Discomfort During Meditation

Question

When trying to meditate various physical discomforts occur particularly with my right arm. I don’t seem to be able to get it into a position whereby I remain comfortable. If I can't keep it at the junction of my thighs and abdomen, where else can I try? I tried it lower down my legs as well with the same problem. Does it really matter where it ends up? Also, at times, various tickles and itches appear. Is it best to try and ignore them or to scratch them to make them go away?

—Andy, New Zealand

Answer

Dear Andy,

One of the first challenges in meditation is to get the body comfortable enough that it does not prevent you from meditating. For your arms try resting them on a pillow or folded blanket placed across your thighs. Then with your palms upturned adjust the distance from the junction of thigh and abdomen forward a bit as needed for comfort. We all have different lengths of arms and for some a hand position all the way back to junction of thigh and abdomen can cause pain in the wrist, elbow or shoulder. Relaxation is essential for deep meditation and an arm-supported position can be a great help for many. As you adjust your arm position be mindful that your chest/heart area stays uplifted and open and your shoulders relaxed. A slumped forward position will impede your meditation.

As for the itches and tickles, once you have a comfortable seat and you are not wearing a fabric that causes you to itch, it is time to relax, dive into your practice and see if, as you go inward, these sensations become less distracting. Usually we can rise above these sensations if we just stick with our technique and withdraw our attention and energy from our senses. As soon as you notice you are distracted, bring your mind back to your meditation technique. Do this as much as necessary. We have to do the same thing with our restless thoughts, correct? See if applying a little discipline helps you rise above physical sensations such as itching. Then you can apply this same discipline to your restless thoughts, which for many people is a much more persistent issue. You may need to have a relatively short meditation time to begin with as you train your concentration. The brain is very plastic and adapts to what we ask of it so with some training in redirecting attention and concentration you will probably find you are able to lengthen your meditation as you overcome these distractions.

Many blessings on your meditation practice.
Nayaswami Mukti