Meditation Forum

Vipassana Meditation Forum => Meditation, Practice And The Path => Topic started by: Mackthefinger on December 03, 2007, 01:05:20 PM

Title: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on December 03, 2007, 01:05:20 PM
Dia duit everyone,

As this is my first post, I guess I should briefly introduce myself before asking questions.

I've been interested in meditation for about 16 years, starting off with a TM course then drifting to
other methods without much discipline. When one didn't work, I'd skip to another; not very fruitful, I know. I've now decided to do a Vipassana retreat in order to teach myself some method and discipline.

So to my question which is a basic one - is there a best way to sit for beginners? Obviously there's no
'easy' way as such, I was just wondering if there was a simple method, just to get your body used to the posture. Others have recommended cushions, seats and something else called 'Seza'? I want to get more from the course than a sore back and crippling knee pain (an old gaelic injury means my knee gets quite
painful if in a difficult position for too long.)

Great forum by the way - I've perused a few of the topics and forums and there's some great information available.

Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 03, 2007, 01:37:22 PM
Hello Mack

Welcome. Glad you are enjoying the forum.

I'm guessing you are in your forties and unless you have and do maintain a high level of overall physical fitness I would recommend doing anything to increase your overall level of physical fitness before attending a retreat. Swimming is particularly good. Meditation is hard work - especially at the beginning.

When it comes to sitting comfortably western bodies unused to lotus posture are going to suffer if they impose it on themselves for ten days as an "introduction". I don't know about the guidelines at Goenka retreats as I haven't attended one but it may be that sitting on a high cushion or even in a chair suits you better.

There is a style of meditation cushion invented by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called a Gomden ("meditation seat" in Tibetan). Without wishing to be rude (and this is not aimed at you) it was designed specifically for fat American asses (Trungpa's Sangha in America are the main users of the cushion):

(https://www.vipassanaforum.net/forum/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.samadhicushions.com%2Fsamadhi%2Fimages%2Fitems%2FC-500.jpg&hash=646b3370d406ffae2308be425220ed23) (http://www.samadhicushions.com/gomdens.html)

If you click on the picture it takes you to Samadhi Cushions website. these cushions are actually really great for the novice sitter. Your hips are a bit lifted, you can sit in a loose and relaxed cross legged posture without attempting full lotus. They are basically big lumps of industrial foam with fancy covers so if you didn't want to buy one you could make one. You could try looking at the dimensions of the cushion and then modelling something the same height and fairly firm (a pile of well folded heavy blankets might do) and try sitting on it for a bit to see if it works for you.

Others may come forward with some specific advice from the Goenka tradition but that is what I know on the subject: In short sitting comfortably is more important than pretending you are a lotus when you aren't.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on December 03, 2007, 02:29:32 PM
Hi TIB,

Am actually in my early thirties with a skinny Irish behind so you're only ten years and a couple of thousand miles out  :) :) No offence taken!!

I do like the look of thon cushion, it might just be what I need. Surely its more important to be focusing on meditative technique rather than battling with bad posture? I'll check into my local spiritual
emporium, see if they have one in stock. Or experiment with blankets, see if that works.
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 03, 2007, 02:45:42 PM
Mack

The blankets are a good way of finding a cushion height that works well for you. Hell, just take a pile of blankets along to sit on if you get comfy!

With the US$ doing what it is doing ordering from the US is quite reasonable. And I am a great believer in DIY: When I went shopping for a little wooden meditation stool I found the local Buddhist centre wanted UK£ 36.00 for one and online they went from £ 30 - 100.

I came home with two hinges and some brass screws from wilkinsons and got my saw and some old wood out. An hour later I had my folding meditation stool. Cost £ 1.86.

So If all else fails go to your local foam cutter/retailer and from an off-cut they will cut you a cushion for pennies. And you can wrap a cloth round it and safety pin it into place - doesn't have to be fancy. Just be sure to get the industrial foam they use for pub seats and stuff as its firmer and tougher. A 20cm high soft cushion and you'll sway around like a drunk at 10pm on a Friday.

Re offence, none meant (either to you or Americans  but the obesity statistics say it all) - glad none taken. They don't call me irreverent for nothing ;) - one day I will tell you a story.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: mettajoey on December 03, 2007, 07:02:05 PM

Re offence, none meant (either to you or Americans  but the obesity statistics say it all) - glad none taken. They don't call me irreverent for nothing ;) - one day I will tell you a story.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew

Well, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say I anxious to hear this story!  ;D
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on December 03, 2007, 07:46:44 PM
Thanks again TIB,

I'm off now to try a few cushions/blankets experiments. Am sure I'll find a suitable position.

Now I'm sitting comfortably, what about that story?  ;)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Stefan on December 03, 2007, 10:10:36 PM
Hello Mack

I was sitting for two days in lotus, half-lotus or simply cross-legged, also tried kneeling, I used cushions and blankets, I built a castle from cushions ... nonetheless after two days my knees were aching badly, no concentration was possible! so I asked the teacher how to overcome the pain ... he told me I should sit in an ordinary plastic chair, and that's what I did! ... no need to be ashamed for western knees (mine are also in the middle thirties and not from america, presumed my mother told me the truth  ;D) ... teacher said that if it was about overcoming the pain, then we'd all have beds of nails. In the meantime, I'm able to sit in half lotus for an hour without pain (not right now due to a vein inflamation) - obviousely it takes time to sit comfortably for looong periods. I wish you good success for your retreat!

Metta to you, Stefan


matthew I'm toooo curious about that story ... maybe I'd understand something afterwards ....
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 04, 2007, 02:07:46 AM
loool if I tell you the story you may never come back   :-X
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Paul on December 04, 2007, 08:43:39 AM
Mackthefinger, in the short term its worth experimenting with meditation stools etc to find which suits you best.  In the long term you might want to do like Stefan, get used to sitting in a half lotus position or whatever you choose little by little.  I started on a stool, but little by little naturally changed to a half lotus position, first for 10 minutes, then 20 and now 1 hour or more.  At first you can watch the TV or read in my chosen meditation posture just to get used to it.  In the long run, you might aim to find a position that you can adopt anytime, anywhere so that when you're out walking you can just find a quiet spot and meditate for a while - in Ireland you're spoilt for choice with places like that  :)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on December 04, 2007, 10:31:40 AM
Paul and Stefan,

Many thanks for your posts. Hopefully on the Vipassana retreat they will have some meditation stools that I can use. At the momment, its just the cross legged position and cushions, and its a constant battle. As the retreat comes closer, my monkey mind is coming up with a myriad of reasons why I'm not going to be able to sit still for ten days, and why I should sit on my comfortable sofa, sup baileys and watch reruns of 'Only fools and horses' christmas specials. But of course I'm more determind than that  ;)

Maybe the teachers will have some advice? I think I'd prefer to sit in a normal western straight back chair
until I'm comfortable with the lotus, half lotus or a stool, but have no idea if this is permissible on a retreat?
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: mettajoey on December 04, 2007, 12:31:06 PM

Maybe the teachers will have some advice? I think I'd prefer to sit in a normal western straight back chair
until I'm comfortable with the lotus, half lotus or a stool, but have no idea if this is permissible on a retreat?

On your application they ask if you have any injuries.  If you mention a problem with your knee they will likely provide you with a chair.  At my retreat they had many, many cushions, pads, kneelers and whatnot to enable one to bear all the time sitting.  I toughed it out too long before I started alternating between cross-legged and a kneeler but I also learned some good lessons about attachments from that battle.  I really worried about all that sitting before hand and also the meager food. 
I still battle with the discomfort of sitting cross-legged but use it as both a catharsis and to help with equanimity.  I swapped for a chair when I got returned for a bit but now I'm back on the floor.  Anicca, anicca... 
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on December 04, 2007, 10:52:18 PM
Silentflute,

Thanks for responding. Its good to know that chairs are hopefully available. My knee is really only a problem if I'm not in the lotus position/half lotus. Cross legged is generally ok (well so far, for the 30 minutes or so I can last at the minute.) The message coming across is that its best to experiment with different postures, but at the same time remember that its not going to be easy and that I can learn a lot from these attachments.

That's interesting what you say about worrying about meagre rations and sitting before you go in; I'm exactly the same. I'm learning a lot about my attachments even before I begin the retreat. The only one that's not bothering me is my nicotine addiction. I find giving up smoking easy, as I've done it many times, but only when I've decided to do it myself. The fact that I'm not allowed to smoke I thought might have made me want to smoke. But not so. Maybe I'll smoke when I leave the retreat, maybe not; but it doesn't seem that big a deal. Maybe its a worry dwarfed by the posture/eating concerns  :)

Many thanks to all for the useful advice so far. I've only been a member since yesterday, and was slightly worried my question was such a basic one - but people have been extemely forthcoming and helpful. Definately good to find such a vibrant community and one that's been able to help with my practical concerns.
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: yadidb on December 05, 2007, 01:09:44 PM
In the first Goenka course i sat in various positions on a castle of cushions.. although my knees and legs would hurt badly after each one hour sitting.. it used to make me laugh hard after getting up because it was so difficult.

during the second course i found the best posture for me is with one pillow, cross legged but no leg on top of the other (burmese style someone said?)

this is quite a comfortable posture and i can sit for one hour without moving without any pain on my knees with this posture, try it out..

although sometimes the butt starts to hurt ;P

hehe..
have a nice one
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Green Tara on December 07, 2007, 03:30:18 PM

 They don't call me irreverent for nothing ;) - one day I will tell you a story.


matthew I'm toooo curious about that story ... maybe I'd understand something afterwards ....



Well, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say I anxious to hear this story!  ;D
Now I'm sitting comfortably, what about that story?  ;)

sooooooooo TIB what is the story !!!!!!
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 07, 2007, 04:15:26 PM
sooooooooo TIB what is the story !!!!!!

How easily the mind begins to speculate! I think I have to put an end to this.

~o~

It happened when I was living in a Buddhist meditation centre in France. We were a small community of residents - around 25 people year round, expanding to 150+ people during big meditation programs and the summer. During the quieter periods there was quite a lot of work to go round between us in terms of housekeeping type jobs alongside our usual roles (we had 25 toilets for a start!).

We had a work meeting every morning and at the Monday meeting each week we volunteered for the housecleaning jobs. There was a fellow member of the community from Holland and she had ideas above her place in the grand scheme of things. Every Monday as soon as the person running the meeting said "let's do the work Rota", Lisa - as I shall call her - would shout out "I'll clean the Shrine rooms". This had gone on for the whole six months she had been a member of the community by the time I got fed up with it.

One particular Monday I decided to take action. When Lisa volunteered to clean the Shrine rooms (meditation halls), I decided to butt in.

"Lisa", I said, "You've been here six months and I have noticed you always volunteer to clean the Shrine rooms. Don't you think it's about time you offered to do one of the dirtier jobs - like cleaning a toilet or something".

"I am the practice co-ordinator", whined Lisa, "I didn't come here to clean. My work is too important. I don't need to spend my time cleaning toilets".

"Well Lisa, it's like this", said I, "every day you use the toilets and every day someone cleans them. I make a point of volunteering to clean at least one bathroom a week because we all have to take turns at things or the community won't work. Basically Lisa I am fed up of cleaning your shit off the toilet and noticing you never volunteer to take your turn. I think you should clean some shitty toilets like the rest of us do".

At this point Lisa started shouting and so did about twenty other people. A great hullabaloo began. After about two or three minutes of everyone shouting at each other one of the Directors of the centre decided to calm things down. This woman had no idea of how to achieve anything however so rather than trying to achieve a sensible resolution she tried using a Buddhist saying as a platitude and excuse:

"I am sure it's fine if Lisa cleans the Shrine room", she shouted over everyone to quiet them, "After all - it's all one taste".

After a moments silence I stood as if to leave and said, "excellent - if it's all one taste I am sure no one minds if I go and take a shit on the shrine - that way Lisa can take her turn at cleaning up other people's shit like any normal person would".

~o~ brief interlude for world war three to commence ~o~

Once world war three calmed down (that took ten minutes or so), the guy running the meeting shut everyone up, turned to Lisa and asked "Lisa, which toilet would you like to clean?"

~o~

And that is how Lisa came to clean toilets and I came to be called "The Irreverent Buddhist".

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: mettajoey on December 07, 2007, 04:32:40 PM
Ha! That's a great story.  Maybe irreverent but certainly not irrelevant.
And we really haven't gotten too far off topic!
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Stefan on December 07, 2007, 04:48:03 PM
Now I'm sure this is the right forum for me ...

 :D :D :D , Stefan

PS.: I think Lisa was the one who acted irreverent!
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Stefan on December 15, 2007, 01:22:22 PM
... and I forgot to say:

"Very Well Done, Tara!

(...hmmm, Green Tara ... also an interesting story there? .... hmmm, Silentflute ..... hmmm ...)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Green Tara on December 15, 2007, 07:46:35 PM
... and I forgot to say:

"Very Well Done, Tara!

I was in the army so I know how to get stories out of people.  8)

(...hmmm, Green Tara ...

I am afraid it is a story that can't be told.
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 15, 2007, 09:00:19 PM
I was in the army so I know how to get stories out of people.  8)

I'm a storyteller ... Sooo ... I know how to make people want to get them out of me ;)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 15, 2007, 09:02:11 PM
Now I'm sure this is the right forum for me ...

Glad you worked that out ! :D :D :D

PS.: I think Lisa was the one who acted irreverent!

She certainly revered herself greatly. In that she was certainly irreverent regarding truth.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Green Tara on December 15, 2007, 11:18:16 PM
[I'm a storyteller ... Sooo ... I know how to make people want to get them out of me ;)

TIB One Tara Nil
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 17, 2007, 07:33:31 AM
[I'm a storyteller ... Sooo ... I know how to make people want to get them out of me ;)

TIB One Tara Nil

No .. it's not a contest ... everybody having a laugh. Sooo .. what did you do in the army? I love women in uniforms  8)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Stefan on December 17, 2007, 10:13:36 AM
I love women in uniforms

Hah! I "met" a woman in uniform at the border to Czech Republik ... wanna bet you wouldn't love her at all?  :P
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 17, 2007, 04:45:54 PM
In Israel every bus has many beautiful young Israeli soldiers with machine guns, sun glasses and sexy asses. I like Israel.

:)
Title: Re: Are you shitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on December 19, 2007, 10:15:50 PM
Ah, great story TIB, worth waiting for.
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on December 19, 2007, 10:35:04 PM
Ah, great story TIB, worth waiting for.

And how apt that the story comes out in a thread called "Are you sitting comfortably" ... which is what people say to kids before they read them stories.

:)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on January 07, 2008, 06:42:04 PM
Happy new year to one and all,

Thanks to everyone for their sitting suggestions. I've just today finished a ten day retreat and
thought I'd add an update on my posture problems.

Before I went, I decided I was making too much of the posture thing; creating another problem in my
mind, another reason why I should cancel the course until later (learn yoga, buy/build a stool/cushion).
I came to the conclusion I'd walk into the hall, sit down on what was available and see what happened.

And what happened was mostly agony; the back, the knees, the hips. It got progressively worse, until on
day seven I could take no more, and got a seat. One I could sit in. And then moved between the seat and
the floor, when I felt able. This definately worked, giving my body a necessary break. I even managed to
do the hour of human torture!  ;D

The last few times certainly haven't been as bad, so I think the body does eventually adopt. And it certainly helps with focus.
 In the long term, I'm certainly going to experiment with stools, yoga etc and see what works.
 It was much harder in the hall, and I spent tooooooooo much time futtering with cushions blankets etc to find the most comfortable position.

It was a nuisance, but it didn't detract from the course, which was a wonderful experiance.
Am now off for some cushion fumbling in the half lotus position, looking forward to my first post
retreat sitting  ;D
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: mettajoey on January 07, 2008, 07:40:36 PM
Congrats on finishing the course!

The struggle for equanimity in spite of the discomfort can be a revealing experience.

It'll be interesting to hear about some of your experiences.  I found transitioning back to the "real" world took a bit of doing.  Or at least, incorporating all the changes I wanted to make and processing all that occurred.



Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Green Tara on January 07, 2008, 08:06:01 PM
Happy new year to one and all,

Happy new year to you too Mackthefinger

I even managed to do the hour of human torture!  ;D

I know EXACTLY what you mean, and yes if you keep at it your body will get use to the posture and you will do that hour voluntarily without moving an inch.
Keep us posted.  :)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on January 07, 2008, 08:32:32 PM
Mack,

So glad to hear this was a positive experience, if painful at times. You faced it head on and will always be glad you did.

May your practice flourish through the new year.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on January 14, 2008, 10:42:34 PM
Congrats on finishing the course!

The struggle for equanimity in spite of the discomfort can be a revealing experience.

It'll be interesting to hear about some of your experiences.  I found transitioning back to the "real" world took a bit of doing.  Or at least, incorporating all the changes I wanted to make and processing all that occurred.

Transitioning back to the real world was quite odd actually, one I'd never considered. The first was the cacophony of human voices after the course ended - I found it quite overwhelming and ran to a quiet place.
Leaving, I went to a supermarket for a newspaper and coffee and that too was quite strange. Things seemed to be in slo-mo, and the amount of choice available left me a bit distracted.

Easing myself back into the real world, I took a few days off work and went to a quiet place in the North West
of Ireland at the foot of a mountain. I've a dear dear friend up there, a Vipassana veteran, and she was great with words of advice and herbal tea.

I know EXACTLY what you mean, and yes if you keep at it your body will get use to the posture and you will do that hour voluntarily without moving an inch.
Keep us posted.  :)


The posture thing continues to bug me. I can do short bursts of 15 minutes before the pain takes over. As long as I can keep my composure and stretch my legs, it works ok. I realise I could use a chair, but I tend to fall asleep. I'll keep trying to turn 15 minutes into 30, then 25 etc....small steps.
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on January 15, 2008, 07:33:19 AM
Mack,

If using a chair it is important to sit upright and not use the back for support.

M
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on January 15, 2008, 01:32:37 PM
Mack,

If using a chair it is important to sit upright and not use the back for support.

M

Amazingly, I'd never thought of that. I guess its just something I've been doing automatically.Cheers Matthew.
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Matthew on January 15, 2008, 01:41:06 PM
Mack,

If using a chair it is important to sit upright and not use the back for support.

M

Amazingly, I'd never thought of that. I guess its just something I've been doing automatically.Cheers Matthew.

Good way to sleep ... as you've discovered poor way to meditate :D
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Paul on January 15, 2008, 03:05:11 PM
Hi Mack, if youi get unconfortable or sleepy you can always try a little walking or even standing meditation.  The value of walking meditation is generally under estimated, and you can also just stand and meditate.  When you stand and meditate you'll notice that your concentration changes slightly - its interesting to see what happens.
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Mackthefinger on January 15, 2008, 10:54:17 PM
Hi Mack, if youi get unconfortable or sleepy you can always try a little walking or even standing meditation.  The value of walking meditation is generally under estimated, and you can also just stand and meditate.  When you stand and meditate you'll notice that your concentration changes slightly - its interesting to see what happens.

Thanks Paul,

I've just discovered your post on walking meditation on another thread and will give it a lash during my lunchtime breaks. Now, if I can only turn that pesky mp3 off and get some silence with it  :)
Title: Re: Are you sitting comfortably?
Post by: Paul on January 16, 2008, 10:11:59 AM
Hi Mack, I hope your walking meditation goes well and you manage to forget the mp3 player  ;)  I swear by it these days...