Zen type kneeling meditation benches

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This topic contains 3 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Dino Silone 11 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #39796

    steve mareno

    I have a bad back, so sitting cross legged on a meditation cushion doesn’t work. At my Buddhist center they have chairs which work great, and they’re what I’ve used for 20+ years at other Buddhist centers and at home.

    However, at the centers it would be nice to be on the same height level as everyone else, so I was thinking of making or buying one of those simple Zen type kneeling meditation benches. They can also be broken down to lay flat while transporting them, which would make it easy for me to bring one on the bus or on my bike.

    Has anyone tried these? I have no idea where to find one where I live, and don’t want buy or build one and then not have it work out for me. I was just wondering what the downsides might be? These are seldom at any of the centers I’ve been to, and actually I’ve never actually sat on one. Thanks.

  • #39798
    Ted Meissner
    Ted Meissner

    Bob Stahl uses one, and I’ve seen many people who swear by them. You can get them online, and I’ll be setting up a web page with links to cushions and benches later today for you, under Resources, Meditation Supplies.

  • #39811

    Mark Knickelbine

    Hi Steven!

    I have a kneeling bench that I take with me on retreat, since it allows me to sit for long periods of time without my legs falling asleep. I can sit on a zafu and zabuton for about a half hour, but after that my legs die.

    Ted is right — there are lots of online sources for meditation benches. You can also easily find plans for making your own, and it doesn’t look like too challenging a project if you have woodworking tools. Based on my experience, here are some tips:

    Benches vary in height. Obviously, the lower they are, the less room there is for your legs underneath, and the sharper an angle your knees will be at while you sit. Unfortunately, many benches seem to be designed for lithe young yoga bodies; if you don’t have one, it’s important to get a bench that will accommodate your legs and knees.

    The type you describe is the kind where the bench legs are on the outside and your legs are tucked together underneath. An alternative design is a pi bench, so named because the legs are in the middle and the bench looks like a pi symbol. Your legs are on the outside of the bench legs, which allows you to sit with your knees in more of a tripod position. Again an easier and more stable posture.

    Although you don’t have the discomfort of having your legs folded under you, you still are putting considerable weight on your knees. Using too low a bench will have you stuffing your legs under it at a very tight angle, which can be more uncomfortable than sitting cross-legged. Also, your feet will have to bend in the opposite direction from normal, which may be very uncomfortable. This can be overcome by having a small round bolster or a rolled up blanket between your ankles and the floor, or you can hang your feet over the edge of your zabuton if it’s thick enough. After a while your ankles will stretch out and be more comfortable.

    Still, they are great! I especially like the way the slant of the seat naturally lifts your spine into an upright position so you can relax and still not slump. Good luck with your bench exploration.

  • #41574

    Dino Silone

    I’m new to this site, and apologize if I’m violating etiquette by responding to an old thread. But just in case anyone finds this to be useful, I’ll throw in my two cents:

    I have alternated between a seiza bench and a buckwheat hull-filled zafu over the years, and as I’m about the same age you are, Steve (if you’re still around this site), have gravitated to the seiza bench more and more.

    Lately, I decided to start making a few of them with the purpose of settling on the best design for me, and also to donate a bunch to the sangha I’ve recently started sitting with. I’ve also wanted to work out a very low-cost, low-tech way to build them so that folks can make their own if they like. (They’re really easy anyway – you don’t need to be an expert woodworker or anything to make one.)

    Besides the differences between the Pi design and the more traditional “legs outboard” design, the main variables are the height, the angle of the seat, and the depth of the seat. Throw in the padding of the seat or lack thereof, and that’s probably all that’s important.

    This is an ongoing “background” project, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

    For short sits (say 30 minutes or so), there’s almost nothing critical. My original bench was higher than most (I figured I could cut down the legs easily, but couldn’t make them longer…). The angle is roughly 12-degrees, and the lower height is about 7 inches. I used this for years, but I’m finding now that a little lower is better. (Lower height about 5 1/2 inches.)

    As far as materials are concerned, you can get as fancy as you like, but for this, #2 Common Pine from a big box store is just fine and dirt cheap – you can make your bench for under $5. You can get the whole bench out of a 3-foot length of 1×6, and have some slop.

    For joinery: I’ve experimented with dadoes, double-stopped dadoes, sliding dovetails (VERY JAPANESE!). But, for years, I’ve used a bench held together with 3 screws from the top of the seat into each of the legs, and it has shown no signs of failing. So, once again, you can get as fancy as you like, but you don’t have to get fancy. Just make sure you drill pilot holes for the screws if you go that route. Ignore any advice you find on the internet about using lots of glue on a screwed-together butt joint. It doesn’t add anything except cost and mess.

    For the cushion: The lower the bench, the less you need. But some is nice. I’ve found a folded up old t-shirt works perfectly, since on a lower bench (especially one that’s made from 1×6 stock, which means a 5 1/2” deep seat), you don’t have a lot of weight on your sit bones. If you want to get fancier, you can enclose the t-shirt in a cover (I use the legs from retired jeans.)

    Summary: These are dead easy to make, and take maybe an hour or so. All you need is a few very basic tools (saw, drill, screwdriver, ruler, sandpaper). They’re so cheap you can experiment with the height and angle to find what works best for you.

    THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: If you sit for long, or if you’re old-ish, you’re definitely going to need to support your arms when you use a seiza bench! Before I learned this, the neck pain from sitting for longer than a few minutes was excruciating. The easiest thing to do (if it’s not too hot where you sit), is to tie one of those cheap Mexican-style blankets around your middle, and rest your hands on it. Your forearms should be parallel to the ground, and should be supported by the blanket. When you’re in lotus seat, your legs are close enough to your neck to provide this support, but when you use a seiza bench, they’re not. I had to learn the hard way… But now, with the blanket providing the support, I can sit for long periods with no pain.

    Hope this helps someone! Please ping me if you’d like any more details on building one of these benches – they’re really helpful for us older folks with American hips and knees!

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