Coming into my 10-day Vipassana Meditation course in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, I had little meditation experience but wished to go all in to learn and practice. My body fought the seated cross-legged position, however—so much so I stood to get little out of my course. I wound up getting a chair to start Day 7 and couldn’t help but think throughout my time at the retreat what my two Egoscue Method trainers, who provided me with menus of E-cises, or stretches and light exercises, to help me improve my posture and reverse a decade’s worth of chronic pain, would say about this position and what it does to one’s posture. It surely negatively affected me.
I contacted them and received e-mailed responses from my first Egoscue Method exercise therapist, Mike Kenny, who works in the Egoscue Method’s Westchester, New York, office, located in Purchase, New York. Since 2005, he has helped hundreds of clients learn to reverse and prevent pain and correct posture by practicing E-cises. Mike showed me E-cises to do during visits from spring 2010 to summer 2012.
Mike said that the seated cross-legged position isn’t poor for posture but that this position might cause torquing in parts of the body.
“It does promote external femur [thigh bone] rotation, so that may lead to the knees and feet everting and pointing outward if counter-balance exercises are not done,” he said.
I wanted to know how sitting in a chair compares with sitting cross-legged for extended time periods. Mike said that with a chair, you have help to keep your body in an upright position with the chair’s 90-degree angle. (My chair had no back, but I built lumbar support by stacking two foam pads.) With sitting on a floor, Mike said, the body has no help and must work to keep an upright position.
“If the body is functional, it will be able to handle that load,” he said. “Now, an excessive amount of time of four to eight hours is going to be difficult if the body has not been trained to do that in the same way that you would be challenged to run 6 miles after only usually running 1 mile every day.”
Furthermore, Mike wrote: “If you bring a functional body to the crossed-legged position, it should not have a negative effect [on the body]. But if you bring a very dysfunctional and misaligned body to an extended seated cross-legged position, it may be difficult for the body.”
For most people, though, this position might cause stress in the body. During a couple of my visits every two to three months with Mike over a two-plus-year period, he remarked and I agreed that well more than 90 percent of people would enhance their well-being by completing E-cises, which even pro athletes such as legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus used to raise his level of play. Junior Seau utilized the Egoscue Method to enable him to play as an NFL linebacker at 40 years old.
Once I was seated during my meditation retreat, I had no intention of returning to the seated cross-legged position when I would practice beyond my Vipassana course. I asked Mike what would be an Egoscue Method-recommended position.
Mike recommends Progressive Supine Groin, which promotes an elongation of the hip and groin muscles, creating a chain reaction of muscular response in the upper body. This is among the hallmark E-cises among a canon of more than 600 of them. In this position, Egoscue Method practitioners spend as long as 60 to 120 minutes.
Are foam pads and pillows recommended for those who want to sit in a cross-legged position?
“Your body works as a unit, and when your legs are crossed, your spine muscles and hip muscles need the ability to keep you upright if they are not working together—that is, if one is working more than the other,” Mike said. “The excessive sitting can become difficult. But nothing is wrong with using a pad or mat. We do this all the time with Egoscue E-cises.
I told Mike I noticed women fidgeted less while in the seated position. I wondered whether women, who have wider hips compared with men, are better suited for a seated cross-legged position for longer time periods.
Mike wrote: “Was it the wider hips or just the overall function of some of the women doing the meditation that allowed them to sit in that specific position? Form follows function! I would bet the functionality of these women is better than some of the men that have issues with the sitting. Remember, it is the body we bring to the activity. The human body has the perfect design. It is our job, right and responsibility to use it and keep it that way.”
Check out my story, “At Vipassana Meditation, Losing My Head and Finding Peace in the Moment,” on my Vipassana Meditation retreat experience.
Learn about the Egoscue Method and how it can reverse and prevent pain and injuries and restore the body’s proper postural alignment.