When Meditation Feels Too Painful

Being in a lot of pain is not a mark of doing it right.

Illustration by Gwenda Kaczor
Q: I just came back from a retreat. I feel like I need to have my entire body massaged. Am I doing something wrong? How good could this be if it’s making me hurt?

Meditation is not a “no pain, no gain” proposition. Being in a lot of pain is not a mark of doing it right. It can take some work, though, to find a position (or a few positions) that don’t lead to intense pain. Some folks sit cross-legged on a single cushion; others sit astride a tower of cushions; others perch on benches; still others prefer chairs. Each person finds the posture and support that best suits their bodily condition. So try out different postures and supports, and by all means don’t assume you’re cursed to experience meditating as akin to being stuck in the middle seat on a budget airline. On the other hand, a hugely important lesson of meditation is that even comfort is, well, bound to eventually become uncomfortable. For this reason, once you find a suitable posture and support, it’s a good idea to avoid making too many adjustments. Constantly tinkering can make you feel as though you’re trying to outrun the reality…

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