Health effects on back after long-term 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.
Post Reply
User avatar
Sati1
Posts: 321
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by Sati1 » Sat Feb 07, 2015 9:57 am

Hello,

I was wondering if anybody knows what effects it has on back health if one meditates for years or for decades for several hours every day. Do meditators who have been doing sitting meditation for 4-8 hours per day for twenty or thirty years tend to have back problems? How does this compare between meditators who sit on a cushion and those who meditate directly on the floor or on a thin matt? I imagine that in Buddha's time people would meditate directly on the floor (eg under a tree in the forest or in a cave), and wonder if that doesn't result in excruciating back pain after a few years. Or is this something a human back can generally handle?

With metta,
Sati1

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.30, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

culaavuso
Posts: 1363
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:27 pm

Re: Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by culaavuso » Sat Feb 07, 2015 8:46 pm

[url=http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/health/25consumer.html]Sit Up Straight. Your Back Thanks You.[/url] by Lesley Alderman wrote: “The majority of back pain is the result of muscle and ligament strain or weakness, and can often be prevented by developing core strength and proper posture,” said Dr. Daniel Mazanec, associate director of the Center for Spine Health at the Cleveland Clinic.

Maintaining good posture not only helps you look better (there’s a reason inept people are called slouches), it improves muscle tone, makes breathing easier and is one of the best ways to stave off back and neck pain, not to mention the dreaded dowager’s hump of old age.

“Posture is the key,” said Mary Ann Wilmarth, chief of physical therapy at Harvard University Health Services. “If your spine is not balanced, you will inevitably have problems in your back, your neck, your shoulders and even your joints.”

User avatar
Sati1
Posts: 321
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by Sati1 » Sun Feb 08, 2015 8:19 am

Hi Culaavuso,

Thanks for the quote. In your opinion, is a good posture enough to protect the back in meditation? Does it matter whether one sits on the floor or on a cushion? What complicates things seems to be that temporary back pain is not always an indication of back damage. It is therefore hard to know how seriously to take an experience of pain.

With metta.
culaavuso wrote:
[url=http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/health/25consumer.html]Sit Up Straight. Your Back Thanks You.[/url] by Lesley Alderman wrote: “The majority of back pain is the result of muscle and ligament strain or weakness, and can often be prevented by developing core strength and proper posture,” said Dr. Daniel Mazanec, associate director of the Center for Spine Health at the Cleveland Clinic.

Maintaining good posture not only helps you look better (there’s a reason inept people are called slouches), it improves muscle tone, makes breathing easier and is one of the best ways to stave off back and neck pain, not to mention the dreaded dowager’s hump of old age.

“Posture is the key,” said Mary Ann Wilmarth, chief of physical therapy at Harvard University Health Services. “If your spine is not balanced, you will inevitably have problems in your back, your neck, your shoulders and even your joints.”
Sati1

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.30, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

culaavuso
Posts: 1363
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:27 pm

Re: Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by culaavuso » Sun Feb 08, 2015 8:50 am

Sati1 wrote:In your opinion, is a good posture enough to protect the back in meditation? Does it matter whether one sits on the floor or on a cushion? What complicates things seems to be that temporary back pain is not always an indication of back damage. It is therefore hard to know how seriously to take an experience of pain.
It can be hard to know. Good posture can protect the back, but with insufficient flexibility and strength the back may be harmed by trying to force a posture prematurely. Habitual bad posture can lead to both poor flexibility and poor strength which may take time to be restored.

It seems that proper meditation posture should assist in developing good posture outside of seated meditation, and vice-versa. The physiology of sitting can vary depending on many variables. One significant difference between sitting on a floor as opposed to a cushion is that the angle of the legs and the tilt of the pelvis may both be altered. Proper posture requires a combination of flexibility and strength, and it's helpful to try to distinguish between the kind of pain that is caused by tired muscles and the kind of pain that is caused by pulling too hard on a tendon or a ligament. The former kind of pain may simply indicate a muscle being strengthened and will be reduced by further sitting, while the latter kind of pain may indicate tearing or damage that further sitting in the same posture will exacerbate. In the case of a tendon or ligament being stretched, the problem may be a lack of flexibility that can be remedied by an appropriate stretching regimen apart from seated practice. Sitting through such a pain may tear tissue in a way that creates persistent pain for weeks or months after the sitting session. In the case of a weak muscle, sitting through the pain as long as it is tolerable can strengthen the muscle over time and eventually become more comfortable.

As a general rule, if the pain persists beyond a period of relaxation after the sitting session it's worth considering that damage may be accumulating from that mode of sitting. There are a number of youtube videos on posture, stretching, and strengthening exercises that may be worth investigating. It can also be helpful to have a qualified expert provide feedback in person where they can observe the seated posture and discuss the discomfort that occurs.

lmw86
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Jul 13, 2014 11:01 pm
Location: England

Re: Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by lmw86 » Sun Feb 08, 2015 1:47 pm

Thanks for these posts, I found them helpful as I've been wondering about this myself. I've only started practicing meditation recently and can't do it for very long at the moment (15 minutes or there abouts), so pain isn't an issue at the moment. I have neck and back problems due to my job and bad posture (staring down a microscope for long periods of the day over years). Posture in general is definitely something I need to work on!

soapy3
Posts: 250
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:54 pm

Re: Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by soapy3 » Sun Feb 08, 2015 7:07 pm

My experience has been that if you can maintain proper alignment during meditation sitting on the fllor can be neutral or even good for the back. I've gotten plenty of backaches when that hasn't been the case. I'll relax very deeply and let my lower back round out.

People in ancient India and many parts of contemporary Asia have spent a good portion of their lives sitting on floors, squatting to go to the bathroom, and using other kinds of alternate furniture which demands a little more agility. Meditating on the floor for them is like meditating in a chair for us.

I think the best compromise between the alertness and feel of sitting on the floor and the comfort of a chair is a meditation bench on thick pad between the floor and your knees. The hip muscles aren't pulled on as much as in a cross legged position, making it easy to roll the pelvis forward to keep a slight arch in the lower back. You just have to train yourself to feel relaxed without slouching.

Saoshun
Posts: 282
Joined: Sat Nov 29, 2014 3:59 pm

Re: Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by Saoshun » Sun Feb 08, 2015 7:36 pm

If you do sitting meditation for hours you need stretching also everyday.
Remember… the Buddha had said that everyone living in this world is crazy, by the phrase, “Sabbē prutajjana ummattakā”; excluding the Arahants, everyone else is crazy. Would you get angry if a mad person scolds? Do we get angry for a crazy thing done by a crazy person? Just think about it! :candle:

User avatar
Sati1
Posts: 321
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Health effects on back after long-term meditation?

Post by Sati1 » Mon Feb 09, 2015 9:12 pm

Hello,

Thank you for your replies. Yes, I agree about the different forms of pain and how they differ in their severity. I have definitely noticed how very intense back pains that I used to have months ago disappeared after a few weeks or months of practice and regular stretching. Now those pains don't appear at all anymore. What I would like to do is to one day be able to meditate anywhere without any aids, not even a matt. I used to fear that when sitting on the floor vertrebrae would slowly grind against each other until eventually they would grind against a nerve, causing irreparable pain. But if people in ancient and contemporary Asia sit on hard floor for many hours at a time, then the human spinal column must be capable of withstanding that.

With metta,
Sati1

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.30, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 29 guests