SuttaCentral

Dealing with tension

Hello all,
I wonder if anyone has gone through the experience i am currently going through. Recently (a few weeks now) every time i meditate tension starts to creep up into my facial area, mainly in the jaw area.
Has anyone experienced this jaw tension in meditation?
I have tried relaxing the area over and over and over, etc… throughout the meditation. I have gotten to the point where i just accepted the tension and let it be there while i meditate. Would anyone who has gone through this like to share your experience and what outcomes came of it?

Much metta

Hi Badscooter,

I moved this post from discussion to the watercooler. To keep the forum focused on the EBTs, we’ve generally not allowed threads that are about personal practice issues not related to the EBTs.

If anyone has personal experience regarding the issue brought up here, I suggest sending a PM to @Badscooter, and you can continue the discussion over PM :slight_smile:

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Ooops! My fault… thanks for moving it.

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Hi @Badscooter,

My experience is not perfectly analogous to yours, since I struggle with chronic muscle tension. However, during meditation, it has often tended to get worse.

In my experience, tension - both mental and physical - comes from a controlling attitude, which is often invisible to us. Wishing it away, preferring it was not there, or deliberate efforts to make it go away seem to be temporarily effective, at best, and often counterproductive.

My best suggestion for counteracting a controlling mind is cultivating a good sense of non-self (not me, not mine) with regard to all phenomena, including (perhaps especially) the mind.

To aid this effort, I have one particularly effective technique. It works for me personally; your mileage may vary.

Consider how, when you look at the stars, you’re seeing how the stars were millions of years ago, when the light left them and only a moment ago met your retina. Everything you’re aware of “right now” is, in fact, old news. All light and sounds take time to reach your retina and your ears. Sensory impulses take time to reach your brain, and more time to be integrated into an image/sound/idea of what just happened. Whatever you’re aware of isn’t happening anymore. Everything you experience, by time you’re aware of it, is a reflection of how things were in the past, not how they are right now. They’re phenomena.

So to get a good sense of not-self going, I keep constantly in mind that everything I’m experiencing “now” is already gone, the phenomena represents prior causes and conditions (conditionality). When I watch impressions of the body in this way, feelings in this way, and especially my mind in this way, I get a good sense of not-self.

I say “especially the mind”, because it is the mind that clings to other phenomena (such as unpleasant bodily tension), and the mind that suffers as a result. The conditionality of all phenomena, means I cannot control the “current” state of the mind (by time I am aware, it is too late). If I cannot control the mind, trying to only creates more tension.

So instead, I try to watch the mind knowing “that is how it was a moment ago”. If the mind I’m aware of is an uncontrollable experience of prior conditions, is not me or mine, what is there to control? So I can approach the mind and its experience with genuine self-less metta. I can’t control it, so the best I can do is to make helpful suggestions based on my observations. So I just ask “what was it clinging to a moment ago? what still feels like it’s me or mine? body? feelings? thoughts? what could it release?”

Just making these observations in the present seems to give the mind the knowledge of what it needs to do to fix most of its problems down the line. For example, reminding the mind that feeling is an empty phenomena, already gone, uncontrollable, not worth clinging to, seems to help it. But only if done with compassion and detachment, knowing that the mind we experience is also not-self, past and gone, and can’t be compelled to do anything.

Just my experience - I hope it helps :slight_smile:

Matt

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Matt,

I really like the take you have about the present moment. I think i’m gonna adapt some of that to my practice. It definitely helps with my tendency to react and try to force the mind when meditating. It really allows some breathing room. Many thanks for the advice!!

Maha metta,

Bill

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On top of the good advice i have received from here, I have also found some videos and talks that have really helped so far.

One by @sujato

and another by @Brahmali

These have been very helpful in letting go in meditation.

:pray: Sadhu…

Maha metta

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The last decade or so, I have better understood an old friend’s descriptions of muscle tension suffered throughout a life with cerebral palsy. I just have an aging body, which often gets insufficient exercise.

Your observation and interpretations of your experience may not be wrong (at all) and certainly are not unique. I was told something similar by a respected meditation teacher. Another observation: aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha,…

Thank you for inspiring some useful reflection.

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I like your not-self approach. Mine is quite similar. But my problem is often drowsiness, I then try to ask these questions: “Ok, there is drowsiness, where is this drowsiness? What about the part that doesn’t have drowsiness? Do the hands have drowsiness? Or the feet? Am I the drowsiness? When the drowsiness is gone, am I gone too? What is this knowing of drowsiness?” After probing for sometime, you realize that they’re not yours, just visitors, not the owner, so they come and go, that’s all. And you can ask similar questions with the pain too, gradually they’ll become less and less, just be patient, and don’t try to force things through. But it’s just my own practice, yours maybe different.

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Tension/stress accumulate in the muscles. The jaw muscles are a common reservoir of tension. When I do body work on others, I start with the lower extremities, relaxing them first. This induces release in the upper body, including the jaw muscles. Basically, when the large muscles of the body are incapable of holding tension/stress, we call upon other muscles to carry the burden. So proceeding from large muscle to small muscle provides quicker and long-lasting relief than proceeding from small muscle to large muscle. I am often met with surprised happiness when a short 5 minutes of addressing leg tension cures jaw/neck/shoulder pain.

In an EBT context, I would try walking meditation, which requires attending to the lower extremities. Walking relieves tension in the larger muscles in the lower limbs and provides a good counterpart to all the sitting modern people do.

AN5.29:1.1: “Mendicants, there are five benefits of walking meditation.

I regularly meditate walking outdoors with bare feet.

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