Today, a user on Reddit asked a really interesting question about how anyone can possibly meditate when they keep getting restless leg syndrome.
I will admit that even though I am a meditation teacher, it was the first time I’ve heard this question. And what makes that even weirder is that I, myself, have restless legs, mostly when I go to bed at night.
Restless Leg Syndrome [RLS] is a condition that makes you move your legs uncontrollably, usually because of an unpleasant sensation. It feels… weird, in my experience. It’s almost like a half-numb, half-cramp, tingling feeling. And when you get it, it is virtually impossible not to move your legs. Even if you forcefully try to keep your legs still, you will end up giving in and kicking them out or shaking them. Indeed, on really bad nights (usually after a couple of drinks), I’ll sometimes spend hours flailing my legs around.
Meditation can even make you more susceptible to RLS. Indeed, some people specifically experience Restless Leg Syndrome when they are very relaxed. And, of course, that means that they experience RLS when they meditate. In turn, this makes it almost impossible not to move when you are meditating, and the constant movement can ruin your meditation session.
Meditating With Restless Legs
Usually, when we experience physical sensations while meditating, we are supposed to mindfully observe the sensation, not react to it, and simply let it come and go. This is the typical strategy used for most meditations, such as Vipassana. And it works… most of the time.
I’ve meditated with migraines, cramps, and other pains, and I am usually able to mindfully observe the sensations and let them come and go, without effecting my meditation session. But not with restless legs.
With RLS, the more you try to resist moving your legs, the worse it gets. You can’t simply observe the sensation without moving. RLS is unique in that way. If you try to resist the urge to move, you will lose. Period. So, if you do experience RLS when meditating and you feel the urge to move your legs, just move them—but do at least be mindful of the fact that you are moving them.
Stopping Restless Leg Syndrome During Meditation
If you don’t want to experience RLS while meditating, you will need to take preventative steps before you start your session and also change the way you meditate.
Mayo Clinic says that to avoid RLS we can try to “have a cool, quiet, comfortable sleeping environment; go to bed and rise at the same time daily; get at least seven hours of sleep nightly, and exercise.” Those are the recommended lifestyle tips for preventing and treating the condition.
You can also change your meditation practice so that it is better for RLS. Here are a few ways to do that.
Don’t meditate lying down at night: If you’re like me, you mostly get RLS when you lie down at night. So, obviously, we can help ourselves by not meditating at night and also by not doing it lying down. Nighttime is not the best time to meditate anyway, because you’re too tired to get the most out of your meditation session. And lying down, although comfortable, is really not the best posture for meditation. Try sitting down or even standing up.
Try a movement method: When you get RLS you feel the urge to move, but what if you already were moving? If you do a meditation that involves movement then you will be less likely to get RLS. Thankfully, there are many such techniques. For instance, there are tai chi and qigong. But the method that I would recommend most is Kinhin [Zen Walking]. This is a great meditation for RLS because it directly involves focusing on the movement of the legs while walking. It naturally counteracts the problem of restless leg syndrome.
Meditate on the movement: Finally, meditate on the movement of your legs when you do get RLS. I fully believe that it is unwise to try to stop the movement, and as such it is better to move your legs but be mindful of it. What does the urge to move your legs feel like? How does it feel when you do move your legs? Explore the nature of your restless leg syndrome. Doing this will provide insight into your mind-body connection.
I hope these tips help you to continue to meditate.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison