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Thread: Sleeping legs, aching back ... some tips.

  1. #1

    Sleeping legs, aching back ... some tips.

    We have had several good threads over the years, filled with advice and suggestions on "tingly" legs and aching backs. I will link to some here. I would also review all of Taigu's advice on posture in our "Beginner's" series ...

    viewforum.php?f=20

    ... and this book on posture during Zazen ...

    viewtopic.php?f=23&t=2111

    Usually, legs which tingle or "fall asleep" are due putting some pressure on the sciatic nerve ...

    My friend, Rev. Nonin Chowaney (Nebraska Zen Center) writes this ...


    There are many ways to sit zazen: full-lotus, half-lotus, quarter-lotus (with foot on calf), burmese (with both feet on the floor), seiza (Japanese kneeling posture) with the zafu on it's side, seiza on two zafus (one on top of the others), seiza on a bench, and sitting in a chair (this is frequently necessary for those who have injured themselves or with joint replacements). Also, some people with severe physical problems or illness sit zazen lying down.

    I recommend to all beginners that they sit as close to full lotus posture as they can for as long as they can. I also suggest that they sit somewhere between wimp and macho. Sit until it becomes uncomfortable, and then sit a few minutes more before you change postures. If you change too soon, you won't stretch out. On the other hand, don't tough it out for so long that you do yourself damage.

    Also, learn the difference between soft tissue or muscle pain and nerve pain. Everyone's legs fall asleep from time to time. Sometimes bending forward will take the pressure off the sciatic nerve and the legs will wake up. If your legs are asleep at the end of a sitting and they come back quickly as you stretch them out and get up, I wouldn't worry about it. If they don't and the numbness persists for some time, don't sit the way you have been. You can damage nerves. If you damage 1/8" of a nerve, it can take months to heal.

    Anytime you hold the body in a specific position, it will hurt. Just try holding your arm out parallel to the floor for any length of time. Sitting zazen for any length of time will hurt most people, although some can without pain. I have never been very limber, and I sat seiza for three years when I first started while I did exercises and stretched out. Then, I was able to sit burmese style. Eventually I was able to sit quarter-lotus and then half-lotus. I've never been able to sit full-lotus, and as I've aged, I've gone back to quarter lotus. Also, I have a knee problem, and when it flared up severely a couple of years ago, I spent six months sitting in a chair.
    When my legs begin to "fall asleep", I lightly shift my weight on the Zafu to the left or right (or front or back) as needed to slightly take my weight off the top of my thigh. That seems to work. Also, if sitting in Full or Half Lotus, I will "gassho" and untangle my legs (usually into Burmese) about a minute or two before I need to stand up. The feeling is usually back by that time.

    Also, is you underwear too tight, your pants pinching your upper thigh or circulation? (This is one reason that we wear loose fitting trousers in Zazen ... and avoid Jeans and such).

    Here are some other helpful threads on the subject ...

    viewtopic.php?p=27332#p27332

    viewtopic.php?p=18639#p18639

    I might just add that our Zazen is often practice in microcosm for experiencing our whole life. Our lives are sometimes pain, including physical pain. Zazen recognizes that fact. We have to embrace that fact.

    So, nothing wrong with trying to make the pain or other unpleasantness go away. We move our legs, shift our posture, do whatever we can. Still, we accept it is there, whether it goes away or not (acceptance without acceptance). No running from the pain, even as we try to walk away from it. If it really will not go away no matter what we do, that is just our life. We just sit with it.

    We also learn that, in all cases, there is a great degree of "mind over matter" to pain. Our minds magnify the pain, focus on it. Our minds can also do the opposite. It may not make the pain go away, but mind and body are one.

    Remember, pain is not suffering without more ...

    All that being said, we also do not do Zazen to the point that there is a real risk of damage to the body. If you overdo with the pain, nerve damage and the like is possible. Even if you need to stand up in the middle of Zazen and do Zazen that way, as walking meditation, no problem. But, to be with a reasonable bit of pain now and then is part of Practice.

    Gassho, Jundo

  2. #2
    Member Hōkan's Avatar
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    This post helped me rediscover quarter-lotus position and it has helped me immensely. I seem to be unusual in that I (mostly) don't get knee pain. I seem to have weak ankles (only during zazen and not otherwise) but I can overcome that with a small cushion or rolled-up towel. My legs never go to sleep, but my feet do; this may be related to those weak ankles.

    I have also recently discovered that I have some serious hip pain while sitting half- or full-lotus. It took me a long time to recognize it as pain because it doesn't feel like other pain; perhaps there are few nerve endings in the hips? Sitting quarter-lotus has helped this a lot. Also, when I sit more than once in a session I no longer do slow kinhin between; I walk around the block as fast as I can -- at first hobbling slowly but going a good clip at the end.

    Maybe I'm just getting old. But maybe I've always been old.

    Sat today.
    --
    Hōkan = 法閑 = Dharma Serenity
    To be entirely clear, I am not a hōkan = 幇間 = taikomochi = geisha, but I do wonder if my preceptor was having a bit of fun with me...

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Hōkan View Post
    This post helped me rediscover quarter-lotus position and it has helped me immensely. I seem to be unusual in that I (mostly) don't get knee pain. I seem to have weak ankles (only during zazen and not otherwise) but I can overcome that with a small cushion or rolled-up towel. My legs never go to sleep, but my feet do; this may be related to those weak ankles.

    I have also recently discovered that I have some serious hip pain while sitting half- or full-lotus. It took me a long time to recognize it as pain because it doesn't feel like other pain; perhaps there are few nerve endings in the hips? Sitting quarter-lotus has helped this a lot. Also, when I sit more than once in a session I no longer do slow kinhin between; I walk around the block as fast as I can -- at first hobbling slowly but going a good clip at the end.

    Maybe I'm just getting old. But maybe I've always been old.

    Sat today.
    Hi Hokan,

    Yes, know one's own body, and what works for your own physique. If it feels stable, balanced and comfortable, allowing one to sit for extended periods without objection by the body (and without risking any damage to knees and such!), it is likely a very good posture.

    We have had some more recent threads on posture and such than this one from long ago, but the advice is basically the same.

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...Posture-Advice

    Check out the very good book by Johnson that is mentioned ...

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...-OF-MEDITATION

    Another recent editorial by me on posture ...

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...-Misunderstood
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...-Misunderstood

    Gassho, Jundo

    SatTodayLAH
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Member Hōkan's Avatar
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    Thank you.
    --
    Hōkan = 法閑 = Dharma Serenity
    To be entirely clear, I am not a hōkan = 幇間 = taikomochi = geisha, but I do wonder if my preceptor was having a bit of fun with me...

  5. #5
    i think i may have finally found my solution to the painfulness of sitting zazen on a cushion - i recently bought a seiza bench, and i must say that this is now my preferred way of sitting zazen! i still sit on my zafu and zabuton occasionally, mind you, but i much prefer the bench for zazen.

    Gassho, John
    ST/LAH

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by GrasshopperMan17 View Post
    i think i may have finally found my solution to the painfulness of sitting zazen on a cushion - i recently bought a seiza bench, and i must say that this is now my preferred way of sitting zazen! i still sit on my zafu and zabuton occasionally, mind you, but i much prefer the bench for zazen.

    Gassho, John
    ST/LAH
    Lovely.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  7. #7
    Also, learn the difference between soft tissue or muscle pain and nerve pain. Everyone's legs fall asleep from time to time. Sometimes bending forward will take the pressure off the sciatic nerve and the legs will wake up. If your legs are asleep at the end of a sitting and they come back quickly as you stretch them out and get up, I wouldn't worry about it.
    Thank you

  8. #8
    Member Hōkan's Avatar
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    Still having trouble. I consulted with Dr. Google and found two common pointers. Both are sets of stretches. First is from The Yoga Journal (A Zen center made a slightly modified version here: http://zenmontpellier.net/eng/lotus/lotuseng.html). And one from Robert Aitken-Roshi's Taking the Path of Zen where he describes the Makkoho system of four stretches, extracted in a two-page .pdf here: How to sit Zen (and stretching excercises for the full lotus) - Robert Aitkin.pdf

    The Yoga Journal seemed too fey to me -- too weird -- it's really aimed at advanced yoga practitioners and that's not me. The system Aitken-Roshi suggested seemed more promising but, after weeks of trying as well as I could I couldn't get all that close to any of the poses.

    I gave up and called a physical therapist. The therapist evaluated me, especially my hip flexibility, and gave me four stretches to do three times daily (especially before sitting). These new stretches are somewhat similar to the Makkoho system but not as drastic because I'm just not that flexible.

    I'm hopeful that this'll get me sitting as much as 2000 hours a day (or at least more than I can sit now).

    Sat
    Last edited by Hōkan; 07-01-2021 at 06:31 PM.
    --
    Hōkan = 法閑 = Dharma Serenity
    To be entirely clear, I am not a hōkan = 幇間 = taikomochi = geisha, but I do wonder if my preceptor was having a bit of fun with me...

  9. #9
    Thank you

    Gassho
    STLah

  10. #10
    Member Hōkan's Avatar
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    I've been asked to provide details of the stretches my physical therapist prescribed:

    The four stretches (or seven counting left and right sides separately) I was prescribed are described in the attachment. I was instructed to do each for one minute 2-3 times daily.
    Lotus Stretches.pdf

    Now, these were specifically prescribed for me given my particular inflexibility so they may not work well for you.

    Sat
    Last edited by Hōkan; 07-20-2021 at 12:40 AM. Reason: remove web links and add attachment
    --
    Hōkan = 法閑 = Dharma Serenity
    To be entirely clear, I am not a hōkan = 幇間 = taikomochi = geisha, but I do wonder if my preceptor was having a bit of fun with me...

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