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Zazen Posture

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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Meido on Thu Jul 30, 2015 4:36 pm

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the comments. I'd be happy if the pics are helpful for someone. I wouldn't want folks to think that they need to align perfectly with an imaginary, absolute line since everyone is different. But the idea behind the line is that it might help the eye see how widely postures can vary, and also how misaligned postures fight a losing battle against gravity, cut off the breathing and so on.

In other words: we all have a center line at each moment. The question is whether or not it is in harmony with our structure. Looking at this could also reveal how we can constantly work to refine posture and breath in daily activity.

If someone wants to try it out, it can be interesting to place a vertical line on a mirror with tape, or to hang a plumb bob of some kind from it, and then to look at one's reflection and experiment with alignment, weight distribution and so on using that as a guide.

~ Meido
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Monk Rob on Fri Jul 31, 2015 3:44 am

Muchas gracias!
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby merella on Fri Jul 31, 2015 1:18 pm

Hi Meido,

Thanks for the images, very helpful.

I think I usually end up in a position like the first photo. I like to sit on the edge of the cushion and that might give me a tendency to somewhat push the abdomen forward.

Your "proper" photo looks very grounded like maybe you're sitting in the center of the cushion. Is that correct?

I'm glad you put this information out. There seems to be alot of mention of focusing on the hara but not much information on the physical side of actually doing it.

My sitting seems to be a constant balancing act between body, breath and mind.

Gassho,

Mark
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby ed blanco on Fri Jul 31, 2015 2:13 pm

I just went through this.
With help, I've adjusted the small of my back, as you clearly show here, placing slight pressure on abdomen which does bring out the hare; and have been pushing the top of my head up and dropping shoulder somewhat back, then relaxing into it
Much better.
Also the chin slightly tucked in has helped with mind focus.
Thank you Meido and all here.
:O:
ps I got the photo to the Koninji entrance. Love the blue haze. Did you take it?
The place looks really good.
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Meido on Fri Jul 31, 2015 2:54 pm

merella wrote:I think I usually end up in a position like the first photo. I like to sit on the edge of the cushion and that might give me a tendency to somewhat push the abdomen forward.

Your "proper" photo looks very grounded like maybe you're sitting in the center of the cushion. Is that correct?

I'm glad you put this information out. There seems to be alot of mention of focusing on the hara but not much information on the physical side of actually doing it.

My sitting seems to be a constant balancing act between body, breath and mind.


Merella, I'm actually sitting on the edge of the cushions in the photos, which is what we would instruct. The pelvis alignment changes everything.

One interesting thing: a lot of folks who sit with too much curve in the low back do so, I theorize, because they've read Zen books which advise them to "push the hips forward". The problem with that is most people think the iliac crests are their hips, which are too high. The word translated as "hips" in many books by Japanese authors is probably koshi, which actually refers to the entire hip and low back area. End result: words meant to advise the sitter to settle and put strength in the lower trunk, like one might do when pushing a heavy object, are taken to mean exactly the opposite: tilt the top of the pelvis forward. A really unfortunate misunderstanding/mistranslation.

ed blanco wrote:ps I got the photo to the Koninji entrance. Love the blue haze. Did you take it?


Glad to hear the photos have helped, Ed.

I did take the photo of the Korinji gate. I'm not good at photography, but the quality of the place seems to cause things to arrange themselves well :)

~ Meido
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby merella on Fri Jul 31, 2015 3:49 pm

Hi Meido,

Thanks for the response. Once the lower trunk is settled do you find the movement of the hara is a rising and falling or an inward and outward motion?

I heard a talk by Jakusho Kwong where he said a good way to focus on the hara is to imagine the breath coming through the mudra as opposed to coming through your nose. I've worked with this technique but it seems like I'm pushing with the lower adomen and as a result the breath flow doesn't really feel natural.

I've been sitting for years but a comfortable form of lower abdominal breathing is one I'm still trying to figure out.

Thanks for your help.

Mark
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Meido on Fri Jul 31, 2015 4:27 pm

Hi Mark,

I would say that as a minimum for sitting, folks need to be diaphragmatic breathers i.e. the belly should move freely, expanding outward with inhalation and falling/relaxing inward with exhalation. There should be no up-and-down movement of the shoulders. Of course if a very deep breath is taken, the chest will expand also, but a breath of that depth is not required in zazen...and even in that case, the movement should originate in the abdomen and cascade upward.

This is not any kind of special Zen breathing, it's just normal human breathing when the body is aligned and relaxed. Uncommon enough these days, though, so there are exercises to re-learn it if need be.

The so-called "hara breathing", however, is not a natural breathing but one that needs to be learned and cultivated. It involves a specific usage of the diaphragm and pelvic floor, and exhibits a steady fullness or expansion of the hara/koshi that does not "deflate" with exhalation. It's difficult to learn except in person, and incorrect practice can cause problems. Straining or using physical power incorrectly is perhaps the most common error. However general description of it with some nice diagrams can be found in Omori Sogen's Introduction to Zen Training, which is available on Amazon. We have a variety of exercises here which impart it in a gradual manner.

The kind of visualization using the mudra you mention could be useful, I guess, to bring energy down if it rises up...maybe similar to concentrating on the soles of the feet, which is another method for that. But it is does not impart the physical method of hara breathing.

In general, unless someone has had specific instruction regarding breathing from his/her teacher, I would always advise to just cultivate natural diaphragmatic breathing...and not only for sitting, since it is important for health.

~ Meido
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby merella on Fri Jul 31, 2015 4:40 pm

Thanks Meido. Appreciate the response.

Gassho,

Mark
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Michaeljc on Sat Aug 01, 2015 3:44 am

gymnastics.jpg
BrookeUN.jpg


The issue of hip rotation and spine profile interests me. I will throw in my cent’s worth for discussion purposes only.

Some time back in this forum I was pretty much shouted down over the concave profile in the lower back, that - logically - is directly related to the hip structure rotation. Should a vertical and balanced posture be maintained, the loins must become more concave as the hips are rotated forward.
In the past posts I was suggesting that the loins can be allowed to go to a maximum concave profile, at which time they lock in a very strong position in which the sitter can relax fully i.e. the back does not require any muscular support. Logically too, the hips simply cannot rotate any further forward as the spine will not allow it. I made the point that as a weight lifter lifts, the loins are allowed to go to a maximum concave position. Admittedly, in their case the profile is supported to some extent by muscles, but, the loins are not held in straight alignment.

I made this point primarily though my own experience in which I simply allow the belly to push out and the loins to concave to maximum, relaxing downward. While there are constant reports of back pain during Zazen I have never suffered from this. Therefore, I felt that my argument had some merit.

However, time allows one to think. I came to realise that we have very different degrees of suppleness in the back. I considered gymnasts. It became clear that some people would end up with too much hip structure rotation as their supple backs allow them to be excessively concave in the loins. These are probably the people who suffer from back pain as to adopt more moderately concave loins there has to be some muscular support.
Our original argument probably occurred through comparing apples with oranges. Weight lifters and the likes of myself who have done a lot of physical work develop different physiologies to the likes of gymnasts or office workers. Youth and associated suppleness also has a bearing.

Sometimes, being old and stiff has its advantages :)
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby macdougdoug on Thu May 12, 2016 6:30 pm

Image

Just back from a sesshin at my local monastery (Soto zen, Deshimaru lineage) where I was surprised to find 2 senior monks instructing people to sit on the edge of the zafu and to let the pelvis fall over the edge whilst tilting naturally forward. This would (as in fig. A) encourage the lower back to exagerate its natural arch. Which very much goes against my Qi gong and Osteopathy instilled beliefs. If I understand Meido correctly, he teaches the opposite (which makes me happy) - however Michaeljc may well be encouraging the arched back? (which worries me).

Are people being taught to sit correctly? Is correct just due to tradition (with some errors adopted over the years?) What did Buddha have to say about this? (Ha ha)
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Meido on Fri May 13, 2016 4:06 am

Right or wrong aside (and I know next to nothing about Deshimaru or his groups) it's sometimes a good exercise to look at postures - including photos of our own - and start to develop an eye or feel for them.

Does the posture appear stable/grounded? Energetic movement up, down?
Does it appear as an adopted surface form, or something emerging organically from within?
It is alive with a feeling of dynamic potential movement within stillness, or static/dead (even if so-called "correct"?)
Does one's own body feel good looking at it?
Would you want to sit in the room with that person?
Etc.

Nice also to look at teachers and students. If the two people trained together extensively, we can often see some thread. Of course many factors go into this, and everyone is different.

Deshimaru, younger and older:

Deshimaru.jpg


taisen-deshimaru-27-(1).jpg



One of his teachers, Kodo Sawaki:

kodo-sawaki.jpg


1408504705786.jpg
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Nothing on Mon May 23, 2016 7:39 pm

Thank you Meido for the pics. Very helpful reminders.

Comparing the pics of correct posture that Meido posted and those of Deshimaru, to me it looks that the Deshimaru posture is like or similar to the posture in the first picture of Meido's initial post, but I could be wrong.


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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby macdougdoug on Tue May 24, 2016 6:39 pm

I asked my osteopath about this issue the other day and she muddied the water a little more. She came down neither in favour of figure A nor fig. B but in favour of the middle way aka balance.

She compares the pelvis to a big bowl of water, with a range of movement which can either spill water out forwards or backwards, and that we should try not to spill either way by balancing in the middle. (Most folks tend to arch the back and spill their bowl out the front)

This works for me, although I'll have to straighten out and change my habit of sitting too much like in fig. B - But I am only interested in posture so much as to do no harm, or the least harm. Zazen being nothing special, merely essentiel.
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Meido on Tue May 24, 2016 7:20 pm

My understanding of figures A and B is that they both show aberration i.e. excessive lordosis in A, and slouching in B. The proper posture will indeed be neutral and balanced, which is to say that the downward extension created when muscles of the entire lower trunk are relaxed balances an upward extension through the crown.

For most people the problem is excessive lordosis, so we often stress letting the sacrum drop, i.e. learning to release the habitual low back tension. There are some, however, whose issue is slouching; for those folks, upward extension is stressed. There are many other factors besides pelvic alignment, of course. For example, without proper use of the breath no correct posture will be sustainable for the periods of time required in practice. If head or arm alignment is off, it will throw off the rest. Incorrect angle of the body will do the same. Wrong cushion size (and the correct size will change for most people over time) throws everything off. And so on.

Generally speaking, I would say that we must understand that correct zazen posture is not sought because it is "good" healthy posture, traditional, or aesthetically pleasing (though of course it is all those things). Simply put, it is a yogic asana which has been used for millennia because it has specific effects on the body, mind, breath and energetic cultivation. Zen is a rapid, very direct path precisely because it engages, and is accomplished through, the body using such methods. Such a path still requires a tremendously great deal of practice over years, of course.

~ Meido
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Michaeljc on Wed May 25, 2016 7:04 am

There is also the issue of how full lotus tends to lock the hips and lower back more than any other form (IMO)

The less demanding the physical position the more we need to to attend to the spinal profile (?)

As my knees are now past any form of cushion practice I am now in a chair. Its not the same but can still do the job. I was pleased to learn this

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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby desert_woodworker on Wed May 25, 2016 5:31 pm

Kudos, Michael.

Michaeljc wrote:As my knees are now past any form of cushion practice I am now in a chair. Its not the same but can still do the job. I was pleased to learn this

BTW, the teacher here at the relatively new Zen Buddhist sangha, "Upaya Tucson", uses a chair at all our sangha sits, Sensei Al. He injured the knees as a basketball player, I understand, years ago, Dr. Al Kazniak, Sensei. He is Dharma heir of Joan Halifax, Roshi.

So, you've got good company, Michael! ;-)

It seems that chair-zazen can get you to the place of being a teacher (if you're not careful). ;)

(me, I still enjoy a rather close-weave half-lotus, only because it's the most comfortable for me. And maybe I'm attached to it, or vice versa).

:Namaste:,

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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Meido on Wed May 25, 2016 7:40 pm

No problem at all to use chairs, or anything else. We have to work with our conditions.

Myself, I originally could only sit in seiza (kneeling) or agura (Burmese) for a few years. After that I could sit in half- but not full lotus for about 20 years, because I was doing a lot of fairly severe physical activity (too tight, frequent injuries). Only in the past few years was I able to use full lotus well, and understand for myself why it is preferred when possible.

These are all just methods. If we truly grasp in our bodies their purpose, then naturally we will be able to figure out how to best utilize whatever sitting method fits our changing conditions right now.

And then, when we become comfortable and develop some degree of mastery using whatever method we use, hopefully someone will give us a sharp kick.

~ Meido
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Korinji monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺]: http://www.korinji.org
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Michaeljc on Wed May 25, 2016 11:29 pm

Meido wrote:No problem at all to use chairs, or anything else. We have to work with our conditions.

Myself, I originally could only sit in seiza (kneeling) or agura (Burmese) for a few years. After that I could sit in half- but not full lotus for about 20 years, because I was doing a lot of fairly severe physical activity (too tight, frequent injuries). Only in the past few years was I able to use full lotus well, and understand for myself why it is preferred when possible.

These are all just methods. If we truly grasp in our bodies their purpose, then naturally we will be able to figure out how to best utilize whatever sitting method fits our changing conditions right now.

And then, when we become comfortable and develop some degree of mastery using whatever method we use, hopefully someone will give us a sharp kick.

~ Meido


Meido

Yes, one should not observe others at sesshin but I am guilty. I have notice that in many cases those with strongly developed and tuned muscles can really struggle on the cushion
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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby desert_woodworker on Wed May 25, 2016 11:52 pm

My Dad used to tell the story of "Joe Rose":

"Joe Rose sat on a tack;
Joe Rose."


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Re: Zazen Posture

Postby Nothing on Thu May 26, 2016 12:47 pm

Few years ago I could not sit in burmese even, I was not flexible at all, but after many tries and with help of yoga exercise, burmese became comfortable recently (still not flexible enough, more work need to be done). I have problem with the right knee ( genetics and sports) if sit longer than half hour, not while I sit, but after sitting I have strong pain, when contracting the knee while walking after I stand up, although I always stretch and massage after the sitting. So sometimes when I do consecutive sittings I alternate between burmese and chair, at least until I do not find solution for the knee pain. :)

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