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Thread: Posture Advice

  1. #1

    Posture Advice

    I'm having some difficulty with posture during zazen. Specifically, I have issues finding a comfortable position for my hands and shoulders. I have tendonitis in both my wrists, and I have trouble finding a comfortable position for my hands that doesn't ache or sting (I hold my hands together in the Dhyani mudra).

    However, if I do manage to find a tolerable position for my hands, I often experience discomfort in my shoulders. Either they burn and sting, or it feels like there is way too much pressure in one shoulder or perhaps one side is higher than the other. So everything turns into a constant cycle of discomfort/instability which is, well, distracting.

    I was wondering if anyone has any advice? I know this is a difficult question to answer, especially online and not in person. But I think any input at would be helpful. I would also like to add that I sit zazen in a chair.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Best regards,

    Shade

    ST

  2. #2
    Hi Shade,

    It might be helpful if you could post a few pictures of you sitting. Best would be to set a camera to take some a few minutes into sitting, as often we start out one way but then it changes.

    I have often had trouble finding a place where my hands rest comfortably. Mainly because I have a big belly, and so my arms don't reach and rest in my lap like others. Some advice I was given is to place a small pillow to create a place for my hands to rest without hanging and pulling on my shoulders. In the end it didn't work for me, but it is something to try.

    Honestly during long retreats I will start to rest my hands on my thighs to give my hands and shoulders a break.

    Gassho,

    Shoka
    sat
    香道 笑花
    Kodo Shoka

    Please don't take anything I say as anything more than just a normal person's thoughts on the topic. I'm just stumbling through life trying to be helpful, but really don't know much.

  3. #3
    Hello Shoka,

    Thanks for the advice. I will try resting my hands on a small pillow and see what happens. And yes, I have also rested my hands on my thighs. I just want to lay a good foundation for posture so that my zazen is not so unorthodox that it offends someone if I visit a zen center.

    Also, I fear I may have opened a can of worms by discussing Zen and unorthodoxy!

    Best regards,

    Shade

  4. #4
    I don't have anything to say about the hands, but when I sit I intentionally push my shoulders back and down and push my ribcage out. This is because I tend to slouch my ribcage inward over time, which makes breathing uncomfortable. I actually came here to ask for advice about my breathing issue before I started doing this with my shoulders, I didn't think of doing it myself, so maybe you haven't thought of it either. I hope it helps!

    Despite the fact that posture is a very serious topic in Zen, I think you will find that our sangha is very accommodating. I remember a zazenkai where everyone "sat" in the Buddha's reclining "sleeping lion pose":
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...ferently-Abled


    Kenny
    Sat Today
    Last edited by Sekiyuu; 11-11-2020 at 04:50 PM.

  5. #5
    Hello Kenny,

    Thanks for the advice. I'll try to roll my shoulders back and see how it goes. Fingers crossed!

    Best regards,

    Shade

  6. #6
    I remember that when I suffered from tendonitis (what a frustrating condition) some physiotherapy helped considerably. When having too much pressure in the upper back and shoulders I try to do some easy yoga exercises. My last Zazenkai was sitting with pain, frustration and resistance. Each breath acknowledging it and letting it be, just surrending. Although zazen is "just sitting" it can be quite physical. I hope you'll find relief from tendonitis and it'll go away.

    Gassho
    Sat

  7. #7
    Hi Shade,

    Yes, try the small pillow or support but, in the end if there is a medical issue, we do not have to be attached to the Dhyani mudra (we call it the Hokkai Jo-in, or "Cosmic Mudra," in Soto Zen).



    Find a place for your hands which feels balanced, stable and comfortable, and which does not cause pain.

    I take it that the hands are resting in the lap, and not high up on the belly as some folks do like below (but I myself don't think is usually a good way, and is tiring on the shoulders and elsewhere).



    If you visit another Sangha, just explain that you need too because of a medical condition. I doubt that anyone will give you a hard time these days.

    (Sorry for running long)

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 11-12-2020 at 03:05 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    I remember reading a piece by a Zen Teacher somewhere in Northern California who advocated holding the mudra just below the breast bone (almost as high as the hands in Kinhin.) He suggested that it aided in awareness and strengthened the body position. I found it to be very stressful and re-confirmed that the Fukanzazengi states to place your right hand on your left foot...etc. which, if not sitting Full Lotus is essentially placing the mudra in your lap. Actually, I find when sitting my wrists are resting on both thighs respectively and feel warmth at the points of contact; noting no sense of any tension.

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    Last edited by Shokai; 11-12-2020 at 04:13 AM.
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  9. #9
    As someone with long-term back problems - I have a slight scoliosis - I have struggled with this for a long time. The only way I have been able to be comfortable is to not think about my posture; to just sit, and let my body find its position.

    I've studied the Alexander Technique a great deal, and it teaches you to let your neck be free, to allow your head to go forward and up, and allow your back to lengthen and widen. (While these words sound simple, they do require a bit of understanding of exactly what they mean; you don't push anything, you just let it go.) I think of this when I start sitting, then I just let my body sit itself.

    If I feel my shoulders are too far back, that means that I'm pulling them back; so I let go. If I feel that my head is too high or too low, that means I'm pulling or pushing it; so I let go. It's hard to get used to this, but over time it becomes more natural.

    I don't have anything to say about the hands, but when I sit I intentionally push my shoulders back and down and push my ribcage out. This is because I tend to slouch my ribcage inward over time, which makes breathing uncomfortable.
    I think this is counter-productive. The natural position of the ribcage is not "pushed out," and you can't counter a slouch like this. The problem with this sort of forced correction is that your body has adapted to your slouch, and forcing against that just creates new tensions.

    If you can just sit and think of letting your body go where it wants, without any tension (other than what's needed to keep your torso vertical; most of this comes from the muscles in the lower back), then you'll feel a lot freer physically, and this makes your mind a lot freer as well.

    I can't do the mudra; I have an intentional tremor, which means when my muscles are flexing - ie, not at rest - they shake a bit. I rest my hands on my thighs, allowing the weight of my entire arms to rest on my thighs, not holding my arms with my shoulders.

    Sorry for going long, but I've done a lot of work around this, because of my back issues and tremor, and not long ago I worked specifically with a teacher of the Alexander Technique to improve my "use" (that's their term for the way we use our body) both when sitting zazen and playing the shakuhachi.

    As a bonus, here's a really great "exercise" that the Alexander Technique does. It involves just lying down, and letting your body be free. It is recommended as a daily exercise. It's not relaxation; some Alexander teachers call it "active rest."

    https://alexandertechnique.co.uk/lea...it/semi-supine

    Gassho,

    Kirk

    sat
    -----

    流文

    I know nothing.

  10. #10
    Hello Ania, Shokai, kirkmc and Jundo.

    Thank you all so much for your advice. It's nice to be part of such a supportive and helpful community.

    I hope all is well.

    Gassho,

    Shade

  11. #11
    I am reminded of Maezumi Roshi's brother, Junyu Kuroda Roshi, whom I was able to sit with here in Japan, and who most all of his fingers on both hands in a fire his youth.

    He sat Zazen, ate Oryoki, offered Gassho and lit incense, all without fingers. Nothing was lacking.



    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 11-22-2020 at 12:54 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Hi guys!

    I would like to ask the community about a problem I am experiencing lately during my zazen practice.
    I usually sit in the Burmese posture (the lotus is hard for me) and lately, I have been experiencing paresthesia on my right leg and foot after some minutes of sitting.
    I have tried changing the position of the legs, putting in front alternately the right one or the left one, but interestingly the one that falls asleep is always the same one.
    Please, can somebody tell me if this is normal?

    Thanks in advance.

    Gassho

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by khanti.shamadi View Post
    Hi guys!

    I would like to ask the community about a problem I am experiencing lately during my zazen practice.
    I usually sit in the Burmese posture (the lotus is hard for me) and lately, I have been experiencing paresthesia on my right leg and foot after some minutes of sitting.
    I have tried changing the position of the legs, putting in front alternately the right one or the left one, but interestingly the one that falls asleep is always the same one.
    Please, can somebody tell me if this is normal?

    Thanks in advance.

    Gassho
    Hi there!

    I have the exact same experience while sitting in Burmese. What helped me over the last few months has been to do basic stretches for my knees and hips, and begin sitting in a bit of a poor-man's half-lotus, with my right foot sitting in the cranny of my left thigh and shin. (I could only accomplish this after getting a higher zafu, too). This takes the pressure off of the nerve that runs down my right leg, and I don't experience the numbness after a few minutes like I did in Burmese (usually lasting about 20-25mins before any type of numbness begins).

    That being said, I do have a history of sciatica and chronic back problems, so depending on how I sit my butt, there's numbness and pain quickly. What may be normal for me might not be for anyone else, so take the above with a grain of salt, and please be careful if attempting any change in posture/leg position — you can absolutely move too quickly. What also helped before I made the progressive changes was placing a rolled up towel under my right-knee, elevating it some, again, taking pressure off of that nerve that runs from the bum down the leg.

    Gassho,
    Koushi
    STLaH
    広 Kou (Vast)
    髭 Shi (Beard)

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by khanti.shamadi View Post
    Hi guys!

    I would like to ask the community about a problem I am experiencing lately during my zazen practice.
    I usually sit in the Burmese posture (the lotus is hard for me) and lately, I have been experiencing paresthesia on my right leg and foot after some minutes of sitting.
    I have tried changing the position of the legs, putting in front alternately the right one or the left one, but interestingly the one that falls asleep is always the same one.
    Please, can somebody tell me if this is normal?

    Thanks in advance.

    Gassho
    Hello Khanti,

    Welcome again.

    We have had some very good discussions over the years on this, which is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve while sitting. If it is not a perpetual condition, if it quickly goes away when rising, and if it is not appear at other times in life, then it is probably just how your leg or foot or the Zafu cushion is pressing on the nerve. (If more than that, talk to your doctor). Loosen up your legs a bit so that they are not pressing so tightly. Try sitting a bit more forward on the Zafu, not too far back (You should be sitting on the front half of the Zafu, with your spine just forward of the central axis point, and the spine should not be pressing so hard into the leg).

    Also, see if the floor may be too hard, or too soft (if sitting on a mat), and change that with a cushion or different cushion.

    In other words, play with your posture until it does not happen.

    We have had many many discussion in the past where folks offered good advice. I will link to a few here, but you can also just search "sciatic" and they will appear.

    Let us know what happens. Also, see this book on posture I recommend:

    Book Recommendation: - THE POSTURE OF MEDITATION
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...-OF-MEDITATION

    On tingling legs:

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...l=1#post148838

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...osture+johnson

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...osture+johnson

    Gassho, Jundo

    SatTodayLAH
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  15. #15
    Thanks so much to you both, Koushi and Jundo.

    I feel extremely thankful for being part of this community and experiencing the value of sitting with the support of a shanga.
    I will check the shared resources, Jundo, as well as your advice.
    Koushi, I will also try to see how the half-lotus works for me in order to have two postures to alternate.

    Thanks to you both for your kindness and support

    Gassho

    Khanti

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