Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

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Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby mrtanqueray » Sun Jul 21, 2013 7:52 pm

Hello everybody,

While this is not specific to Nyingma we all sit and I think it would be good if we could share some information on this topic.

I'd like to get an idea about how many people experience back complications from sitting in full lotus for 1 hour plus on a daily basis. The internet is full of articles about how full lotus is great for your back/joints/credit but I suspect many of the people writing those articles don't actually sit in full lotus regularly and for long periods. So, of those of you who sit in full lotus for an hour plus a day, any chronic tightness or other maladies of note in the lower back?

A little bit of background behind this survey. I started sitting about 7 years ago, and have sat for a couple of hours daily until this February. During that time my back was constantly tight, I didn't attribute it to meditation at the time but when I stopped sitting regularly I noticed my back slowly corrected itself. I should pre-empt some comments about posture, my posture is good, and so is my cushion. In my case I think it has to do with scar tissue in my back from a fall when I was young but it could be more widespread, which is what I'm trying to find out. Your reports are greatly appreciated!
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Lhug-Pa » Sun Jul 21, 2013 8:19 pm

Well I haven't been sitting in Full-Lotus for long enough to know whether it has contributed to my back pain or not; but Hatha Yoga, Yantra Yoga, or at least some stretching like the Paschimottanasana everyday is recommended for loosening & strengthening the back muscles and for keeping the back & body limber in general. Of course many reliable teachers say that as long as you keep your back straight, the Seven-Point Vairochana Posture (Full-Lotus) isn't necessary for practice; and, if you can do it, the Full-Lotus has many secondary benefits which simply sitting with back straight does not have.
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby mrtanqueray » Sun Jul 21, 2013 8:33 pm

Thank you for your reply Lhung-pa,

It's true that full-lotus is not a pre-requisite to do sitting mediation by any means, that being said, once you've experienced the benefits it's definitely something that one would want to give up.

It seems as though it's not having any kind of detrimental effect on your back with your current sitting regimen. If something does develop please post back here, or if not that would be useful information too! Finally your suggestion for stretching is very sane, and a good one.
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Monsoon » Sun Jul 21, 2013 9:57 pm

There is a small niggling concern I have about back pain and sitting meditation, and it's this: your back (spine, muscles, as well as associated viscera) are not designed or structured to remain immobile for lengthy periods of time. Nearly all ancient exercise regimes (I'm thinking physical yoga, Daoist qigong etc) place great emphasis on keeping the back mobile, supple and healthy. In the Western medical paradigm we have finally shifted from the idea of immobilising the back when it has been injured and are now advocating (well past the time of ancient thought!) for patients to keep the back in motion.

All things considered it would seem that sitting meditation, in any position, is contraindicated for back health unless you keep your back in optimal health. Tough call though.
Let peace reign!

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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Jul 22, 2013 6:25 am

Sitting cross legged or lotus for long periods of time is not great for your back. I find Kundalini yoga type exercises are great for the strain that meditation puts on ones lower back. I don't know about anyone else but I find that sitting as I do (only 30-40m a day usually) actually screws me up if I am not getting some kind of mobility exercise for my lower back, I have good posture when sitting as well.

Monsoon has it right IMO, generally we just aren't designed to be still for long periods. The one exception I think of to this is standing Qigong postures like holding the tree, where the spine is almost stacked straight, even then, there is a kind of muscular exertion involved to hold oneself up.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Luke » Mon Jul 22, 2013 8:59 pm

I can't even get close to sitting in full lotus posture, but I just wanted to suggest that maybe doing basic exercises with weights to strengthen your lower back, such as the stiff-legged deadlift or the "good morning," might be helpful to aleviate back pain. After I injured my lower back, I found that doing good mornings with light weights flushed my entire back with warm blood and made it feel awesome! I have lifted weights for a long time, and I have never ever felt any back pain during any meditation retreat.

http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Ere ... dlift.html
http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Ere ... rning.html

You could simply use a bag full of books held in front of you or behind your head as the weight (we Buddhists have no shortage of books do we... lol). You could do something like 4 sets of 10 reps of one of these exercises every 3 or 4 days.

Although I know that doing conventional western exercises doesn't seem "cool" in many Buddhist circles because they seem to go against the soft, relaxed, Buddhist hippie stereotype ("Dude, that exercise isn't chilled out enough and it's not mysterious and eastern enough... and my vegan dog would never forgive me if he saw me doing barbell exercises!" lol). But sometimes basic weight exercises can be very helpful.

Anyway, I hope that people with back problems will find good solutions for them. :smile:
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Monsoon » Tue Jul 23, 2013 2:31 am

Johnny D. wrote:

The one exception I think of to this is standing Qigong postures like holding the tree, where the spine is almost stacked straight, even then, there is a kind of muscular exertion involved to hold oneself up.


Differences exist between sitting meditation and static standing meditation. In the first, the spine is held erect over a mostly unyielding base (one's butt!). In the second, although the spinal shape may be the same it is now resting on a base (pelvic region) that is further supported by the legs (which are bent and not locked). This adds an extra dimension of shock-absorption and an increase in postural sway that is less marked when sitting meditating.

In performing standing meditation (zhan zhuang) it should be noted that emphasis is placed on two additional practices - Sung, the mindful relaxation (softening, not slackness) of the joints and muscles, and correct abdominal breathing. Part of the reasoning behind this is to slightly elevate the oxygen intake and encourage the use of postural muscles (stabilisers) to hold the position rather than our phasic muscles (mobilisers). Stabilisers tend to derive energy from oxygen, whereas mobilisers get theirs from glucose. Which is why if you stand in meditation employing mainly the mobilsers you will tire very quickly due to finite reserves of glucose-based energy in comparison to the perpetual intake of oxygen.

Overall I believe the lower back is far less mobile in zuo chan than in zhan zhuang, and this is despite the fact that many/most beginners to either practice go to great lengths to attempt to remain utterly motionless. This is a) impossible unless you are dead, and b) uses more muscle energy and leads to fatigue more quickly.

That's my opinion. If you don't like it let me know and I will go and form some others! :smile:
Let peace reign!

Metta,

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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby lobster » Tue Jul 23, 2013 10:12 am

These exercises might be helpful
http://zenmontpellier.voila.net/eng/lotus/lotuseng.html

interspersing long periods of sitting with walking or better still prostrations will help the back
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Yeti » Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:28 am

I think you need to take into account how the body can sit naturally crossed legged (not full lotus) at birth. Babies naturally sit in this position, well balanced, at ease. At that point we divert from our ancient Asian counterparts in that they retain sitting cross legged on the floor and don't adopt chairs, and westerners have. So we have grown away from this as a natural posture for sitting. So for many of us, this has become an unnatural posture.

I have more chance of attaining enlightenment in this lifetime than sitting at ease in the lotus posture. Wish I could, because I don't doubt it's natural benefits to practice.
"When a Dzogchen Yogi hears Shakyamuni Buddha turning the Wheel of the Dharma of the Four Noble Truths he hears Samathabhadra proclaiming the most profound Dzogpachenpo." - Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Jikan » Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:32 pm

if you have tight hamstrings (most of us who grew up using chairs do have tight hamstrings), then the full lotus posture will be a real problem for your lower back.
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Re: Full lotus and lower back pain, a survey

Postby Luke » Fri Jul 26, 2013 4:41 pm

mrtanqueray wrote:In my case I think it has to do with scar tissue in my back from a fall when I was young...

I just noticed your comment about scar tissue. Ordinary stretching does little to improve scar tissue. Foam rolling is a technique which has become very popular with athletes and can actually break up scar tissue (as can getting a deep tissue massage).

Here is a chiropractor demonstrating some foam rolling exercises for lower back pain. Perhaps they might help you.

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