Importance of traditional sitting position in practice?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Importance of traditional sitting position in practice?

Postby anon500 » Fri Dec 27, 2013 6:04 pm

Hello all,

I started meditating a couple months ago and have been practicing for 30 minutes each day. Due to what I perceive to be a lack of hip flexibility, even sitting on a zafu in quarter lotus position causes some knee discomfort in my right leg. Moreoever, I find that keeping my back perfectly erect strains my muscles due to this lack of flexibility and causes my breathing to be constricted. I can test this because as soon as I slouch, my breathing is freed and I can breathe in and out deeply without problems. So I know it is the position and my lack of flexibility that is keeping me from fully 'relaxing'. I have powered through this despite it all, and am able to focus on my breath even though my breathing is not completely free and easy and naturally deep.

Recently, I've had to meditate at another location where there is no zafu and I have opted to do meditation on a stool, sitting down with my back erect. My breathing has come completely naturally with no muscular strains, and I feel this has helped me focus and zone in on the breathing with fewer physical and mental distractions. I am considering switching to this approach full-time. However, I feel a bit guilty that I am taking the easy route out and I wonder what I would be missing out on by not developing a more traditional sitting posture.

I know hip flexibility is important for far more than just meditation, so I continue to do exercises to open my hips. However, in the grand scheme of a meditation practice, how detrimental is it to meditate while sitting western-style on a stool rather than on the ground in a traditional lotus-esque posture? Is it normal to feel muscularly tense because of a lack of flexibility and should I power through it? Just looking for some guidance on how to proceed so I do not build bad habits.

Thank you for reading.
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Re: Importance of traditional sitting position in practice?

Postby kitztack » Fri Dec 27, 2013 6:29 pm

i wouldn't say its detrimental at all to meditate on a stool as whats important is the state of mind and keeping the back straight.

however you're not always going to have a stool with you if you feel like meditating somewhere spontaneously, just your legs and your bum so its good you are doing hip opening exercises.

the burmese position is quite easy going on the hips in comparison to other postures, you might want to try it out. heres a link to some pictures of it http://vimutta.blogspot.ie/2010/01/burm ... ition.html

best of luck with your practice

:namaste:
Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion.
Aflame, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs ......

Seeing thus, the disciple of the Noble One grows disenchanted. SN 35.28
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Re: Importance of traditional sitting position in practice?

Postby Mkoll » Fri Dec 27, 2013 6:39 pm

anon500 wrote:Due to what I perceive to be a lack of hip flexibility, even sitting on a zafu in quarter lotus position causes some knee discomfort in my right leg.

Dear anon500,

I have the exact same problem and it usually strikes the medial part of the knee. I am working on it with yoga hip openers as well. I use a chair and a kneeling bench (seiza) for sitting meditation as well - you could try those.

For me, there has to be some muscular tension to hold the body erect regardless of the position sat in. The key is not to be too tense and not to be too relaxed. I think it's normal.

I've found cross-legged sitting to be the most conducive to concentration. It's more stable than the other postures. I imagine full lotus is the most stable of all. The more stability, the easier it is to get balanced and concentrated.

I think if we're diligent and patient with our yoga hip-opening practice, we will reap the results eventually. In the meantime, we have to use "props" like stools in the like for sitting. Fortunately, walking meditation has fewer flexibility requirements!

:anjali:
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
-SN 12.61

Ex nihilo nihil fit.

Peace,
James
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Re: Importance of traditional sitting position in practice?

Postby anon500 » Fri Dec 27, 2013 8:21 pm

kitztack, mkoll,

Thank you for your kind words. I will continue to try to open my hips and will try the Burmese position on a zafu when I do attempt to properly "sit". I wonder if Burmese position is less stressful on the knee joints than quarter-lotus, which is another beginner's pose that I utilize. I also like the idea of a seiza as well and may get one. It seems sitting on a seiza bench is a more balanced posture than sitting in a chair since you are balanced centrally rather than having legs forward and torso back when sitting upright.

mkoll - do you sit cross-legged with a zafu? Do you not have too many issues with the bottom foot going numb?
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Re: Importance of traditional sitting position in practice?

Postby Mkoll » Fri Dec 27, 2013 10:13 pm

Dear anon500,

I usually sit in quarter lotus on a zafu which is on a zabuton with the calf of my left leg on top of the calf of my right leg. Usually I get out of this position because of pain in the medial part of my right knee or pain from the meat in the legs being squished for so long. It usually starts around the 45 minute mark.

When I switch the legs, ie with my right on top of my left, the bottom part of the leg below the knee falls asleep after about 20-30 minutes. It falls completely asleep so when I get up it feels like a dead weight and it has no sensation. The return of sensation brings with it quite a bit of pain.

I like to sit the first way because I can sit for longer and there isn't a lot of pain at the end. I would like to sit half-lotus but my ankles aren't flexible enough yet and they get really painful in this position. Not only do our hips needs to be more open, but the ankles need to be very flexible to sit in more advanced lotus positions.

Seiza feels more stable than a chair because there's more surface area of the body in contact with the ground and seat. Personally, I get pain in the right knee pretty quickly so I can sit longer in a chair. YMMV and I suggest trying one out.

:anjali:
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
-SN 12.61

Ex nihilo nihil fit.

Peace,
James
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