In the lessons
in this module you learn the hows and whys of sitting
Positioning your body
To begin with, you will learn how to sit — how
to arrange your legs, adjust your spine, place your
hands, and direct your gaze. It’s important
to be quite careful about following these guidelines,
not because they are rules and not because they will
make you a good meditator, but because they support
you. It's like laying the foundation for a building—if
the foundation is not level and properly lined up,
the whole structure will be shaky.
So even if you have a little trouble getting the
position right, be patient and careful with yourself,
so that you can get settled into a good posture for
sitting instructions you receive in a Soto
Zen center today are remarkably similar
to the instructions Dogen Zenji offered
eight hundred years ago. [Read]
is not to suggest we blindly follow ancient
traditions. Rather we’re doing
something that has been field-tested
for many centuries.
When sitting in zazen a number of positions or postures
are possible. From these you can choose that which
currently works best for you.
Although is it is possible and quite acceptable
to sit on a chair, we will first explore the classic
postures for sitting on the floor. Whichever sitting
posture you use, it is important to sit on a cushion
(zafu). Raising your buttocks off
the floor helps you rest your knees on the ground.
With your buttocks on the cushion and your knees
on the ground, you’re forming a tripod base
which provides stability, as well as helping maintain
a straight back and low center of gravity.
You may want to place the zafu on a
mat (zabuton) or folded blankets — something
to cushion your legs, feet and ankles.
The Lotus position
In classic Buddhist meditation the recommended position
is the lotus position. Place your right foot on your
left thigh, and the left foot on the right,
making sure your heels are drawn up as close to your
abdomen as possible.
I mention this posture first because it offers the
firmest support for the spine and thus helps you
sit in an upright posture for extended periods
of meditation with minimal effort. Sitting in the
lotus position, you’ll
find it less necessary to make corrections to your
position, thus aiding concentration.
force yourself into a painful posture.
That said, it’s quite possible that you may
find this position uncomfortable or downright
impossible, unless you are unusually flexible and
supple or have been practicing yoga for a long time.
force yourself into a painful posture.
Remember that most of us have grown up sitting in
chairs not on the ground. If tightness of your leg
muscles causes severe pain, start with another position.
If you practice steadily, you may loosen up considerably
over time and may want to return to trying full lotus.
|A general rule about
pain: Do it if you feel only mild discomfort,
but don't do it if you feel severe pain.
(We explore pain in Lesson 14.)
Because full lotus is so difficult for most of us,
there are alternative sitting positions.
The half lotus position
Because the half lotus puts less pressure on your
knees and legs., you’ll find it easier than
the full lotus. Place the
left foot on the right thigh but fold the right leg
under the left thigh, resting it on the floor (or
the zabuton). In this position the right hand rests
upon the heel of the left foot, which forms a natural
support for the left hand, which rests palm up.
While sitting in the half lotus position does meet
the basic requirements of forming a tripod with our
buttocks at one point and our knees the other two,
you aren’t as balanced as in the full-lotus,
a tendency for your body to tilt slightly to one
side, which you must then compensate for when you
get into the position.
It’s useful to be aware of the ways that the
half lotus doesn’t provide the stability of
the full lotus so that you can make the necessary
adjustments. Your left knee may tend to rise into
the air, which you can compensate for trying a higher
zafu so that both knees rest solidly upon the floor
or zabuton. As you sit in this postiion, it is important
to tilt your pelvis so that the top of the pelvis
is slanted forward and the base of the pelvis is
slanted toward the rear. This will support your spine.
The Burmese position
In the Burmese position, which is the easlest of
the crossed-leg positions, place the left leg in
front of the right leg, with both feet resting on
the zabuton. In this position the tripod
base is wider, with the knees are just about shoulder-width.
Remember the importance of both knees resting on
the zabuton for stability. The farther you get
from full lotus, the higher the zafu you may need;
you can even try putting one zafu on top of another
for greater height if necessary. If your knees don’t
rest comfortably on the ground, you can try
placing support cushions under your knees. Also you
can try sitting on the forward third of the cushion,
which will distribute your weight onto the knees
The Burmese position is a good position for beginners
as it’s easier to get into and easier on the
legs. Be aware, however, that by providing the least
support for your pelvis and spine, it tends to be
most tiring to the back over a long period of time.
So be more careful with your pelvis, and be alert
for the first signs that
your posture is beginning to slump — feelings
of tension or stiffness in the back — so that
you can correct it.
With practice over time (and with some exercise
to help) you will become more flexible and your body