Tense shoulders

Tense shoulders

by Headspace » Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:51 am


I encountered that during practice, my shoulders will tense up. Like a thought slowly building up - I only recognize that my shoulders are tense (going further up rather - sometimes even close to my ears) when it's too late - when they're already tense. In other words, I never catch the moment when they start to become tense.

Obviously, I focus on my breathing etc., but my focus seem to come in a bundle with shoulders tensing up - why is that? Secondly, what can I do to stop that from happening - so decoupling the one from the other? Thirdly, once I realize during my practice that I am tensing up - should I relax? I saw the video on "what if I have an itch during practice" - should I mentally put the tense shoulders aside and keep my focus?

Andy's answer:

You ask in your letter if you should simply relax when you realise you’ve become tense, but my guess is you would probably have tried that already. It sounds as though this is a classic case of ‘over-effort’ as it’s known in meditation. When we first learn to meditate we are learning to find the balance, the sweet spot, between focus and relaxation. Needless to say, it is very rare that we find the balance right away.

As for noticing it too late, that reminds me of a story...

A man walks to work each day, down the same street, at the same time. One day, for whatever reason, someone comes and digs a very big hole at the end of the street.

The man soon finds himself at the bottom of the hole. Not just today, but everyday. He knows it’s there but the habit of walking that way is just too strong.

After some time he starts to be more aware, he see’s the hole ahead, but can’t quite stop in time. So although he see’s it, he still falls in. This makes him frustrated.

As the days go by, he see’s the hole from even further away and tries to walk around it. Sometimes he is able to avoid it, but at other times the old habit is still too strong and he falls in.

After quite some time he becomes so aware of the upcoming hole that it doesn’t trouble him at all. He see’s it clearly. let’s go of the old pattern, crosses the street and avoids the hole altogether.

This is the process of meditation. To begin with it is hard to notice these things happening right away, but with practice and time we become more accomplished, our awareness becomes more stable, and as a result we no longer fall down the hole(!) In short, it’s early days, but you are on the right track and it will become both easier and more comfortable in time.

Hope that’s helpful in some way. Warm wishes, Andy
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