The best position for meditation is to have a long tall vertical spine. If you were to view the body from the side, the canal of your ear should be nearly above the pivot point in your shoulder. This posture might seem un-natural if it’s not the way you normally sit or stand, but in truth, it’s probably the healthiest position for you to be in if you want to avoid upper back and neck pain, and is what most yoga instructors or physical therapists would recommend.
Most people have relatively poor posture to begin with. Patience is the key here. It takes time and energy to get used to sitting with a tall spine. By the way, one of the benefits of proper meditation posture is that it develops good postural habits that you’ll take into the non-meditative part of your life. By training yourself to sit in a healthy upright meditation position, thereby strengthening the muscles which reduce excessive curvature of the lumbar, thoracic, or cervical spine, your daily practice will reduce the effect of aging on your spine.
One main cause of neck pain is the strain caused when we allow the head to come too far forward from the position stated above. (How is your posture right now?) This makes the muscles of the upper back and neck work extra hard and will cause pain in these regions, as well as headaches. Unfortunately many people sit at a desk, or on a couch or in meditation with their head way too forward and their shoulders slouched forward too. Watch for this posture in your self. Whenever you are sitting near a reflective window or mirror, take a look at your posture from the side. See what is really happening when you think you have good form. You may, or may not have an accurate sense of where your posture really is, so it’s good to check.
Stretches that put the body in reverse of the slouching position are very good. When the body is warm it’s nice to lay on a bolster that is placed between the shoulder blades with the heart facing upward. Or turn the bolster or folded blanket so it is across the spine behind the heart area and carefully try this position. Please use common sense here! Every body is different, so take your physical situation and age into consideration.
Exercises that put the upper back and neck in a similar position as described above are also needed. Standing forward bends where the spine is held straight right through the back of the neck and keeping the chest open are really good. Don’t over do, just integrate a little at a time. These things are best learned from a good yoga teacher or physical therapist. I hope to have some images or links here soon.
Another main reason for neck or upper back pain and strain is not having enough support for the weight of the hands and arms while sitting. A good meditation posture allows you to rest your hands and forearms on something so that all of their weight is supported and the upper back and neck muscles are allowed to rest. Use the suggestions above in our meditation posture section and double check that your arm weight is supported, and that you are not holding any tension there.
Getting the body warm via some form of exercise and gently stretching or practicing calm yoga postures will help your meditation practice as well as your overall health. Focus on releasing tension in the chest, upper back, shoulders, and hips. Strengthen but do not over stretch the neck. If you are not already doing so, consider making time for a gentle yoga practice three days per week. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just do something on a regular basis and your body will thank you.