the pain in your groin. For many years i sat in half-lotus but as I got older I just couldn't do it anymore and so i now sit in plain cross-legged. Don;t be disheartened if none of that works and you need to resort to a chair.
I would encourage you to continue with your meditation object.
kind regards
Ben

Good advice Ben, thank you very much. I'll give it a try, too.
appicchato wrote:Know that you're not alone friend...I can't answer all your questions but I can suggest doing some stretching of some kind prior to sitting...it helps me...and if the pain continues (I would personally say not to sit through pain, it's not what meditation is about) there's always a chair...no shame there... also just standing...or lying down (preferably on a hard surface)...

It's good to know that. I haven't sorted it out completely yet. I think the pain is not the main problem but I'm not sure. When I change position or after meditation the pain ceases almost instantaneously with no problems after that but there happens something so that I lose concentration. Thanks for your reply, Bhante.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

:anjali:
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Mukunda » Thu Mar 18, 2010 12:36 am

Have you tried using the pain as the object of meditation? I live with physical pain, and one thing I have found is that if I really focus on the pain and observe it, it's almost never as bad I'm telling myself it is. That said, severe pain is the body's signal that something is wrong and should be heeded. Good luck and I hope you find a solution soon.
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Mar 18, 2010 12:45 am

Greetings,

Yes... be sure not to write off the chair as a possibility.

Some of my most intense meditation sessions have been in a chair, when leg/back pain is not a distraction. Lately I've been doing some meditation at nights out on the deck, sitting in a "director's chair" and that seems to work well. At night, the fresh air helps offset the tiredness that would come with meditating indoors.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Mar 18, 2010 4:08 am

Hi Acinteyyo,
acinteyyo wrote:I don't know if stretches would help. I'm already quite flexible, it's more the time sitting without moving which leads to pain. I sit very often in half-lotus on the sofa or on the ground when not formally meditating. When pain comes up I change position slightly and can sit easily a few hours but when sitting not moving the pain "behaves" differnt. I'm not sure whether it is the pain (as a bodily sensation) which causes me trouble or rather the vedana which arise with the pain.

This is the difficult conundrum, isn't it? Whether the pain you are experiencing is something that you can sit through, or something that will actually damage your body. To sit through the latter would be foolish, but it sounds from what you say above about sitting in that position a lot that your legs probably wouldn't fall off if you tried not moving for a longer period.

Metta
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Ben » Thu Mar 18, 2010 4:50 am

Hi acinteyyo

Something else came to mind...
I'm not sure whether you are practicing the samatha or vipassana variant of anapanasati, however, I'd like to share a recurring anecdote that I experience when on retreat.
When I attend a ten-day retreat, I spend the first 3.5 days practicing the samatha variant of anapana-sati. It induces, or perhaps I become acutely aware, of each and every unpleasant sensation within my body. The situation is not improved if I move around or change posture. What I've discovered is that if I just maintain continuous unbroken awareness on the flow of respiration under the nostrils, the pain temporarily increases but then subsides. Then, the deeper the samadhi, the less pain, the less sensations become a distraction. The trick is, not to divert one's attention from the touch of the breath and not to move. If i remember correctly, Venerable Analayo also talks about this as 'stilling the bodily formations' (Satipatthana Sutta) in his book "Satipatthana: the direct path to realization".
I'm not sure whether my observation is of any benefit to you. In any case, I wish you well.
metta

Ben
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Reductor » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:16 am

Ben wrote: What I've discovered is that if I just maintain continuous unbroken awareness on the flow of respiration under the nostrils, the pain temporarily increases but then subsides. Then, the deeper the samadhi, the less pain, the less sensations become a distraction.

Ben


Hi Ben. When you're pain is lessening, does it reach a point where it disappears altogether? If not, can you describe a little the 'culmination' of the lessening, so to speak (if you get me)? Just how do you perceive that pain?

Thanks.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

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To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Reductor » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:31 am

A little bit from myself.

I don't know just how you meditate on the breath, but if you are coming to a point when you're mind is steadily aware of the whole body (or almost all of it) then you can use that. Take note of what parts feel pleasant or neither-pleasant-nor-painful, then as you breath, breath into them with the intention of making them stronger. Experiment with affecting a good mood toward those feelings your breathing into. On the in breath, let them 'flare' up into a stronger sense, then with the out let them 'shrink' down just a little.

It might be that these non-painful parts change into a pleasant sense, and your good mood will become more self-sustaining. If so, then you can focus on the non-painful feelings and the good mood (by breathing in and out of them). At that point you consciously ignore the pain and focus on the non-pain. If the pain continues to be really strong then you can breath through the non-pain feelings into the pain feeling, allowing the non-pain feeling to fill up that painful area.

This is just my suggestion, from one chronic-pain meditator to another. It might be that we are wired differently, but maybe it'll work for you.

I should note that Ben's suggestion is a good one, in that you don't move nor do you break your awareness with the breath (where ever your focused). Not even to think how frustrating the pain is.
Michael

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And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:14 am

Hi all,
very good suggestions. I knew it would be of benefit to post here.
I really appreciate your replies and I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn from your experience.
It will take some time to put your inputs into practice and to examine possible differences or alterations.
In about three weeks I'm going to stay in a wat for a week to intensify my meditation practice. So I try to
put your advices into practice for the time and will see what will happen.
@ Ben
I always start with samatha. when the mind gets calmer and some samadhi is established I switch between samatha and vipassana according to circumstances. This was one of my questions, whether to try to gain more samadhi and further focus on the breath or stop focusing on the breath and switch to an observation of the pain. I think I should test both variants for some time but at the moment I have to try first to stay focused, calm and clear because usually at a certain level the mind gets totally involved and confused with the bodily sensation of the pain, the vedana, thoughts and finally gets off the track.
It's like a high-wire performer who gets distracted for a moment and starts stumbling and falls off the wire.
This makes it difficult for me to examine because I always have to start from the beginning again.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

:anjali:
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Ben » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:31 am

Hi thereductor

thereductor wrote:
Ben wrote: What I've discovered is that if I just maintain continuous unbroken awareness on the flow of respiration under the nostrils, the pain temporarily increases but then subsides. Then, the deeper the samadhi, the less pain, the less sensations become a distraction.

Ben


Hi Ben. When you're pain is lessening, does it reach a point where it disappears altogether? If not, can you describe a little the 'culmination' of the lessening, so to speak (if you get me)? Just how do you perceive that pain?

Thanks.


It seems to be as my mind is approaching absorption the unpleasant sensation becomes less of an issue. The sensations are still there. My experience is that as I maintain the continuity of awareness on the breath, my mind becomes very still and calm - a bit like being in the eye of the cyclone (hurricane) and my attention is fixed on the breath.
As I mentioned earlier - its something that i experience while on retreat. During my day to day life I'm practicing vipassana (vedananupassana) which I';m sure you know is a different experience. And also practicing in daily life is a lot different to the experience of seclusion in a silent retreat.
metta

Ben
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Ben » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:38 am

Hi acinteyyo
acinteyyo wrote:I think I should test both variants for some time but at the moment I have to try first to stay focused, calm and clear because usually at a certain level the mind gets totally involved and confused with the bodily sensation of the pain, the vedana, thoughts and finally gets off the track.
It's like a high-wire performer who gets distracted for a moment and starts stumbling and falls off the wire.
This makes it difficult for me to examine because I always have to start from the beginning again.

best wishes, acinteyyo


I know, I know. In the maelstrom of intensely unpleasant sensations, of all the dhammas that are rising and falling and maintaining that objective awareness is like trying to balance a coin on its edge in a storm.
Let me know how you get on dear friend!
metta

Ben
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:49 am

Ben wrote:
acinteyyo wrote:I think I should test both variants for some time but at the moment I have to try first to stay focused, calm and clear because usually at a certain level the mind gets totally involved and confused with the bodily sensation of the pain, the vedana, thoughts and finally gets off the track.
It's like a high-wire performer who gets distracted for a moment and starts stumbling and falls off the wire.
This makes it difficult for me to examine because I always have to start from the beginning again.

I know, I know. In the maelstrom of intensely unpleasant sensations, of all the dhammas that are rising and falling and maintaining that objective awareness is like trying to balance a coin on its edge in a storm.

yeah that's true, made me laugh :lol:
:anjali:
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

:anjali:
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Alexei » Thu Mar 18, 2010 2:28 pm

Some advices about dealing with pain from Ajahn Jayasaro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrVwj1dx_BU
I find it quite a useful for me.
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby acinteyyo » Fri Mar 19, 2010 1:47 am

Alexei wrote:Some advices about dealing with pain from Ajahn Jayasaro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrVwj1dx_BU
I find it quite a useful for me.

I already knew Ajahn Jayasaro's videos. I've seen all of them. You were perfectly in time reminding me of it again ;)
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

:anjali:
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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Reductor » Fri Mar 19, 2010 7:16 am

Ben wrote:It seems to be as my mind is approaching absorption the unpleasant sensation becomes less of an issue. The sensations are still there. My experience is that as I maintain the continuity of awareness on the breath, my mind becomes very still and calm - a bit like being in the eye of the cyclone (hurricane) and my attention is fixed on the breath.
As I mentioned earlier - its something that i experience while on retreat. During my day to day life I'm practicing vipassana (vedananupassana) which I';m sure you know is a different experience. And also practicing in daily life is a lot different to the experience of seclusion in a silent retreat.
metta

Ben


Thank you Ben, for the details.

If I ever get to a retreat, then I'll know the difference for myself (Oh, I hope I get to one someday).
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: pain and sitting meditation

Postby Ben » Fri Mar 19, 2010 7:37 am

Hi thereductor
I hope you do too!
I think that developing your practice in the absence of the supervised guidance of a retreat environment is incredibly positive and will be of great benefit to you in your life and walking on the path.
metta

Ben
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