Sunday, August 29, 2010


Posture adjustments are a focal point of my practice at the moment. I discussed with Jordan a while ago the possibility of doing them, and he was all in favour. I had my first opportunity to try them out as part of the Beginners' Sitting a couple of weekends ago. Since it was a small group sitting together through the day, I brought up the subject ahead of time, and then went round several times during the periods of zazen making small corrections. The participants seemed pretty happy with the results when we spoke at the end of the sitting, so I was encouraged to try again. It came up again this week, when I was invited to join the guest students' tea on Thursday. I had seen that one of the guest students, though young and fit, seemed to sitting more like a C than an S, if that makes sense, so I spoke to the group about my understanding of upright sitting, such as it is, and spoke of the things I pay attention to. For example, I find I can get tension around the ribcage, which seems to prevent my stomach from relaxing; with a relaxed stomach, the breath and energy flow more easily in and out of the hara. Also, I know I tend to pull my right shoulder up subtly, so I try to notice that, and I make sure my chin is tucked in a little towards my neck - this is something I notice in a lot of people, that their chin juts forward, bringing the weight of their head forward so it is not fully supported by the spine.
Anyhow, during that afternoon's period of zazen, I got up and announced that I would be going round making adjustments, and that people should indicate if they didn't want that to happen. That has actually been the hardest part for me, speaking in the middle of zazen, but people seem okay with it, at least I haven't heard any complaints yet. Yesterday, during the 9:25 period, I went round again, this time working on more people.
As I was doing it, I was very aware what an intimate moment it is, coming up behind someone in meditation and laying my hands on their shoulder, and often gently trying to lift them at the thorassic curve; I did this with some people I know well, and whom I have been sitting with for years, and others I have never seen before. I try to make sure I don't rush through the process. I know when it has been done to me, which it has been by a number of people, I have almost always felt a great benefit from the mindful and loving touch, so that is the feeling I am trying to transmit through my hands.
There was a different kind of intimacy this morning as I went out riding. As happens from time to time, the area around the bridge was closed off for an athletic event, this time a triathlon. I had read about it in advance, and approached the bridge from a different direction to my usual Sunday route. I got directed back into the Presidio by one officer, and then when I came to where I thought I would be able to cross Lincoln, there were barriers right across the road. I moved one just enough to let my bike through, and left it like that, as I knew other riders would want to do the same thing. A police officer jumped out of a nearby patrol car and shouted at me to put it back, and then when I had done so, and was riding towards him, wanted me to stop and asked me a question: "Do you think you are different from everyone else?" I was a little aggravated at the whole situation, but I was also aware that he was playing the role of authority, and as he insisted, it was all being done for my own safety (although the road was empty with not a single triathlete anywhere in sight, and I knew there would not be for some time to come). Some of you may know Blanche's story about suddenly feeling the deep connection between her and a police officer who was on the 'other side' of a demonstration she participated in years ago. I didn't have such an epiphany, but I enjoyed playing out our interaction without venting any of my aggravation, and I resisted saying in response to his first question "well of course on one level, I am unique in my karmic formations, but on another level I am aware of the intimate connections between all beings within the dependent co-arising of phenomena". I saw the officer at the same junction on my way back, several hours later, and I wondered how many other cyclists he had spoken with in that time, and whether he was enjoying his day.


robertbarrer said...


I appreciated your posture adjustment on my back & shoulders yesterday.

I always find it useful when it's done and I appreciated you making the rounds about the zendo & the gentle, corrective, laying on of hands. It was helpful.

Thank you!


kevin said...

When I first enrolled in beginning meditation classes at the Houston Zen Center, I was kind of hoping for some posture pointers as part of the curriculum since that was one of the things I was having trouble with. (I was just stiff and time fixed it, mostly)

Now that my practice has advanced, I can understand how disruptive asking about adjustments could be, as well as your apprehension about interrupting zazen. I can however see the benefit of maybe an occasional examination of posture by another person could be to prevent bad habits from forming.

Thanks for your posts, I've read for a while just never had the occasion to comment.

crowtales said...

Interesting! I attend at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and posture corrections don't happen all the time, but they are certainly not out of the norm.

I'd guess about once every Sunday Morning sit (which is three 25min periods long). It's never announced verbally. The Doshi simply comes around and makes corrections. He/she comes to each person, resting a hand on their shoulder to alert them that she's there, then makes the corrections and moves on to the next person. Most folks become aware of it as he works down the row, but it's not overly intrusive.

The rest of the weeks regular sits rarely see such activity. I attend one of our evening sits and one morning sit, for instance, and both of those are without corrections.

kelly said...

It's funny to me to read this in your archives, because this was around the time I started coming to city center to sit on staurdays, and I remember the caring touch of posture adjustments in my early days so vividly that I still feel the warm hands when I relax my spine in a certain way out of it's leftward curvature.

Shundo said...

It is amazing how the body rand mind can remember things like that together - that has certainly happened to me very vividly.