Big problem with tension in chest

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

Post by Digity » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:36 am

I have a big problem that seems to come up everytime I meditate. Whenever I start focusing on the breath I start having tension in the upper body area above the stomach. For some reason focusing on the breath seems to cause my body to clench up! It's very, very frustrating, because I want my focusing on the breath to be a relaxing experience, but instead I get tension. Although, there's been a lot of times when my meditation started off that way and then the tension relaxes and my breath feels smooth, but I never understand what I did to do that and then I get frustrated over that, because the next time I sit I don't know what's going to happen...will it be another tense sitting or will I fall into that relaxed breathing> You'd be amazed by how vexing I find this's even caused me to quit meditation a few times in the past. Recently, it's been less of a problem so I've been sticking to my meditation more, but it's still an issue. Thoughts!?

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Re: Big problem with tension in chest

Post by LonesomeYogurt » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:41 am

What position are you using? Perhaps try switching postures in order to open up the chest?
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.

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Re: Big problem with tension in chest

Post by Digity » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:44 am

I use half lotus. I don't think it's position, because I've experienced it in every position possible. I think it's mental. Again, I'm an anxious person to begin with and I wonder if that's playing a role.

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Re: Big problem with tension in chest

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:52 am

Hi Dignity,

Odd things can happen when you start to get concentrated. Particularly if you "try" too hard. I've heard of people getting headaches because they were focussing on the breath at the nostrils and went cross eyed inadvertently trying to "see it"...

You might find Ajahn Brahm's introductory instructions useful, even if you are not using quite his technique.
You can download the first few chapters of his book, Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond here: ... -d84597124" onclick=";return false;
Take a look at chapter 1 and see if any of the advice there helps your problem.

An approach I find is useful if I find myself "forcing" things is to just be aware of the body, and wait for the breath to become obvious, rather than "going after" it. This can give a more relaxed approach.


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Re: Big problem with tension in chest

Post by Kamran » Wed Oct 31, 2012 3:08 am

I would try changing your focus by either moving from nose to abdomen, or focusing on whole body plus breath at the same time to see if the pressure related to what your are focusing on.

Ajahn Lee's method 2 (below) discusses relieving pressure (headaches/tension) by moving your focus from the nostrils to the abdomen." onclick=";return false;

Thanissaro Bikhu's online talks (" onclick=";return false; ) also mention dealing with pressure by using body scans to spread your awareness through the whole body in order to create a centered, but broad focus.
"Silence gives answers"

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

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Re: Big problem with tension in chest

Post by mynameisadahn » Wed Oct 31, 2012 5:05 pm

Digity, just want to say I have similar issues with increasing anxiety, although my physical symptoms tend to be more shortness of breath and, when meditating, tension in the face.

I won't dispute any of the suggestions given here. However, I will just relay my own personal experience that I am switching to metta meditation full time, for the time being at least, because i find it addresses my underlying hostility, gets me concentrated, and avoids these anxiety issues, which I am still trying to figure out how to fix.

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Re: Big problem with tension in chest

Post by marc108 » Wed Oct 31, 2012 6:12 pm

its not uncommon to find areas of chronic tension during meditation... try to massage the breath through, and relax the somatic sensations in your chest. my mindfulness of body practice has revealed a lot of areas in my body that are energetically tense, and require a concerted effort to repeatedly relax OFF the cushion. finding areas of tension and releasing them is a useful exercise in 'calming bodily fabrication', re: MN 118. Ajahn Succito's meditation manual has some really good advice for connecting to and relaxing somatic sensation, page 47. ... 12&ref=vec" onclick=";return false;

for a long period of time, over a year, i had what felt like a lump in my throat... and area that was chronically tense that i could not get to relax with meditation or physical manipulation. it felt stuck, like someone had a clenched fist in my throat. I listened to a talk given by Thanissaro Bhikkhu where he talked about how sometimes meditatiors can get buildups of energy that get stuck, and can be released through consciously moving internal energies. I followed his advice after a good sitting, and began to allow the energy to flow out of my hands and feet... at which point it exploded and flooded out like a broken damn for about a minute. the tension was completely removed and hasnt returned since... that might be a useful exercise to try. i dont remember which talk of his has this advice, but if you go to and search 'energy' im pretty sure its one of those.
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."

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Re: Big problem with tension in chest

Post by Digity » Thu Nov 01, 2012 3:43 am

Yes, I think my issue is very related to the problem people have when they experience headaches by focusing too much and straining themselves. I feel like I'm doing the same thing. I'll check out the advice you guys gave me and see if it helps. Thanks!

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