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How to untangle an emotional knot

by Andy Puddicombe

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I am having a relapse of ME which I thought I had recovered from, I think because of some current life stresses. I was treated for anxiety and sleeplessness with medication last time, but this time I want to try to do without the meds (not least because they are expensive here in Ireland and money is one of my anxieties!).

I’m doing Take10 and getting a lot from it (thank you!). My sleep seems to be improving, I’m pacing myself better and just the fact of doing something to help myself helps to step away from the anxiety. My problem is a knot in my stomach which I don’t seem able to ease. I am able to get rid of physical tension, but becoming aware of the knot just seems to make it tighter, not looser. I am sure that it’s draining me, just like physical tension. Can you help?

Andy’s answer:

Hi, and thanks for getting in touch. Great to hear you’re enjoying Take10 and finding it useful in everyday life.

Most people have a knot somewhere. Yours happens to be in the stomach, but it can be anywhere. Sometimes people are aware of it beforehand, but for many people it comes into sharper focus when they begin to meditate. Just to be clear, it is not the meditation causing the knot, but rather the meditation providing a clearer lens through which to see it.

When we first discover this knot, the temptation is to resist it in some way. After all, who likes the experience of tension? Though it’s a very natural tendency, the problem with this approach is that every time we resist it, we create that much more tension, driving a cycle of resistance in the mind and tension in the body. So we need to find a way to observe it without resistance and to step out of the cycle.

The first thing to do is to recognize that meditation is not about getting rid of stuff or changing things. Instead, it’s about understanding things, seeing them more clearly and, through that process, becoming more at ease with them. So try to observe the knot with a genuine sense of interest and curiosity. What is it? Where is it? How does it feel? What is the quality of it? What shape is it? Is it static or does it move? Is it hot or cold? Is it always there or just sometimes? If you can work with it this way, almost as though it is a friend you are learning more about over time, then I suspect it will slowly begin to change.

Most important of all though, this curiosity and objective interest changes our perspective and has the potential to fundamentally change our relationship with discomfort.

Warm wishes,


Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.