Thursday, June 3, 2010
Dusk over South Bekaa, Lebanon, 2003
I passed another milestone in my posture practice yesterday. I managed to do zazen in half-lotus.
A year ago, my hips were so stiff that my knees were nearly 30 cm from the floor when trying to sit cross-legged. I've been working on them steadily since then, largely with stretching exercises given to me by my mother, who is, among other things, a yoga instructor. It's been slow going, but it does really work. I first managed to sit in zazen in the Burmese posture some time in October, and I've been sitting in quarter-lotus at home since late March. Yesterday, after doing my "long" stretching program—it takes about a half an hour—I noticed that settling into quarter-lotus was very easy, so I decided to try to pull my foot up a bit more.
Rather to my surprise, all I got was a bit of pain in the ankle. So I thought I'd sit a bit like that, until it got too intense. Then the pain went away. So I started my practice.
I stopped after about twenty minutes, because I started to get a pain in my knee. I've had real problems with my knees, so I'm not about to risk screwing them up. It wasn't too bad, though, and I have a feeling that that problem will sort itself out with practice, as long as I don't get too greedy about it.
The funny thing is that the posture Nazis are right. Lifting my foot up those few inches did make a real difference to my zazen. My back was better balanced and my position was noticeably more solid, and my breath flowed more naturally. I hardly turned into an immovable mountain, but I was a lot closer to that than before. I would not have thought that the difference between quarter-lotus and half-lotus is so big. Then again, I would not have thought that the difference between seiza and cross-legged sitting is so big either.
Lots of Zen teachers emphasize posture. They're right... even if I still think Brad Warner et al who say that it isn't zazen if you're not in half or full lotus are just a bit hyperbolic. It really is worth the effort to train the hips to get into those more difficult postures, and it really is possible to do, if you don't have actual, real medical problems preventing it. It takes a certain amount of time, effort, and persistence, though—but then, so does zazen. So why not make the effort to do it properly, if you're doing it at all?