5 Reasons Sitting on the Floor is Good For Your Health
5 Reasons Sitting on the Floor is Good For Your Health
Interesting, Lucas, thanks for sharing. Us Westerners (or those who aren’t used to sitting on the floor) must be careful of our knees. I’m only 22 and already both of my knees are starting to deteriorate from sitting cross-legged on the floor for long periods of time.
Yes, being careful, taking it slow, doing some gentle stretching, and using cushions to avoid twisting the knees until you’ve built up the flexibility would be my advice.
I sat half lotus for a couple of years, switched to kneeling position when knees got bad. Might go back to half lotus for a while.
Have been sitting cross-legged most of the time for my entire life (thanks, Granma) since I was a small kid. Never even heard of problems with my knees. My feet joints aren’t feeling that well though
Yes, those of us lucky enough to have the backgroud will have no problems…
Not to give up hope, folks…
In my early 30’s (1970’s), my knees & hips were in bad shape – crepitus (noisy), pain with using stairs, etc. Looking pretty dismal, and not good for the future. Probably from lots of “jogging” back in the 1960’s when it was 1st fashionable, but on pavement / asphalt and with not very cushioned “tennis” shoes, as they were then.
Once a notable experience – knees were quite problematic, working in a 2nd floor office with 20-odd steps up and down several times/day. One weekend went skiing (had been off/on), getting better at it, spent whole weekend virtually with bent knees in & out with the turning and moguls, etc. After that all knee pain and creaking GONE. Probably a combination of getting circulation really going through the tissues, and strengthening the muscles – so the weight is carried by the muscles, not so much on the joint faces.
So, over the decades, some occasional soreness, esp right hip, but not critical nor worsening. 1980’s-1990’s fair amount of TaiJiQuan (TaiChiChuan) and QiGong (DaoYin), which increased tissue stamina, flexibility, and especially balance greatly.
Then about 10 years ago (ca. age 65) started “meditation”, first sitting, then (probably competitively) trying other ways of sitting. Japanese style sitting on folded-under calves didn’t work at all. Cushion sitting at first difficult, painful. Keeping at it, got easier with persistent (but not fanatical) practice, i.e. couple of times/week. Then started 8-10 day “Vipassana” or “Jhana” retreats, noticing the flexibility, ability to sit cross-legged, even to 1/2 lotus, continuously improving. Like going skiing for a week – first couple of days creaky, painful; then day 3 or so onwards wonderful progress.
Now it’s fairly stable – can sit sorta 1/3-1/2 lotus, easily 1 hour; at times 1.5-2 hours. S/t come out of it and relax the knees and ankle for a minute or two and switch sides (left-over right from right-over left).
From 40-50 years ago thinking the trajectory was toward being crippled rather young, it was amazing how practice (and some care) was able to change that situation.
Then there’s the admonishing of the Burmese / Mahasi monks (read about and witnessed a couple of times in weekend retreats at Tathagata Meditation Center (San Jose, Calif)) – pain in the legs? you wussy Westerners. Just toughen through it - note it, use it in mahadhatu practice,… Seriously, at least two teachers taught as much. And the stories of Westerners visiting Burma/Myanmar and observing the locals toughening through it, even with painful, bleeding limbs. Maybe extreme, but there’s something to the matter of overcoming conditioning to comfort at any cost.
Don’t know about elsewhere, but at “Vipassana/Insight Meditation” movement retreats around here (Northern California, where retreat centers abound), the familiar scene – people come early, pick their favorite spots in the mediation hall, and pitch their camp – erect a shrine to comfort, with a couple of cushions, extra bolsters of various sorts, blankets, shawls, etc. Then going to the Tathagata Center (mostly Vietnamese devotees/yogis) – there they take a mat, one ca. 2-inch cushion, and make do with it. Some even no mat/cushion, in 1/2 or full lotus on the hardwood floor.
Bottom line: You folks still in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, not to despair. The human body is formed by what it does, and can s/t unbelievably adapt in response to function (practice).
I am happy to use a chair.
Nowadays it is reasonably easy to get one (even where I usually take retreats) and all you need is to make sure to have the right angle at the hip so your back stay straight.
In short, if one is easily getting to a pleasant state and experiencing glimpses of rapture he/she is on the right track. I deeply regret taking wrong advices when I first came across Dhamma and wasting so many hours getting my mind and heart to fear this thing called meditation.
I wonder if is there anything in EBTs discouraging the use of chairs. What I understand EBTs suggest us is to take empty places, or better the shade of a tree
And I suspect the sort of tree it implies is something big, with wide root systems and nice slopes where one can almost lay before he endeavours towards samadhi, just to take a deep breath and appreciate another day with Dhamma in his mind and heart.
Content, one gradually sets his body and mind up for contemplation, noticing the absence of hindrances in his inspired heart, he bathes in rapture. From rapture a deep sense of relaxation and tranquility supports a beautiful and safe inner pleasure, happiness of mind and heart. And then, happy and internally pleased samadhi or stillness is eventuated. This is at least what Suttas like AN11.2, AN10.2, SN12.23 tell us.
I always found it very uncomfortable sitting on the floor in Thailand for long periods, using a sitting cloth on the tile floor. The long sittings became painful, and the pain, despite my efforts to breathe through it, interfered with the meditation, at times. I like, Gabriel, your mention of the roots of trees. I’ve found that sitting at the base of some trees promotes the placement of the hips above the legs, and there is a natutal comfort in this position, much the way that a zafu and zabuton elevate the hips and provides a measure of comfort for long sits. I’m not opposed to the physical challenges of long sits, but do feel that putting meditators into painful positions is antithetical to what the Buddha tried to promote. Even in the Suttas we see the Buddha or his assistant preparing a meditation seat of grasses, suggesting that a painful sitting platform was not something that he promoted.
Halfa grass, from India.
Here’s one of the most important things I’ve learned through experience, trial and error, regarding knee health, sitting postures, and I’ve tried lots of healing modalities, eastern, western.
Right mindfulness, sati and sampajano regarding the four postures, all the time. Samma sati is not just for liberation, if you train yourself to be really sensitive to what a healthy knee (and body) feels like, and what an unhealthy knee feels like, and using yoniso manasikara to investigate the causes of healthy knee feelings (smooth, empty), versus unhealthy knees (stiff, pain, joints cracking), and all the subtle grades in between,
Then when you try out different modalities, yoga, taiji, pushups, whatever, you’ll start to build up a database in your mind of what the benefit of each action is, how much you need to do of each to maintain current knee health, how much is needed to improve it, etc.
There are many ways and combinations of modalities that will work, but the key is you have to do them regularly (many, many times a day).
You can be the most bendy flexible yogi in the world, but if you stay in one static posture all the time, energy in your body is going to stagnate after a while, you have to alternate movements and postures from time to time, no fixed rule, best to just train right mindfulness to be alert to whats going on so you can intuitively make adjustments.
So number one is mindfulness. This includes the memory faculty, you have to remember the different gradations of healthy to unhealthy knee feelings, what you did to improve and maintian it, and what aggravates it.
Number two is you gotta keep moving and changing postures regularly, knowing where your limitations are. If you’re trying to do long sits, increase sitting times carefully and gradually if there’s pain and discomfort.
If you have a sedentary job, set an alarm that forces you once on hour for (1 to 5 minutes, trial and error to determine) do some stretching and movement.
Number 3 is keep improvising, trying different things, and eventually you figure out quick efficient ways to keep all your body parts in good order.
because poor health is conditioned ever so gradually and slowly over the years, most people don’t see it coming. That’s why the memory aspect of right mindfulness is so important, so you remember what the good health state feels like and what you did to keep it from slipping away. Conversely with the bad. Know what you did that makes the healthy feel uncomfortable and deteriorate (samma sati + samma vayamo )
Sampajano, clear comprehensiion, moment to moment is also so important. If you clearly feel whats going on in your body, you will know how to assess and capitalize on that knowledge. You’ll figure out how to do very quick, efficient actiions to maintain good health and keep it from declining. Compared to someone who is unmindfully just doing different modalities without really feeling and paying attention, you can waste a lot of time, energy, risk injury.
Brenna, what the cjmacie said is very interesting, doing exercises or stretching to strengthen the knees. But also this can change for each person, I do most of my meditations are in the chair. I only separate an hour a day to do meditation on the floor and even then I have to change my position every 10 minutes because my legs are numb.
Cjmacie I am also learning Tai Chi and Chi Kung to strengthen my body and my spirit to continue following this Buddhist path.
Gabriel, in the suttas always speak that a seat was prepared for the Buddha, but I think that this was not a chair.
“While most of us have accepted sofas, chairs, stools and beds as being far more comfortable, the truth is, lounging on these only recently invented furnishings is nothing less than bad for your health.”
Frankk this is a good way. I’m trying to do that too.
I started to research about sitting on the floor because whenever I listen to the lecture lying in bed I end up falling asleep or sleeping.
And also I still think of being a bhikkhu and it is good practice to be listening to a lecture sitting on the floor.
I don’t dispute the Buddha did seat cross legged, all in all he tried himself the whole enlightenment-through-pain thing when hanging out with jain-like freaks!
I even bet he did as well squat for many days and months while with the niganthas, Mahavira is actually told to have achieved omniscience (kevala ñana) by squatting!
My point is that as per MN139 what makes the path rediscovered by the Buddha unique is indeed the aspect of how the whole natural causation of real awakening possible is not a given posture or a given external practice but in fact the individual discovery of an inner pleasure born of seclusion and contentment. The pain that leads to gain in this path of no conflict is an internal one, it relates to giving up habits, making life changing choices towards renunciation, etc - it is not about hurting your knees and joints!
Maybe that is not your case but every single minute I spent cross legged and just observing pain, elements, kalapas etc, was a minute wasted and away from the possibility of contentment, rapture, tranquility, happiness and stillness.
Hence I reiterate my question, is there any rule in the Vinaya, any quote in the Suttas (or even any summary in the Abhidhamma) which rules out a simple chair, or a multi step setting where one may sit and practice as something wrong or non conducive to awakening? I don’t think so…
I actually believe that the opposite may be very well true. There is an element of blind grasping to rituals in this wrong understanding of only one way of sitting being representation of what Buddhist meditation practice should be. It may be well be a key reason for so many giving up well before the very first steps having been taken.
I am really concerned that this fallacious and weird veneration of sitting on the floor may stop us from doing things within our reach for those in poor countries to having access to proper chairs and desks for studying and working!
Sitting cross legged became simpler for me when I started doing yoga. It is not possible to sit in full lotus without proper preparation first. I still can’t do it, although I’m quite comfortable in half-lotus with a cushion. Look on Youtube for “padmasana”, there are videos showing preliminary exercises. If you do them regularly for some time, sitting cross-legged or half-lotus will become easier. Also doing some exercises before sitting helps. Good preparatory yoga posture is baddha-konasana.
[quote=“gnlaera, post:8, topic:4928, full:true”]
…I wonder if is there anything in EBTs discouraging the use of chairs. What I understand EBTs suggest us is to take empty places, or better the shade of a tree … noticing the absence of hindrances …[/quote]
1: Did they even use chairs in those days in that culture? I think the Greeks and Romans used chairs (e.g. thrones). On the other hand, nomadic cultures, e.g. Arabs (at least in the movies) are always sitting on rugs. Not that easy to carry chairs around on your camel?
2: Not to be argumentative, but my sense of the EBT meditative prep pericope has been that the focus is on going into seclusion (“absence of hindrances”, as in that lovely progression in MN 121), away from other people, rather than any particular kind of environment. Could be mistaken on this.
3: From a medical standpoint, a problem with chairs is the one-size-fits-all nature of most, at least modern (manufactured), chairs. More often than not (how many physiques match the central peak of the bell-curve?) a chair is either too low (putting excessive weight on the sitz-bones) or too high (putting excessive weight on the distal posterior thighs – which contributes to hamstring sprains, especially common in children).
4: The cultural thing – For Americans (and probably most Europeans and Commonwealth folks), I highly recommend the book “Eight Ways to a Pain-free Back” by Esther Gokale ($20 or so on the internet). The “ways” being how to stand, walk, sit, go down, lie, get up, etc. Especially with respect to low-back problems – some 80+% of all Americans suffer significant low-back (and/or neck) problems at some point in life. A curious thing is Esther’s book is also a wonderful historical picture-book (a perfect coffee-table sort of book) – hundreds of photos and diagrams showing that in many other cultures, having different typical postures, the people are subject to way less back problems (10% or less). Many pictures, for instance, of Greek and Buddha statues, demonstrating erect, nearly flat spines.
She points out that pre-early 20th century photos typically show people sitting/standing with very erect spines, almost “stilted” one could say, but that in the 1920’s it became “fashionable” to slouch, and furniture began to be designed (art deco etc) that encourages slouching – which persists today. Quite impressive is also a comparison between an anatomical view of a “normal” skeletal spine from ca. 1911 with one from 1994. The former is quite straight, while the later shows excessive secondary curves (at the low back and the neck – the places where the human spine differs from typical animal spines due to the erect-standing posture). The medical establishment (at least in the USA) considers as “normal” what is in effect a pathological condition!
Another curiosity: Esther is American (works nearby here, is also a licensed acupuncturist but works now mostly promoting her therapeutic posture system, which, btw, is a variation on one that comes from France), but her mother is Dutch, and her father was East Indian. I haven’t asked her yet, but it could be that her father was that Gokale one finds as a notable Sanskrit religious scholar in the late 20th-Century.
Anyway, the information in her book I recommend to most patients (in the course of practicing acupuncture / Chinese herbal medicine), of all ages, especially the young, to help avoid the condition one sees all too frequently of elderly persons with the back so misshaped that their head is nearly horizontal, can’t look up/forward.
The Buddha also made it quite explicit – go into seclusion, sit spine-erect,
put aside worldly concerns, …
frankk 2017-04-15 12:59:41 UTC #10
Excellent post, in many dimensions. Especially the sati-sampajañña and preventative perspectives.
Reminds me of Than-Geoff’s (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) emphasis on breath work through the whole body in developing meditation/concentration. In one talk he even used the term “qi”, and Ajahn Lee’s system has remarkable similarities to classical Chinese concepts and techniques. For instance, TG’s whole-body scan terminates at the fingertips and toes – places where the most powerful acupuncture points are located (the jing-well points at the corner of the nails, where the acupuncture channels begin/end), as those areas have very high density of nerves (to facilitate standing and moving – homo erectus – and using tools – homo habilis), and map to large and widespread areas in the brain. A frequent technique in Daoist practices is to disperse negative energy out from the finger-tips or toes, or to draw in energy at the center of the soles or palms.
Also impressed by the use of the pinyin term “taiji” instead of the far more popular “tai chi”. However, a slight quibble (as internet discussion seems to generally tend) that the term taiji actually refers to the yin-yang philosophical principle. “TaiJiQuan” (TaiChiChuan) is the proper term for the soft-form martial art, though few people outside of specialists honor the distinction. Btw: the taiji yin-yang symbol (a circle bisected by two winding semicircles, dark on one side, light on the other, with dots of the opposite color at the centers) is actually relative modern, originating in ca. the 9th-century, CE. Prior to that, yin-yang was typically represented in iconography by juxtaposed images of a dragon and a tiger.
I’ll share my notes on all of this (back problem prevention, back repair, cross leg sitting, yoga, taiji, etc.) in a lot more detail one of these days, it’s going to be a few hundred pages at least. It’s impossible to impart the important points in a short post in a way most people can understand. I’ll probably have to shoot some video and pictures, but even still, I don’t think anything can replace in person demonstration and check up by someone who knows how to fully relax.
Real taiji quan is based on taiji. And real taiji doesn’t start until first jhana, and doesn’t really take off until fourth jhana. Taiji quan without real taiji is just slow motion walking and arm flapping. Real taiji leads to 5 of the 6 psychic powers. Same 6 as the EBT abhiñña, minus the 6th one with the destruction of the asavas. That’s why taiji is “supreme ultimate.”
Ajahn Lee’s “keeping the breath in mind” is also the underlying basis for the way into real taiji. I re-read his booklet frequently. There’s lots of brilliant instruction in there, but some of it is expressed so concisely one won’t realize the brilliance of it until they’ve gotten a taste of it.
I think the difference between 4th jhana and iddhi-pada in the EBT and real taiji differs in that the Taiji practitioner would apply his knowledge and skill to ensure a healthy physical body, whereas a buddhist who frequently practices jhana probably would get most of the physical health benefit without trying, but because they’re not paying attention to and learning from the process (how the 4 elements in the body harmonize and become smooth, empty) and/or don’t care about physical health, they can have a few health problems that start off as minor and eventually become significant in their old age.
But many frameworks can get the same end results as real taiji, jhana, and iddhi pada. Even among christian meditative traditions, Essenes, Hindus, you can find people who have jhana, divine eye, levitation, everything short of destruction of the asavas. They have different labels for various states of concentration and so forth, but I think you’ll find in common among all of them the same basic ingredients as in the iddhi pada: samadhi, bliss, abundant light, etc.
Real taiji alchemy is pretty tough to understand the language and terminology they use, it just sounds like mystical mumbo jumbo, and complicated networks of energy channels, sublimation of energy.
Taoist alchemy uses hundreds of pages to describe how to attain optimal physical health by purifying and sublimating the different networks of energy, whereas Ajahn Lee just concisely expresses it something like “the four elements of your body will become harmonized, and you’ll feel very comfortable.” (big understatement)
Here’s my attempt to fill in the blanks between Ajahn Lee, EBT, and real taiji.
Your body has earth property in there, which I’ll call “ice”.
It has water property, which I’ll call “water”, or “juice”.
It has heat property which can range from cold to hot, I’ll call “fire”.
It has wind property, which I’ll call "the force."
It has space property, which I’ll allude to with “water dissolving into vapor, and emptiness”.
So if someone who’s earnest about getting good samadhi, jhana, here’s the process. Say they sit hour hours a day. Even two hours a day you should feel some gradual improvement day to day.
So when you’re sitting, you just have to do two things.
You’ll know its working because you’ll feel a force that pervades everywhere in your whole body. everyone’s health condition is different, so maybe at first you’ll only feel the force pushing in one spot, a piece of ice somewhere, maybe the size of a small stone. It may feel like that chunk of ice is permanent and will never melt. But if you sit every day, it will gradually melt, you’ll feel the ice shrink, and melt into water.
So the chunks of ice in your body will gradually be targeted by the force, and slowly melt. The process may be physically painful. When I first started meditating, there was this chunk of ice in between my lower and middle back that would only appear when I sat down to meditate, and not have any pain outside of meditation. It took about 3 years for that small chunk of ice to fully melt and become pain free.
Probably the reason most people don’t get jhana is they don’t believe that the meditation will ever be pain free, and give up.
Pain is just the interaction of fire melting the ice in your body into water.
So the more you meditate, the more you become horrified (for most people) when you come to the realization that most of your body is ice. Because its mostly ice, that is what “normal” feels to you. But if you persist in your meditation every day, and you relax properly, that ice surely will melt. And when enough ice melts, and enough of the main energy channels in your body are free of blocked ice, you’ll feel the water (that is the melted ice) now has a clear path,
and then BAM!!!
You get a taste of the juice. The juice (piti sukha) is the water flowing freely and continuously around energy channel loops. The juice triggers pleasure chemicals in your brain.
When enough of the ice in your body is melted into water, and the main channels are unblocked, you’ll be able to get first and second jhana. It will feel like liquid pleasure coarsing through your veins. Second jhana water movement can be so intense its like you’re sitting under niagra falls. Not everyone will experience it that intensely, depending on their age, health, etc.
Then the fire continues to melt ice and vaporize the water into emptiness. So from a stiff block of ice of a body, it will feel like a smooth, comfortable bag of water, and then become lighter and lighter. when the water melts into vapor and dissolves into emptiness and visual light.
Day by day, it improves. I don’t think anyone who meditates according to the EBT (consistent with how Ajahn Lee teaches it) would be surprised if they levitate one day.
So here’s an important point that the Hindus and taoists who teach real taiji will explain the “why and how” in detail, but the EBT does not. This is probably because monastics following vinaya, and following the Buddha’s schedule (AN 3.16) are already doing the right fundamentals, but this leaves Buddhist laypeople out of the loop on a critical detail.
Celibacy is essential. True brahmacariya, meaning you try to not even have one microsecond of lustful thinking, or any negative emotion at all.
I need to wrap up this post, I’ll just say IMO, without celibacy even if you meditate four hours a day you put your ceiling at a mediocre first jhana and low quality second jhana, and you may never see much visual light.
And even much worse news, if you have jhana ability, then being non-celibate has greater risk of developing psychological problems and nervous system disorders than someone who is non celibate and can’t do jhana, especially the older you get.
In Chinese, the jing-shen is the common phrase used to express health. Jing means the exact same thing as viriya in the hindu sense. It’s energy, vigor, and reproductive potency, semen. In chinese, the same character in “health” (jing) also means “sperm”. “shen” corresponds with the abundant visual light in the 4 iddhipada.
The further away one goes from celibacy, you’ll not have steady and stable (if any) visual light (shen), and your lack of jing is directly proportional to your health.
Unfortunately modern science and psychology has very inverted understanding of celibacy and sexual health from a spiritual aspirant.
An earnest and even modestly skilled meditator can test this out themself. Follow the buddha’s schedule on basic walking and sitting meditation, and sleeping schedule (AN 3.16)
If you’re maintaining celibacy well, you’ll directly feel how strong viriya is. The four hours a sleep, plus one or two naps a day, will feel like plenty. Even less than four a of day sleep if you’re meditating a lot. Visual light will be become abundant, your mind will become sharper, memory will improve, your mind will be quick and agile, as your body softens and improves, it will be free of disease, light, comforably, reflexes get sharper.
If you interrupt celibacy, you will drastically feel the impact it has following the schedule above.
on “chair jhana”.
You can get jhana sitting in a chair. Or standing.
IMO its best to experiment many postures and be able to use them all. I injured my knee and couldn’t do lotus for a couple of years until the knee healed. In the mean time I could still do jhana in a chair.
The advantage of cross leg sitting is it makes the energy flow better, connecting the left and right sides of your body.
IMO which sitting posture one uses,including chair, isn’t of much importance up to first and second jhana, but beyond that, it can be really helpful.
You can try this experiment. Feel the difference between crossing your arms across your chest, and not crossing your arms and just them hang straight down.
I think most people would feel their energy is more comfortable, more connected and centered with their arms crossed.
Ajahn Lee teaches a sitting posture of half lotus with right leg folded over left leg, then left arm touching right leg, and last right arm on top of left arm. Not only is left and right side of the body get connected, but the hands touching feet connects top and bottom.
A taoist master said full lotus charges your energy twice as efficiently as any other cross leg posture. I don’t know if its true, but if one can do full lotus, its worth it to keep that in mind. A full lotus feels energetically more comfortable to me than half.
I think this is one of the best things you can do to fix back, knee, ankle, wrist, elbow problems because these movements comprehensively move energy through all of those areas more than standard two leg upright exercises do.
I independently invented most of these exercises on my own when I decided to solve the problem of how to fix the knee that was healing too slowly for me, this guy on you tube demonstrates some that are similar to what I do. But the basic idea is you don’t have to do it as pretty or detailed as he’s doing it, as long as you spend 5-10 minutes a few times a day walking 4x4 (using hands and feet to do your walking meditation) instead of normal 2 wheel drive exercises, then you’ll get the health benefits.
skip the first two exercises, they look too intense on the knees, start with the one at 1:40. I do gentler, easier, and slower versions of what he does, but this video gives you a good idea of what I mean by 4x4 walking.
To tie in with my earlier post, here’s one insight you can tie in with sati and sampajano practice. Notice how you feel as you’re doing 4x4 walking. If your body is in good health, you should be able to (after some practice of course) do this easily, without strain, without sweating, without feeling like its any harder to do than walking on two legs or jogging lightly. If jogging lightly, or walking 4x4 feels like a strain, notice what parts of the body feel stiff, or stutter and shake and those are places you have energy blockages. Doing some accupressure in particularly icy spots, stretching those areas, will help melt the ice more quickly.
Doing jhana alone can melt all the ice in your body, but if you use a combination is exercises such as shown in the video along with jhana, it’s going to be FAR FAR less painful and faster.
Hi Frank, lots of interesting information.
You have to have plenty of time to study and more to practice.