Sleeping legs, aching back ... some tips.

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39074

    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 first link to this book on posture during Zazen ...

    Hi, I would like to recommend a book about, and entitled, "THE POSTURE OF MEDITATION" (by Will Johnson). http://www.amazon.com/Posture-Meditation-Will-Johnson/dp/1570622329/ref=pd_sim_b_1 I believe that its philosophy of finding a sitting posture is very much as we encourage here at Treeleaf, namely, we each have


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

    My friend, the late Rev. Nonin Chowaney (Nebraska Zen Center), wrote 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
    Last edited by Jundo; 02-19-2023, 07:26 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE
  • Hōkan
    Member
    • Mar 2021
    • 83

    #2
    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...

    Comment

    • Jundo
      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
      • Apr 2006
      • 39074

      #3
      Originally posted by Hōkan
      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.

      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,


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

      Hi, I would like to recommend a book about, and entitled, "THE POSTURE OF MEDITATION" (by Will Johnson). http://www.amazon.com/Posture-Meditation-Will-Johnson/dp/1570622329/ref=pd_sim_b_1 I believe that its philosophy of finding a sitting posture is very much as we encourage here at Treeleaf, namely, we each have


      Another recent editorial by me on posture ...

      https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...-Misunderstood
      Dear All, Over the coming days, I will be looking at common misunderstandings regarding Soto Zen as a "practice of the body" and embodiment. We will begin today with the notion that Zazen must be sat with "perfect posture," ideally in the full or half Lotus Position. Some teachers assert that a perfectly


      Gassho, Jundo

      SatTodayLAH
      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

      Comment

      • Hōkan
        Member
        • Mar 2021
        • 83

        #4
        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...

        Comment

        • GrasshopperMan17
          Member
          • Jan 2021
          • 85

          #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

          Comment

          • Jundo
            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
            • Apr 2006
            • 39074

            #6
            Originally posted by GrasshopperMan17
            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

            Comment

            • bya
              Member
              • Feb 2012
              • 24

              #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

              Comment

              • Hōkan
                Member
                • Mar 2021
                • 83

                #8
                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, 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...

                Comment

                • Anchi
                  Member
                  • Sep 2015
                  • 556

                  #9
                  Thank you

                  Gassho
                  Life itself is the only teacher.
                  一 Joko Beck


                  STLah
                  安知 Anchi

                  Comment

                  • Hōkan
                    Member
                    • Mar 2021
                    • 83

                    #10
                    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, 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...

                    Comment

                    • Myojin
                      Member
                      • Feb 2023
                      • 229

                      #11
                      I've been doing some sort of meditation for years, at least twice I've sat for an hour straight, but mostly it's been under 20 minutes, I used to sit in seiza, in such a way that the bodyweight is evenly distributed between the knees and the ankles, forming a triangle so to speak, but injury means that this is no longer possible, even with a seiza bench do to the hyperextension of the knee. I usually sit in half lotus because I'm not as flexible as I might be, and I actually dislocated my right knee a few years back, so I have to be careful not to put too much pressure there of the knee can become inflamed.

                      I only started doing consistently longer (20-30+ minutes) in the last few years when I started using zazen type sitting methods. I've yet to find a way around numbness at around 20-25 minutes, often with complete loss of sensation, such that I can't actually stand, once it goes beyond 30 minutes.

                      I find having quite a high zafu helps a little, it's more stable, and after ten minutes or so the body settles and relaxes into the posture, although this is also the point when any imbalance in my posture will become apparent.

                      I've tried shifting on the zafu, the Burmese posture (which sort of helps), but once the sensation goes the only thing I can do is actually get off the cushion and shake the leg about until the sensation comes back and I can stand. Sitting on a chair doesn't really help as it just lacks the stability, and lying down just turns it into an opportunity to sleep, so I've yet to find a satisfactory solution except to sit shorter time periods, which is a shame because it takes 20 minutes just for the mind to get into the groove of sitting.

                      Sattdy

                      Dan
                      Last edited by Myojin; 03-19-2023, 09:21 AM.

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