Sunday, March 24, 2013

Working on Sitting Posture and Back Support Device

Tacky Orange Test Pillow
Tacky Orange Test Pillow

For a couple of months I've been testing new methods to help improve my posture and support my back when sitting zazen (meditation.)

I have my incredibly tacky orange pillow that is my primary test device.  I cut strips from sheets and test various ways to place the pillow for support and hold it in place with the sheet strips.

There are a number of criteria I'm trying to accomplish in the design.  Obviously, posture and back support are required.  However, I alternate using a bench and a meditation cushion every other day to shift the stresses on the body.  I want the design to accommodate both the seiza bench and the zafu cushion.  Each requires very different attachment methods.  I think I finally have a design that meets these criteria.

There are a lot of secondary considerations I've been working on too.  One is the choice of fabric.  Since my practice is Zen I chose a beautiful "Zen Black".  Another consideration is friction.  Ideally it has a high enough coefficient of friction so that you don't slide out of position during sitting but low enough to still allow for comfort and ease of attachment.  To meet the friction criteria I chose a suede material.

Additionally, I decided that microfiber would be good to use because it is easy to clean externally and it has good durability.

For stuffing I'm testing a special batting that is a bamboo/polyester blend.  I have no idea how well this will work.  I was looking for something that could pack tightly and not flatten that also had a long life and was light weight. It appeared to meet these criteria; we'll see.

The design I came up with is symmetric so I have added a couple of design elements to distinguish orientation.  The primary purpose is to allow the use and storage to alternate to prevent premature "wear-in" from continually using in the same orientation.

Finally, I've designed the attachments to be adjustable but the design elements for this consideration allow you to visually re-attach to the same position quickly once you know the correct attachment location.

I had hoped to complete the original prototype and be testing this week.  Unfortunately, I was unable to finish prior to joining my family for Spring Break.  I am very close!  I will be able to finish the prototype the first week of April.

Now most of you are probably going - wayyyyy too much detail! A Bow to you.

As I mentioned in my last post our sangha is starting a fund raising drive to build a Dharma Hall.  One of the things I'm considering is offering to build these devices for sale and donate the proceeds to the fund drive.  I think the materials cost about $25 not counting the assembly time.  If people are interested, I'm thinking of trying to sell them for about $75 so that the building fund can net $50.  Would this be interesting to anyone?  Comments would be greatly appreciated.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Monday, March 18, 2013

30 Poems in 30 Days and a Dharma Hall

I'm still working on my next sitting tool which is a custom support that I've been designing to help many people find their neutral sitting position.

I hope to have it assembled later this week so I can start to use it and describe it in next week's blog. In the mean time, I have been using a mock-up created by attaching different strips of fabric to my tacky (but friendly) orange pillow shown in earlier posts.

Path to a Dharma Hall
Path to a Dharma Hall
 My work on this meditation tool has been delayed because I recently volunteered to help my sangha as it takes on the project of funding and building a Dharma Hall. This opportunity seemed like a new path to explore as part of my practice.  In preparing to bring this into my practice I read a great book that is called "Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice" which I reviewed on the Zen Book Reviews page of the blog.

 I'm also going to participate in the 30 Poems in 30 Days program associated with a sister Zen group in Portland, Oregon so some of my April posts are likely to be poems.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review of the Best Meditation App

I have tried a number of meditation apps but one has become a regular part of my meditation practice.

Quick Summary:  A meditation app called Insight Timer from Spotlight Six Software is a fantastic addition to any home meditation practice.  Key features are high quality bells, lots of control to personalize to your meditation style and the ability to connect with a world-wide group of meditation practitioners.  This app is available for the iPhone, iPad and Android platforms and comes highly recommended.

The Review

Insight Timer Main Screen
Insight Timer Main Screen
I have been using this app for a number of years.  When I first started using it I was attracted by the quality of the bells/chimes.  When practicing by yourself it can be quite distracting to worry about the time.  I wanted to be able to set a timer and have a traditional (for zazen) set of chimes to signal the beginning, intervals and end of a meditation sitting period.

Insight Timer gives you all the knobs to control chimes and a number of different bells to associate with different parts of a sitting period.  In my case I set the timer to do the initial chime using a Basu bell after a 10 second delay and then every half hour a chime using the same Basu bell until the end of the sit.  At the end I set the timer to ring a Kangse bell 3 times but there are loads of options to fit your style.

The next thing I started playing with was the ability to keep a journal at the end of the sit.  One of the things I like about this feature is that your journal stays local to your device.  You can also email yourself a copy of the journal as an easy backup.

Insight Connect Main Screen
Insight Connect Main Screen
Insight Timer has  "Friends" feature similar to Facebook.  You can invite other meditators to be friends.  What's really cool about this feature is the ability to establish a world-wide digital sangha.  Now I have meditation friends across the US, Germany, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, and lots of other countries.

The main screen has tabs which allow you to see who recently Completed meditating, Live meditators, meditation Friends, and Nearby meditators.  If you're curious about the number or length of your meditation sessions you can go to the statistics section.
Main Stats Screen
Main Stats Screen

Recently a "Groups" feature was introduced.  It's been fascinating to watch it evolve.  Some groups are targeted at local geographies some are topically based and world-wide.  It is a great way to share and support each other's meditation practice.

Main Groups Screen
Main Groups Screen
Even though the app is rich with features, its well designed interface makes it easy to use and navigate.  This app is an amazing tool to support any meditation practice.

Friendly Bows (and thanks to Brad the developer) _/|\_

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Physical Therapy for Zazen (sitting meditation)

I'm fascinated by the way our bodies adapt to their circumstance.

Back view of sitting with the BodyBlade
Back view of sitting
with the BodyBlade
As I described previously I have had 2 injuries that effected my posture (click here to read the 1st injury and click here if you want to read about the second injury.)

Judging by my father's build I probably would naturally tend toward my shoulders rolling forward.  My injuries have exaggerated the effect as part of my body's response to minimize injury pain.  The weird thing is that by minimizing injury pain my body created long-term physical stress and chronic back pain issues.

When I started doing zazen I could no longer ignore dealing with the back pain but I wasn't sure what to do. I love to experiment and so I have been trying a number of solutions, most of them didn't work.  However, this rather bizarre solution has been surprisingly effective for me during zazen and I continue to realize the physical benefits throughout the day.

I stumbled into this solution at the gym.  As I was stretching I noticed a strange looking device over in the corner.  It caught my eye because it was about the size and shape of something I had been designing for my next back pain sitting experiment.  The device is called the BodyBlade.  Its design purpose is as a momentum based exercise device.
BodyBlade Lite (32" model)
BodyBlade Lite (32" model)
I was planning to build a thin flexible bamboo strip of roughly the same dimensions to sandwich between my lower back and my arms just above the bend in the elbow.  The concept was to position my arms and shoulders correctly during sitting meditation and to provide a slight pressure against my back in the process.  The pictures will help you visualize what I had in mind.

So I grabbed the BodyBlade and tried it sitting on the mat at the gym.  It was fantastic.  The highly flexible blades and the rubber center grip were perfect for the support I was trying to create.  It was so comfortable that I kept testing it on the mat...5...10...20...30...minutes.  I kept waiting for it to get uncomfortable or for my typical back pain to kick in.  The only thing that happened were a number of strange stares.
Profile view of sitting with the BodyBlade
Profile view of sitting
with the BodyBlade

I don't use the BodyBlade every day; partially because I am trying other experiments; partially because it is really like physical therapy and you need to give your body a break.  Now I use it about every 2nd or 3rd day.  I can tell you that on those days my back feels fantastic; much better than on the in-between days.

There are several different BodyBlade models.  The materials are basically the same.  As far as I can tell the major difference is the length of the blade and probably the weighting of the tips.  I bought the "Lite" model because the length was perfect for me (32" long tip to tip.)  The model at the gym was the next size up and the additional length might get challenging at a sangha sit.  With zabutons placed side by side you could easily slap some "instant awareness" into your neighbor with the longer model.

The BodyBlade is sold in lots of places.  I bought mine from Pro Therapy Supplies.  They had a good price and free shipping.

In the next week or two I should complete my next experiment and I'll share the results which look promising so far.

Friendly Bows _/|\_