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Thread: Zazen and heart problems

  1. #1

    Zazen and heart problems

    Does anyone know if Zazen puts stress on the heart that can cause problems, especially to those with a heart disease. Here is a bit background and why I ask that question.

    I'm in my early thirties and had a heart angioplasty (stent placed in blocked artery) done last year. I have a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. After the stent was placed occasionally I used to get slight pain (kind of sore feeling in the heart) especially after intercourse. It used to go off by itself in a day or two.

    After I started Zazen few months back, I started noticing that the sore feeling in the heart was happening more often. I first didn't think it was due to zazen but after many instances I found that zazen was causing it. Yesterday I went to a whole day of zazenkai and found that the pain was more apparent. I think that zazen might be putting some sort of stress on the heart.

    I'm thinking about cutting down on my sitting from 30 min to 20 min. I hate to do that but doesn't seem like I have an option.

    I would like to seek your views on this. Do you know of cases where Zazen can put stress on the heart?

    - Sam

  2. #2
    Member Geika's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    San Diego County, California
    No, but this sounds worrisome. Have you been to a doctor about it?
    迎 Geika

  3. #3
    Hi Sam,

    Yes, always check with your doctor, and get a doctor's permission, before engaging in any physical activity. I would include Zazen in that if there is some concern.

    There are also a couple of other possibilities to consider here.

    One is that, in the silence and lack of distraction of Zazen, one can suddenly become aware of physical sensations that are there all along, but that we usually do not notice because we are distracted by a thousand other things going on in life. Suddenly, the always present sensation in your chest becomes noticeable because of the "sensory deprivation tank" experience of Zazen.

    Another possibility is that, in the stillness of Zazen, your recent trauma and stress comes to the fore, and makes you think you feel something where the surgery was. That would be mostly psychological in nature, because the "deprivation tank" and lack of distraction lets what you are holding inside come up, and you are somehow projecting it to your wound.

    I usually find that Zazen lowers my heart rate, but people can react differently. Certainly, an all day Zazenkai or Sesshin can be strenuous, with the constant chanting, bowing, formal eating and long hours of sitting. I know of one study where intense, artificial breathing from the Hara created increased heart rate, but I doubt you are doing anything strenuous like that.

    In fact, most doctors I know recommend some form of meditation like Zazen as one step in the stress reduction which is good for heart patients.

    You might try to reduce the time for awhile and see if it has any effect. However, I really do not think it is related if you are not sitting in some forced, intense, non-relaxed way. If you are sitting balanced and relaxed, it should lower your blood pressure and such.

    For years, meditation fans have said that the practice keeps them healthy. But a new study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes in November 2012, actually tested this. For the study, 201 people with coronary heart disease were asked to either (a) take a health education class promoting better diet and exercise or (b) take a class on transcendental meditation. Researchers followed up with participants for the next five years and found that those who took the meditation class had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke and death. It’s an initial study, but a promising one.
    Please let us know what your doctor has to say.

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    That does sounds worrying, Sam, and worth checking out. Your experience is counter-intuitive since, as Jundo says, meditation is often recommended for patients with heart problems and usually results in reduced heart rate.

    My illness is exacerbated by most physical activity but I can sit zazen for an hour without problem. I wonder if it is something to do with the posture in your case? Have you tried sitting in a chair when meditating and seeing if the same thing happens?

    I hope you can get an answer to this.


  5. #5
    Hi Sam,

    I am very sorry and worried to hear this...

    Some questions:
    Do you breathe normally/naturally when you sit?
    Are you tense somehow when you sit?
    Don't answer right away, but thoroughly pay attention to such things, as we have a tendency to fool ourselves sometimes.

    What do you do right before you sit? Calm things or very active things?
    Switching from one extreme to the other might cause problems. It's a bit like doing a sprint and then stand still after crossing the finish line.

    And last, but not least in any case:
    It might be possible the pain comes from your back!
    I know lots of people who felt a pain in their chest, and the doctor found out it actually came from the back. So you might consider to record a movie of your sitting and check your posture afterwards.

    However, considering your medical history you told us here, you should definitely go to the doc, but also consider the things mentioned in this thread.

    Please keep us posted!


    no thing needs to be added

  6. #6

    Zazen and heart problems


    I am speaking for myself only. I am 46 and am low risk for heart disease. I wok out and have normal cholesterol levels. I have a negative family history of heart disease. I am a doctor, my wife is a doctor, my grandfather was a doctor and 3 of my in-laws are doctors. Most of my friends are doctors. We talk medicine amongst ourselves because we don't know what else to talk about. Shortly after starting zazen I started experiencing chest discomfort during and after zazen. Throughout the day my chest and left arm felt funny, sign of possible heart trouble but also signs associated with anxiety. My wife who is more knowledgeable then I regarding heart disease did not worry about my symptoms. I am psychiatrist, versed in 'phantom cardiac symptoms' nevertheless ran to my primary care doctor who did a basic work up and found nothing wrong. However, scared for my life I continued to press the issue and promptly got an angiogram. After the procedure, my cardiologist told me there was nothing wrong with my heart and no stent was needed, I am pretty sure that zazen is at fault. It tuned me in to my body sensations to a degree I had not experienced before.

    Again, I am not offering medical advice but just sharing my personal experience regarding the evils of zazen. :-)

    Gassho, John

    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk 2
    Last edited by Jishin; 06-24-2013 at 12:07 PM.
    治 healing
    心 mind

  7. #7
    Take care Sam and like everyone has said, have a visit with your doctor.

    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  8. #8
    Hi Sam. Like other people have said, when there is quiet, things are noticed . All the stress that is usually hidden behind a wall of mental noise starts to stand out. Also, going by your posts here and elsewhere, the question of a dividing line between control and letting go, and finding that line in the activity of body and mind, has been brought up in different ways. Getting very involved in that question can turn the body into a place of struggle as the question (which has no answer) goes around and around, and stress can really build. This is just going by your postings. That over-thinking is familiar from my own experience. Stress gets built up on the cushion when thinking turns zazen into a struggle.

    Gassho Daizan
    As a trainee I ask that all comments by me on matters of Dharma be taken with "a grain of salt".

  9. #9
    Treeleaf Engineer Seimyo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Yuba City, California, USA
    Hi Sam,
    As someone that also has a chunk of plastic in their heart and knows what that means in the long-term, I suggest seeing your cardiologist very soon. It could be nothing, but it might be something, and while it might be a beautiful thing to die in zazen, we'd like you to stick around a little longer.

    As Jundo and others have mentioned, when you are sitting in the silence of Zazen you tend to take notice of moments that you might not otherwise experience. There have been times over the past year or so where I've had strange pain emanating from my back that could be perceived as possible heart issues, but it was only muscles becoming tired from sitting too rigid. Try to relax your shoulders, letting your arms fall, this will help remedy pain from 'sitting too hard'.

    Please be safe! Gassho.

    明 Seimyō (Christhatischris)

  10. #10
    Thanks all for the useful replies. I have an appointment with my cardiologist but am not sure if he will be able understand the effects of meditation and if it can cause any harm.

    It might be a posture thing or being too tense while sitting. I have to watch for that and try sitting in a chair and see if that changes things. When I do my fast walk with an inclination on treadmill there is no pain so hopefully this zazen pain is not the dangerous kind.

    Thanks again for all your replies. As always it feels good to be part of this online sangha.

    - Sam

  11. #11
    Good advice here. Good luck with this.

    My question is: do you find Zazen physically demanding? Some people find it so, especially when forcing a posture or being in competition with themselves.

    If it is physically demanding for you, I'd work with our teachers' guidance, as it should be an experience of ease.

    Until that ease is reached, I think cutting back to 20mins is a good idea.

    Most people hear the word "zen" and think blissed out relaxation. Few understand how demanding it can be, until they try and sit.

    But do see your doctor .... and be well.

    Last edited by Myozan Kodo; 06-25-2013 at 10:31 AM.

  12. #12
    Nothing really useful to add after all the good advice of my brothers... I was just thinking, it doesn't matter if you sit 20 instead of 30 min. ...Zazen is timeless, and if you really think it may be a health related issue, maybe, just maybe, 20 minutes will feel like be more time than 30 minutes, without the extra stress and pain, and, it don't matter, 20, 30, 40, 5 minutes.... it just don't matter, is not a race or a contest....but I know how do you feel....I feel some kind of guilt when can't manage to sit more than 15 minutes in any given day

    Anyway, take great care, and go see your doctor

    Kōshin / Leo

    P.S. Yup, I know, my English sucks

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post

    Thanks again for all your replies. As always it feels good to be part of this online sangha.

    - Sam
    Well, we are online ... but just a Sangha.

    Let me add that sitting is not a matter of long or short. You feel attached to your 30 minutes of sitting. Do not be attached. If you sit for 30 minutes, that is fine and I encourage you ... but also realize that sitting is not a matter of quantity, but of timelessness. Same if you "need to" sit 20 minutes or 15. Sit, but drop need. Nonetheless, we sit for a certain time in order to realize that "timelessness" and "no need". See here:

    Also, find a balanced and comfortable way to sit, even if not the traditional Lotus. This came up recently on another thread ...

    Gassho, Jundo

  14. #14
    Hi Sam, already lots of good advice, just wanted to add, do you think it could be from the way you are sitting? I cannot sit for long due to a bad back and hips. I lay down instead, with my knees bent to protect my lower back. Could you give this a try? My mom has heart problems, cholesterol, high blood pressure. She actually had open-heart surgery 4 years ago, almost to the day. Because of this, I always feel a connection to those who struggle with heart disease. It can be a very difficult thing to deal with. I wish you much metta and peace!!!

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