Shakuhachi Informing Full Lotus


The other day I had the pleasure of having dinner and playing with a fellow bamboo flute player, I had not been practicing the flute much lately and I was reminded about long tones.


Long tones are not exactly about a long breath and not exactly not about a long breath.

Excuse the double negative, maybe my editor will fix that as soon as I get one.  Anyway this is certainly on of those things that I just can’t quite communicate over the internet I would have a hard time explaining even if we were face to face and I could show you directly.


Anyway the way he explained it was that the breath should come from the “Hara” which is a spot about four inches below the naval.  Now I only passed basic biology with Ds in high school, but I know that the lungs don’t go down that far.  Regardless of my scientific mind’s resistance, I found that going through the exercise of thinking about the breath coming from the “Hara” did indeed have an immediate impact on my long tones. No bad for a free lesson….


Now what does all that have to do with sitting full lotus?

Well…  I have been sitting full lotus for a few years now, have had several teachers admire my posture and say that I’m doing it  “Right” but my right foot constantly falls asleep about 25-27 minutes into Zazen.  I got to thinking…  Yeah thinking not non-thinking, about the effect of the breath on the flow of oxygen to by leg and adjusted my sitting ever so subtly in order to allow for an ever so slight freeing up of the “Hara.”  


I did some long breathing then allowed the breath to regulate itself and noted that the monkey mind was pretty inactive, I have no idea if this trend will continue or not.  I also “felt” ( a not that our feelings are always reliable) that I was leaning slightly backwards, but it may be that I was just habitually leaning forward instead, and the change just felt different.   The end result was….  No more sleeping foot!!!


Anyway I know the internets and Zenistas often have flaps about “Proper posture” and weather or not it is important and it seems wherever there are views folks like to take those views into the extremes like you must sit with your chin tucked a certain way or it is not Zazen, to the other extreme of posture totally doesn’t matter.


Posture does matter.  But at this time as far as I can tell the best way to figure out what right posture is by taking it up and studying it from various angles and experimentation. 

I don’t think it is a cookie cutter process. 


anon #108 said...

Hi Jordan,

Like a lot of sitters, I also get sleepy foot - although I sit in half lotus, left foot on top, and it's my left foot that goes to sleep. It used to happen in both legs when I sat full lotus.

My Zen teacher tells me that the numbness is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve (rather than lack of blood flow, as some believe). My doc confirms this.

Whatever the cause(s), I'm wondering if your modified breathing and leaning back a little is still keeping you sleepyfoot free. Some say that shifting - forward or back - on the cushion relieves pressure on the upper thigh/buttocks, and that lets the neural fluid flow, could that be what's doing it?

Sure, our bodies are all different, but if it's still working for you, I'd be grateful for your conclusions. It's a nuisance!

Best wishes,
Malcolm (also jiblet)

anon #108 said...

...BTW, what I've read and heard about breathing from the hara sounds to me like plain old diaphragmatic breathing.

Your description of what your teacher showed you sound exactly like what I was taught by my (classical) flute teacher as correct breathing - essential to support long breaths.

Supported - as it must be - by the abdominal muscles, breathing like this feels like it's coming from, as you say, about 4 inches below the navel. While the lungs and the diaphragm are situated above the navel, the 'hypogastric', or 'pubic' abdominal muscles extend below.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but isn't 'breathing from the hara' exactly the same thing as (properly) breathing from the diaphragm?

SlowZen said...

Hi anon #108/Malcolm (also jiblet),

In response to your first post:

After a little google search, I think that what you have written about the sciatic nerve sounds reasonable.

I would venture that the adjustments I made in order to free up the "Hara" may have had the fortunate accident of freeing up pressure on the sciatic nerve.

In response to your second post:

My experience with music and musical instruction is limited to the shakuhachi, And the one American teacher I had was taught by a Japanese guy, so he used the same Japanese terms. But thanks to your question and google, I am interested in looking into this. It seems I am a habitual rib cage breather, and would probably benefit from some instruction on (properly) breathing from the diaphragm.


Thanks for looking!