Jul 31, 2007

Sitting seiza, the bane of tea students

Studying traditional chanoyu takes place in a tatami mat room. The proper way to sit is seiza. To sit in seiza, first kneel on the floor, and then rest the buttocks on your heels, with the tops of the feet flat on the floor. The hands are sometimes folded modestly in the lap and sometimes placed palm down on the upper thighs with the fingers close together. The back is kept straight, though not unnaturally stiff. Traditionally, women sit with the knees one fist width apart, while men sit with two fist widths of distance between the knees. The big toes may rest side by side or are sometimes overlapped. Some martial arts, notably kendo and iaido also use seiza position and also can be used for sitting meditation or zazen.

While practice, exercises and experience make it more comfortable to move around in the Tea room sitting seiza, for long periods of time, can be quite painful or your feet fall completely asleep and become dead weights making it difficult and dangerous to get up and walk.

At first for me, it was hard to pay attention to anything else while my feet and legs were screaming at me in pain. I tried sitting in the bathtub with warm water. I tried stretching exercises, holding my breath and many other techniques to get the pain to stop. One day I asked my sempai (a senior student), who could sit for days without apparent pain, “When will the pain in my legs go away?” He told me that the pain never goes away, but after a while you won’t mind it so much. After a very long time of thinking hard about this, I became aware that in resisting the pain in my legs, I was filling my mind up with the struggle to resist the pain. That left little room in my mind to pay attention to what was going on in the Tea room. More and more, I am able to “not mind the pain so much” and to notice a lot more of what is going on around me.

For those who want to sit in seiza, but find the pressure too much on feet and ankles, I developed a little, portable meditation seat. It comes in a compact carrying case that doubles as a seat cushion. You can find it here at SweetPersimmon.com.

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