Nov 12, 2007

Sitting seiza is not comfortable

One of the most difficult things about chado is sitting seiza for long periods of time. I have written about my struggles with sitting on my knees and suffering with the cramps, the pain and the numbness that comes from sitting seiza. Often, it is the moving after sitting that is more painful as the circulation brings back the familiar sensation of needles to the feet and ankles. One must be very careful getting up after sitting if the feet are completely numb. It is dangerous and I have seen people break ankles and not know it because there was absolutely no feeling in the legs below the knee from sitting seiza. As I am getting older, too, the stiffness is getting worse in my joints and I cannot move as easily as I could when I was younger.

I tell my students that want to sit for longer periods of time, that one must sit every day. Even if it is just for a few minutes watching TV, working up to longer and longer periods of time. There are also subtle ways of wiggling toes and ankles to keep the circulation going so that they don't fall asleep. Correct posture helps, and also it has become a little easier as I have lost 10-15 pounds recently. There are also sitting stools, seats, cushions and benches that take the pressure off the ankles and allow sitting for longer periods.

I remember how one of my sensei told a student to practice sitting seiza in the bath tub. He tried it and found it extremely painful to sit on the porcelain of the tub. He just figured that by comparison, sitting on tatami was softer than porcelain. When he told her that now he was grateful for the suggestion to sit in the tub, because now sitting on tatami, though still uncomfortable for him, it was better than on the cold porcelain of the bathtub. She had forgot to tell him to fill the tub with hot water. That it would loosen his muscles and joints, and the water would buoy up some of his weight.

I sit seiza when I do zazen, or sitting meditation, rather than in the cross legged or half lotus position. First of all you cannot sit in cross legged position in kimono, and I can now sit for longer periods of time in seiza than I can in most other positions.

The point of all this? I think that training my body to sit seiza is training to endure being uncomfortable. I am so addicted to comfort that most of the time I will go out of my way or do most anything to avoid being uncomfortable. Sitting seiza is a reminder to me that being uncomfortable is not fatal to my existence, and may even bring about some kind of realization. By avoiding discomfort, what kind of decisions am I making that I also avoid experiencing life to the fullest? I find that I can be uncomfortable and still be aware and present to what is going on around me. I find that I can still be uncomfortable and still carry on with what I am doing. That I can no longer use discomfort as an excuse not to do something that needs to be done.

You can get my specially designed portable meditation seat to help you sit seiza for longer periods of time at

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