How to Combat Lower Back Pain During Meditation

Sitting quietly, unmoving for long periods of meditation is tough, and discomfort is fairly inevitable until you build up significant postural strength. Explore in this article why your lower back hurts during meditation, how to differentiate pain from discomfort, how to sit in meditation to avoid lower back pain as well as soothing guided meditations that focus on a healthy lower back.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
lower back meditation pain
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

An aching or sore lower back during meditation is common, but not inevitable. Sitting meditation requires significant spinal stability and strength, and until you build that strength, you may feel lower back discomfort during meditation. Luckily there are a few tips to help combat this soreness until you’re super strong and can sit unsupported for longer.

Differentiate Discomfort From Pain

If your back aches after meditating, it’s important to consider the sensation you’re feeling. Ask yourself: “Am I in pain?” or “Am I feeling discomfort from holding myself in this position?”

These statements may sound the same to you, but they’re processed very differently in your brain. Pain is processed through the ascending pathway from sensory cells called nociceptors, all the way up the spinal cord and into the brain. There, the anterior cortex creates an emotional response to the pain.

Interestingly, your pain experience is subjective and unique to you. Your brain’s processing of pain creates a painful experience that’s based on your unique self: Your past experiences and mental health can both influence how your brain processes pain. It’s not a runaway train though, you can modulate your brain’s response to pain by controlling your thoughts where possible.

For example, getting worried and catastrophizing about pain can make your back pain worse. Thoughts like ‘is my back getting ruined sitting like this?’ are examples of catastrophizing which can increase the pain you feel. 

On the other hand, labelling an achy sensation in your back as discomfort rather than pain can make all the difference. Your body’s nociceptors still sense the pain, but it doesn’t create the same emotional response. You’re not as worried about it, you just feel uncomfortable.

Read more: Learn about the role of discomfort in yoga and meditation for spiritual and personal growth.

Discomfort Is Unavoidable, Suffering Is Optional

Sitting quietly, unmoving for long periods of meditation is tough, and discomfort is fairly inevitable until you build up significant postural strength. For some people, changing position is the only way to combat this discomfort. For others, they’re able to separate themselves from their experience of pain. They may acknowledge that: “I am not my pain,” or “the sensations in my back are conceptualised as pain.”

This is tough to do, as we’re not accustomed to being uncomfortable for long periods. If we’re uncomfortable, we avoid the discomfort. In this case, we change position. But meditation can be the way to transcend discomfort towards transformation.

If you’re able to change the way you think about the sensation of pain, you start to separate the physical and mental components of pain. This takes us all the way back to the way your brain processes a painful stimulus: There’s a physical sensation that gets converted into an emotional response. Being able to separate the two is tough, but not impossible.

Transcending discomfort for growth is a journey though, and along the way you’ll need some help. The best place to start is by understanding what causes lower back pain during meditation, and what you can do to avoid it.

Before reading on you might want to explore this playlist specifically created for this article — you can bookmark the playlist here.

  1. Releasing Tension: Low Back Paige Gilchrist 19:26
  2. Supple Low Back Margaret Rinaldi 22:29
  3. Relieve Low Back Pain With Movement Dayana 29:44
  4. Soothe & Heal Your Spine Jac Godsman 08:47
  5. Compassion Meditation For Back Pain The BioMedical Institute of Yoga and Meditation 09:02
  6. The Tension Release Meditation Vidyamala Burch 05:45
  7. Breath and Spine Kerri White 27:25

Read more: Learn more about the reasons you feel sore during meditation and how to alleviate common aches, like knee pain, ankle pain and neck pain.

Why Does My Lower Back Hurt During Meditation?

When you’re sitting cross legged or in lotus pose during meditation, unless your hips are very open, you’re likely to curl your lumbar (lower) back under into a ‘c’ shape. This position also causes your pelvis to roll backwards and tuck under. This position is the opposite of your lumbar spine’s resting shape.

When you sit in a chair and stand, your lumbar spine’s resting shape is usually a lordotic or ‘sway’ position, which then changes to a ‘c’ or kyphotic shape in your middle back or thoracic spine.

When You Sit, The Shape Of Your Spine And Pelvis Matters

Your Pelvis And Lumbar Spine Are Linked

The rotation of your pelvis is directly related to the shape of your lower back. Try this: Place your fingertips on the bony protrusions of your pelvis at the front. Roll your pelvis forwards and backwards, and you’ll notice your lower back transitioning between a ‘c’ and a ‘sway’ shape. By doing this movement, your pelvis moves, and so does your lower back.

Slumping Through Your Lowe Back Can Cause Pain

When you tuck your tailbone underneath you (with your lower back in a ‘c’ or kyphotic shape) for long periods, such as during seated meditation, the structures in your back such as your discs can become irritated. This isn’t serious, but it can cause an achy position that eases when you put your hands in the small of your back and stretch backwards.

Sitting well during meditation is all about finding the right posture.

“A lot of my patients see me for low back pain caused by long periods of sitting; including working at their desks, sitting on the couch or doing meditation,” says Physiotherapist Caitlin Reid. “They’re understandably frustrated because they can’t sit comfortably, so as part of their treatment we work on avoiding that painful posture: It’s about sitting with their spine in a better position to help prevent pain.”

So, how you sit makes all the difference and it comes down to anatomy. To start, consider the position of these three structures:

  • Let your pelvis be slightly rotated forwards
  • Let your lower back sit in a gentle ‘sway’ shape
  • Ensure your hips are below your pelvic rim 

If that sounds far too confusing, forget the anatomy and follow the tips below.

Read more: Meditation teacher Vidyamala Burch explains how mindfulness helps to manage pain and live well.

How To Sit In Meditation To Avoid Lower Back Pain

If you’re guessing great seated meditation posture is all about avoiding the ‘c’ shape posture with your tailbone tucked underneath you, you’re right! Sitting with your pelvis gently rotated forwards (anterior tilt) with your lumbar spine slightly swayed is key. Only thing is, unless you’re a lifelong yogi, this position is tough after a few minutes. So, here are some tips to minimize the back pain:

  • Sit on a yoga block or pillow. This elevates the pelvis, allowing your pelvis to roll slightly forwards and let the spine achieve it’s natural ‘s’ shape. You may need a stack of pillows and that’s OK!
  • Sit on the corner of a stack of blankets. By sitting on the corner, your thighs can be off the edge, sitting lower than your pelvis to allow for that forward pelvic rotation.
  • Stretch your hips out first. Pigeon pose can be a great pre-meditation stretch to ease the structures around the hips after a long day. This can help you sit cross-legged or in lotus pose more easily with your knees lower than your pelvic rim.

Does Strengthening Help Back Pain From Meditation?

If you’re finding your lower back gets sore after meditating for ten minutes, that’s okay. Your strength will build slowly. Strength takes time and it’s not the short term answer. Posture is key. If you’re unable to maintain that posture, you may get sore. It’s okay to get up and change position after ten minutes, then continue meditating.

So, if you’re unable to maintain great posture in your lower back during meditation, take time out and find a chair with good lumbar support. You’ll get more out of the meditation when you’re not being distracted by soreness.

However, as we mentioned above, pushing through discomfort can be a goal of meditation as long as it’s not acute pain. Plus, you’ll build more strength if you try to push through each time. Just like going for a run, you won’t get fitter if you don’t try to run a bit further or faster every few weeks.

When Pain Is Far More Than Discomfort: Chronic Lower Back Pain

Chronic low back pain (LBP) is completely different from a feeling of discomfort. Chronic pain has been described as physical agony that disrupts lives, either constantly or intermittently.  LBP occurs in around 11% of the world’s population. Chronic LBP can become a complex condition involving changes in the nervous system.

Chronic lower back pain is different from discomfort, yet one of the treatments proven to create improvement in patient function is meditation. Virtual reality for pain management and physiotherapy for retaining function have also been proven to help. If you’re struggling with chronic pain or pain that has persisted more than three months, seek help. Speaking to a health professional can be the best place to start as there are countless resources out there to help.

Sitting in a specific posture can help ease discomfort during meditation. If mild discomfort is ruining your meditation even in good posture though, separating your bodily sensations from your brain’s creation of your pain experience may be your key to transcending lower back discomfort during meditation. Here are a few guided meditations that help to embrace and work with discomfort:

  1. Sitting Through Discomfort Mel A. James 11:25
  2. Breathing Through Pain And Discomfort Jamie Krasman 9:34
  3. Pain and Discomfort Meditation Joelle Anderson 20:00
  4. Gratitude Practice For Discomfort And Difficulty Dr. Candice Creasman 10:02
  5. Accepting Emotional Discomfort Dr. Julien Lacaille (MindSpace) 16:13
  6. Beyond Pain Mary Maddux 15:46
  7. From Pain to Peace Bethany Auriel-Hagan 15:36
  8. Journey Through Pain Short Version Andy Hobson 13:51

Before you achieve transcendence though, be kind to yourself and swap positions when you need to. You’ll get there! If your pain persists though, get help from a trained health professional.

Meditation. Free.
Always.