Spiritual Survival Skills for a World in Chaos: Access the Strength, Wisdom, and Equanimity to Meet the Challenges of Our Moment WATCH NOW

When Meditation Makes You Tense

by | Mar 27, 2021 | 0 comments

During meditation, it’s common to experience sensations of anxiety or tension that arise seemingly out of nowhere. Since most of us associate meditation with being calm and relaxed, it’s natural to assume  that these uncomfortable feelings mean we’re doing something wrong and to try to figure out where they’re coming from. But what if these challenging feelings are actually a sign that you’re doing it right? In this short Q&A, Craig shares an unconventional perspective on the experience of tension in meditation and offers a simple approach to navigating even the most uncomfortable feelings when they arise.

Below the audio is a downloadable MP3, if you’d prefer to engage the content in that way.

Want to download the mp3 version? Click here.


Transcript

Question: 

In one of your meditation practices, you guide us to be aware of the awareness of our feelings and thoughts. When I tried to do this, I experienced an intense tightness in my chest, as if, I almost couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t an emotional tension; it was more of a sensation of discomfort and tension in my body. Am I doing something wrong?

Answer: 

I would say probably not. Here’s the thing about sensations, feelings, emotions, tightness, or anxiety: Let’s say that when you sit down to do your meditation practice, you’ve been having a good day. Everything seems good and you’re excited to meditate. You carve out space in your schedule, you sit down, and then a few minutes into the practice, suddenly all this anxiety comes up or you just start to feel very tense. This triggers your mind, and you start thinking, “I wonder if I’m doing something wrong.” 

This sparks a whole reaction. You start asking what the experience means, but the reality is that most of the time you just don’t know. Sometimes it might be clear why you’re feeling tense. You might realize that you’re feeling tense because you remembered something that happened at work that didn’t get resolved and now you’re full of anxiety about it. But more often you don’t know where the strong feelings and sensations that come up originate from. You don’t really know why they’re there. So, it’s best to not try to figure out whether you did something wrong or not.

The thing about meditation practices is that they are generally very simple and the instructions are pretty straightforward. So doing them wrong generally doesn’t cause any adverse reaction. It’s more often the case that any reaction you’re having is somehow being triggered by doing the practice itself. 

Meditation practices can be disorienting. They can bring up fear of losing control. We spend our entire lives with our attention focused on objects, then a meditation teacher like me asks us to practice taking our attention off of the objects and onto the subject. This simple act of shifting your attention away from the objects in your awareness can bring up a lot of feelings. It can trigger sensations. It can trigger a reaction. 

Why? 

Because your attention has always been on the objects in your awareness, and now, suddenly, you remove it from the place it has always been focused. It’s a bit like breaking an addiction. We have a big opioid crisis in our country that has been caused, in part, by the fact that there has been a lot of overprescription of pain medications. When you’ve become fully dependent on pain meds, and then stop taking them, your body violently reacts. It brings up all kinds of anxiety and physical pain and discomfort. That’s why people go and take the drug again: to relieve the pain and anxiety. In meditation, we are, in a sense, breaking our addiction to objects. We’re breaking our addiction to the mind. We’re breaking our addiction to being identified with our feelings. 

I don’t mean addiction in an overly negative sense. I’m not wagging my finger saying that you shouldn’t be addicted to your mind, or anything like that. This is simply the human condition. This is just how we are wired. 

The point is that we’re breaking a dependency on something. We’re breaking free from a habit. We’re breaking free from a habitual way of placing our attention on the objects in consciousness, and this can bring up all kinds of reactions at any given moment. You might be having a great meditation for 20 minutes, and then suddenly experience all this tension and fear. It might be caused by the fact that your meditation was going really well. The fact that you actually went somewhere and opened up to something profound, could be frightening to another part of you. 

So whenever strong feelings or sensations like this arise in meditation, the best kind of remedy is to simply not try to make any meaning out of it. Just observe the fact that you’re experiencing a lot of strong feelings, but don’t try to understand why. Take the position of not knowing: “I don’t know why I’m experiencing this tension. It’s just happening.” 

FREE EBOOK

Are you making these meditation mistakes?

Everybody makes mistakes. When it comes to meditation, most of us are making five of them. Learn what they are so you can bypass them and go straight to the deep end in Craig's Free Ebook.

Share Your Thoughts…

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like…

An Unshakable Trust in Life: How to Let Go in Meditation

An Unshakable Trust in Life: How to Let Go in Meditation

Many of us come to meditation to help us relax and deal with the stress in our lives. But as we evolve in the practice, we begin to discover that the goal of meditation is less about physical relaxation and more about existential relaxation. As we begin to experience...

read more

Craig Hamilton is a spiritual trailblazer whose innovative approach to transformation is bringing enlightenment down to earth and unlocking the codes to our highest human potential.

READ MORE

Explore

Meditation
Awakening
Evolution
Spiritual Life
Q&A
READ
WATCH
LISTEN

Subscribe

Subscribe to Craig’s weekly Awakened Life Newsletter to receive his latest inspirational teachings and guided meditations.

Recent Posts

Embracing the Unknown: How to Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind

Embracing the Unknown: How to Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind

We all strive to be open-minded. Throughout our lives, most of us have experienced the benefits of suspending our rigidly held beliefs and letting go of our certainties in order to make room for what we don’t already know. This all-important ability is the foundation...

read more
An Unshakable Trust in Life: How to Let Go in Meditation

An Unshakable Trust in Life: How to Let Go in Meditation

Many of us come to meditation to help us relax and deal with the stress in our lives. But as we evolve in the practice, we begin to discover that the goal of meditation is less about physical relaxation and more about existential relaxation. As we begin to experience...

read more
Am I There Yet? How to Know if Your Meditation is Working

Am I There Yet? How to Know if Your Meditation is Working

We all know it’s important to have goals. They keep us focused and push us to grow beyond our limitations. But when it comes to meditation, while we might be doing the practice with a goal in mind, fixating on a specific outcome or state that we’re trying to get to...

read more
How to Keep Your Creative Mind Out of Your Meditation

How to Keep Your Creative Mind Out of Your Meditation

At some point or another, nearly all meditators struggle with the challenge of an overactive mind. Most of us are aware that meditation requires us to find a way to disengage from our thoughts. But what happens when a flow of creative, insightful ideas suddenly...

read more