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Burmese position and varicose veins

Dear Brothers and sisters in the Dhamma,
I would like to know about your experience or advice about this issue that I have. I meditate in the so-called Burmese position (see photo) since I learnt meditation in Burma, and I found this a comfortable position since there is less pressure on my legs.

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I tend to meditate for quite an extended time, and I alternate that position with walking meditation precisely to avoid leg vein problems.
Unfortunately, my right leg has developed some very inflamed varicose vein at the thigh level, just above the knee.
Now I had two opinions from specialists. One said that seating cross legs caused this, and it is a “no-no”, and I should stop.
Another said that varicose veins and inflammation have nothing to do with cross leg seating.
Albeit I know, I should not be attached to any particular position, meditating cross legs helps my meditation a lot, probably out of habit, but also because I was avoiding back pain.
So, do you have any experience with this to share? Have you had the same problem? How do monks deal with it?
My temptation is to continue to seat cross legs and, in the worst-case,! have the veins treated.
With metta

I developed varicose veins on my left calf from sitting (1/2 lotus/thai style). They showed up maybe 12 years ago and haven’t got that much worse. My understanding is that it’s just a cosmetic thing, so I’ve just ignored it. But I’m not a doctor.

However, it’s good to learn to meditate in different postures. What if one day you break your ankle/leg? Then you’ll have to learn to sit differently anyway. It’s also handy to be able to be comfortable meditating in chairs so that you can mediate on long flights, waiting rooms etc.

If you are sitting cross legged, then try to find other leg positions other than your default one. It helps balance out the hips and back better. It might mean you need to add a blanket or towel underneath a leg/thigh/hip but if you’re sitting many hours it’s better in the long run for your whole body.
You could even try this with your current position just to pad the inflamed area.

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The varicose vein and inflammation was caused by something else before the you learn the cross-leg position. It was not cause by meditation.

It is normal to learn from the basic with the ‘Burmese style’, then to ‘Half-Lotus’ and at the end ‘Full-Lotus’.

Back to your inflammation and varicose vein, I believe, it is better to stay with the advice of your physician who didn’t correlate the varicose-vein and the cross-leg position.

Just a reminder to everyone wishing to help out Gabi73:

We at the forum can be helpful in sharing experiences on meditation positions and difficulties. But…

As with all health issues, any decisions on health matters should be discussed with a qualified physician.

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I’ve been sitting cross-legged since childhood and have a few varicose veins even before starting to meditate. Especially a slightly painful one behind the knee. But varicose veins and circulatory issues run in my family (So I can’t say if it’s caused by a combination of sitting position and a genetic predisposition). I usually sit on a higher zafu to relieve the pressure on legs and find the compression on my knees and thighs very much reduced.

I hope you feel better soon @Gabi73 :pray:

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Thank you so much for sharing this :pray:

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Dear Venerable
Thank you :pray: for your reply and teaching. Thanks so much to take your tone to do that.
With Metta

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Was there cushion? There’s always the chair sitting option.

A related question directed to long-time meditators and monastics: sitting on a cushion: sitting elevated or not?

Over the last ten years sitting Burmese, I’ve gradually used less and less cushion elevation and now am sitting with almost nothing under my bottom. Someone told me it’s recommended to sit elevated slightly but I would like to hear from those who have been sitting for many years.

Thank you very much!

That’s a good question. I’ve always assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that only people who don’t have excellent posture and good flexibility need to sit on a cushion (like me). People who do a lot of yoga, and so are able to effortlessly sit in full lotus, never seem to need cushions.

Regarding cushions etc, it largely depends on individual anatomy and there are many factors.

For example, someone with less open hips may benefit from sitting on a cushion (or similar) - it creates an anterior (forward) tilt in the pelvis which in turn drops the knees.

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Re cushions
I am hyper-mobile in most of my joints so have no problem with flexibility, however the body needs both flexibility and stability. there are different areas of the body which are in need of each. (this is old pre-monastic knowledge from when I was a competitive strength athlete).

I have very long femurs (thigh bones) so this influence the angle that my back is under. This means that most of the time I do require a cushion so as to have my weight on my sitting bones and to have my ears, shoulders, ribs and hips in alignment (resting over each other) and my hips higher than my knees (circulation). These are the kinds of things I notice in others when I’m asked about their posture and are worth investigating for oneself.

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Good point. It’s good to know about your body.

Thank you for your insight, especially your awareness of your own bodily structure and its relation to your posture. I’m aware of several contributing factors in my body as well as spinal injuries and general older age that influence my posture.

I just don’t want to find in 20 years that it would have been better to sit like this and not sit like that. I’ve heard a couple of stories of monastics with body problems due to wrong sitting. @sujato told one of him sitting listening to a senior monk teaching long into the night, his knees wrecked and then the teacher making a comment about the young monks hurting themselves by sitting too long in one posture. (please correct me if I got that wrong, Bhante!)

I meditated in the Burmese position for about twenty years, and then something happened in my lower back or hip and I could no longer bend one of my legs. For a long time I found it difficult to meditate so deeply in any other position. Luckily my leg semi-recovered, but I can’t sit long in any of the crossed positions now.

Take a tip from this experience and follow Ayya’s excellent advice:

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Thank you for sharing your experiences and advice. I used to alternate right and left leg in front when Burmese sitting. I would also meditate sitting on a chair/bench as well as standing but gravitated back to one Burmese position I couldn’t say how long ago. You’ve inspired me to mix things up. :butterfly:

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