I'll just add to this thread with my personal experience.

I, too, read that the full lotus was the optimal sitting posture. I 
have done yoga practice for about 5 years, but meditation practice 
only about 2.5 years. In my first year of meditation practice, I sat 
in what we call burmese posture, which is both legs crossed in 
front, one in front of the other (I have since learned this is not 
really the burmese, which is where one sits with one leg crossed in 
front, and the other pointed back at the side - I sat one sesshin 
next to a person who sat in this posture for most of the sesshin).

When I joined a zen centre, I started to sit in half lotus 
(alternating legs), then eventually worked my way up to full lotus 
(it took about 1 year because of the flexibility I'd gained from 
yoga practice). At first, I could only sit for 1 or 2 minutes in 
full lotus, but eventually I was able to sit for a full round of 
about 35 minutes. And eventually I could do about 2 or 3 rounds, 
with kinhin in between. I could never imagine doing it at sesshin as 
it's hard on my knee and ankle joints.

In full lotus, I sat with right leg over left (I think that's 
backwards, but that's how it works for me), and used a small cushion 
under my left ankle to keep it supported so it was not too bent. I 
never alternated legs (they are quite different).

I found I experienced less numbness in this posture, but it was hard 
on the knees. In half lotus, I experienced more leg numbness, and 
spent much of the round worrying about it, or trying to get my leg 
back to full sensation so I could either join the kinhin line or be 
ready to dash out quickly for dokusan, or so I didn't miss my spot 
in line going for formal meals (it's distracting to others).

I have since heard from other more senior practitioners that some of 
our teachers and members have had knee problems (including knee 
surgery) from sitting in full lotus (one sits in half lotus these 
days). Some have had spinal problems (curve) develop from sitting in 
half lotus. Nobody reported problems from sitting in burmese or 
seiza (Japanese kneeling posture) or on a bench or chair, although 
people with pre-existing back problems may find it painful in the 

Eventually, I decided that it was my ego that was pushing me towards 
these postures, that it was more distracting to my practice, and I 
went back to burmese posture (I also take my own bench for 
occasional relief during teisho at sesshin). No leg numbness, I've 
found the perfect combination of cushions and flat mats and take 
them to all sittings and sesshins. What helped bring me to this 
decision was that a friend in the sangha is VERY flexible - he can 
do all manner of postures, including full lotus, but he actually 
sits in seiza, which is considered to be a very simple posture, 
suited to beginners.

I've sat at quite a number of sesshins over the past year and a 
half, and finally found the optimal sitting position & cushion 
arrangement for me (no pain, no numbness). It took lots of pain to 
get there, but that's the process of getting to know your body. It's 
hard to do that in a short series of sits, easier over a series of 
days of intensive sitting. I'm reasonably convinced that the present 
sitting position will not cause me physical problems in the long run.

As Bill has said here repeatedly, and as my teachers have said, it's 
all about zazen. Not what book you read, not what posture you sit in 
(but hopefully it's one with a straight back and sitting upright), 
just sitting, with whatever practice you are working on (breath, 
koan, shikantaza).


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