Friday, February 1, 2013

Easy Solution to Reduce Some Forms of Back Pain During Zazen

Reducing Back Pain by Supporting
Arms with a Cushion

What causes back pain while sitting?

  • Old injuries (part of my problem)
  • Physical condition
  • Bad posture
There are many others I'm sure but there is one "hidden" problem that I believe is more common than we recognize.

For many people the length of our upper arm is shorter than our torso.  When sitting this "dangling" problem puts stresses on back muscles and muscle attachments that just aren't use to the extended stress of a long sit.

I've been testing effective ways to both support my arms and strengthen my back muscles.  Just like we can't instantly be a pro-tennis player or an Olympic runner we can't expect to have a physiology that is instantly prepared to cope with the extended stress of sitting zazen.

Some of my methods are very "non-conventional" but help due to prior injuries.  I'll be discussing sitting with a BodyBlade in a future blog.

One very easy tip is to support your arms at the wrist on a pillow. Some people use a standard zafu resting in their laps for this purpose.  I prefer using a more traditional "throw pillow" that is 12 inches square.  Zafus were designed for sitting; they are just the wrong shape for this purpose.  If I place a zafu flat in my lap it doesn't have enough elevation and it sticks out too much in front so it feels like it wants to slide off.  If I place it on end my arms want to slide off the rounded sides.

For the square pillow solution, I set one of the edges resting on my feet and then rest my wrists on the top of the pillow (see picture.)  In this position I can easily sit for an hour with no back pain.  I realize that this looks like it shouldn't be comfortable but give it a try and see if it helps.  I think the reason this works is that if you note in the picture, my forearm is basically horizontal.  My multi-purpose, incredibly ugly, orange pillow does a reasonable job.  I will be making a pillow that is stiffer (and Zen black:) so that it doesn't tend to collapse over an hour sit.

I'm still testing the Zen Mountain Monastery zafu and zabuton and will share my findings next week.

Friendly bows _/|\_

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