March 25, 2009

Cushion or Chair?

I used to hear that only wimps gave up the cushion for the chair. But whether because of age or injury or a simple disinclination, many meditators have opted for the chair anyway.

Today I hear teachers routinely tell us that it's just fine to sit in a chair, though usually at the back of the meditation hall, far from the action. I have to admit, I've never been one to do it. When I had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, for instance, I meditated lying down until I healed. I just didn't like the idea of sitting in a chair. But many meditators, for one reason or another, do, and I can't see anything wrong with it. So a few years back, I was receptive when our copy editor, longtime Triker Karen Ready (she predates even me), wrote a practical guide to sitting in a chair, replete with pictures. (She presented other alternatives as well, coming into my office one day with an odd contraption—lots of Velcro and straps—that was supposed to support the lower back. I quickly found myself trying to untangle myself. Not for me.) But if you can't or don't want to sit cross-legged, you can get her practical tips here.

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jjwalker7730's picture

I left the aching leg sect years ago.

Alan's picture

I have spent only seconds, maybe a couple of minutes, in any of the floor postures before my knees and back cried out for relief. So I sit in a chair mostly. I admit that I liked the physical sensation of being low and having more contact with the ground. If I can do more floor postures then I will, but maybe posture is just another aspect of practice that one can become attached to?

Yoshi Imamura's picture

Hi Rob

I've typed the reply to your view------
Though it was not posted. -----I suspect this site might
be censored and any opinion not follow the idea of the adminstrater would be removed before hand.
( such as the address of my own blog spot, has been blanked out as above)

So that if you can, please try my one which is http://
then continue without gap yoshizen dot wordpress
dot com

BlindRob's picture

Yoshi San,

I've looked at your blog and it strikes me that as a person born in a Zen temple you may be able to comment on something: problems people in the west have around sitting on anything but a chair with the legs perpendicular to the ground are often said to be related to our lifetime habits and not the advancement of old age and so on. Supposedly, Japanese folks (for instance) who are not raised that way have no problem with sitting closer to the floor, whether on cushions or on the floor directly. I'm a westerner myself, but practice in my early years seems to bear this out. However, I am assured by modern Japanese that they have much the same problems as anyone else, so what is true, in your experience? I am mindful of a movie I once saw, a comedy, where some modern Japanese, having spent a lifetime on western furniture, are confounded by having to sit on tatami....

Yoshi Imamura's picture

PS;---strange, the blog spot address has disappeared.
any how it called ""

Yoshi Imamura's picture

I like Rob's expression "all be BELOW the ground".
So far we know, below the ground there only be the
earth's structure, and not the hell.
After all. all of us talking about the peace of the mind,
where about the leg is not the big issue.
If the Buddha heard this, he would have just smiled
with out saying single word.

By the way, by chance ( I was not aware the meaning
of a setting, when I registered to the Wordpress)
my Blog spot has been created.
If anybody interested in the DIY approach to the Zen,
please have look:

----I like the coincidence, it might be the Devinne intervention.

BlindRob's picture

I've always hd the idea that our habitual lifting of ourselves high off the ground has made westerners a little off-balance- not just physically but also psychically. I can't quite explain or justify that conviction but to me it somehow makes us feel we are above everything, like the carpet. And, an Indian Buddhist leader who visited my alma mater in my student days (70s) stated that no member of his sect would ever even sleep in a bed lifted above the floor. But hey if you can't do it, you can't do it and sooner or later we will all be BELOW the ground- do what you can while you can!

j's picture

Ross MW Bennetts;
Maitreya is seated in a chair to represent his readiness to descend from Tushita to teach as the next Buddha of this eon.

It is ok to sit in a chair but there are many meditation techniques that specifically require the seven-fold posture.

Yoshi Imamura's picture

Buddhism is one of the most difficult idea to learn, due to its multi layered psychological effects,----unless
you reach there you can't see the next,
and many mixed up with Hinduism.

About the Zen, we need to pay attention to its history or origin.
BodiDharma brought the idea of ancient Yoga to
China and opened the Shaolin Temple from where
the teaching of Zen and martial art (so-called Kung-fu) was started.
This fact signified two important aspects, one is that
the ancient Yoga was not a practice of twisting a body,
(like the one, misconceived and practiced today)
it was the practice to gain the most efficient dynamic
movement of the body (and gain the harmony with
the Dharma which is naturally with in----this idea
conjoined with the idea of Chi in the Chinese Taoism).

And the Zen meditation is to to extend this harmony to
whole aspects of the life.

Derek's picture

I think there is time when one has to draw the line about a sitting position if it is causing pain, or is becoming injurious.

For around 25 years I sat half-lotus. I could not manage full due to having poor blood circulation and varicose veins. I was determined that is was the "right" thing to do and as a therapist, whilst I told my clients a chair was fine for zazen, I felt I just had to set this example.

Through genetic factors I developed a blood clot that became lodged in my heart a few years ago. Because of my centered-ness my pulse and blood pressure remained low as I became one with my pain. Neither I nor my doctors knew I was having a heart attack until a nurse decided to do an ECG, and it was confirmed. I was 6 hours with that clot lodged and my wife explained I practised zazen and they agreed that it must have saved my life. An angiogram showed scaring, but no damage to my arteries.

This episode really made me think about sitting lotus position and I took to the chair. At first it didn't feel "right" - but now it does and mindfulness has developed further. My lotus-sitting I feel had become an ego-thing and mindfulness wherever I may be works for me.

Ross M. W. Bennetts's picture

Maitreya, the future Buddha is quite frequently depicted seated on a chair.

Yoshi Imamura's picture

Buddha abandoned the method torturing the body, and sat down under the tree to meditate and got the answer.
(so to be said,----I wasn't there ) But I found no ancient statures or wall carvings of Buddha or disciples sitting
in the so-called lotus posture. It might be the invention
of far later period (like vegetarianism----Buddha ate
anything which was offered)
You can meditate even while walking. The posture is
just a fashion.
All the high priest of Zen sect, end up on a wheel chair
when they got old, since they tortured their leg too
long too much. Its not natural and not Buddhism.

Rick Woods's picture

I always felt that the attention on the awareness to the present moment had more significant purpose than position of the body.

Monica's picture

I have one of those floor rockers. I can't sit without support due to a bad back, and yet I don't like chairs or having my feet so much lower than by hips. For a long time I sat cross-legged on a zabuton, leaning back against a gomden that was tilted just slightly against the wall.

I still do that when I am at a retreat center, but at home I have my rocker. I found it at Target one day for $15. I don't think they sell this kind anymore, but they sell many others. I like it because the back is adjustable the way old fashioned lawn chairs could be adjusted and because the rockers on the bottom tilt it just right so that I can still fold my feet up under the base without actually having to sit on my legs.

I like it a lot better than the more expensive back-jacks or the little seat that only support the lower back. I need full support. If I lay down, I fall asleep. For those who can't sit unsupported, I recommend a floor rocker, sometimes also called an audio or video rocker. Plus, then you aren't stuck in the back of the room with the naughty kids anymore.