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Sleepy Legs in Meditation

Question:

I’ve started to meditate a lot, but my legs keep falling asleep. Any advice?

Answer:

There’s no magical solution to this very common problem, but here are a few tips that may help:

1. Stretch before meditation. Basic yoga or a few good stretching exercises can be a big help. Just because you’re sitting on your butt doesn’t mean meditation isn’t physical; a warm up is a good idea.

2. Try a different cushion; if you aren’t using a cushion, get one. People who meditate for long periods of time often use a cushion called a ‚Äúzafu.‚Äù It’s a small cushion that raises your butt and back off the ground by about four to six inches, while your legs stay at floor level. Imagine your body as the hands of a clock: If your legs and butt are flat on the floor and your back is straight, that is ‚Äú3:00.‚Äù By elevating your body with a zafu, you sit in the ‚Äú4:00 position‚Äù instead of the ‚Äú3:00‚Äù position.

3. Straighten up your posture if you find yourself slouching. Using the clock metaphor again, if you’re sitting at 3:05, that’s putting extra pressure on your legs.

I’m also assuming you are running into this problem after just a few minutes. If you are sitting for an hour or more, then your legs falling asleep would be perfectly normal. Get up and do some walking meditation for a while, and alternate between the two every so often. Naturally, if the problem is severe, or you just cannot work around it, talk to your doctor and see if there is any medical solution.

10 comments to Sleepy Legs in Meditation

  • Hi,
    I have more or less similar problem ; I am suffering from arthritis rt knee joint & am unable to sit in meditating position. Which type of posture should I use ?

  • Prabhat Tandon: I don’t have a problem with my legs, but I have arthritis in my neck, so my sitting posture is always a bit hunched over, which makes long periods of meditation very uncomfortable for me. My solution? I sit with my back against the wall. Don’t be afraid to modify your position in whatever way allows you the most comfort with the least pain; if you are in pain, you are not going to get anything out of meditation.

    Perfect posture is time-tested by thousands of years of Buddhists, so when they tell us how to sit, we should listen, but if there is some physical or medical reason that we cannot, then it’s perfectly fine to modify things to meet our abilities.

    Good luck!

  • I would try subtle variations in the positioning of your ankles — one inch in either direction can make a big difference — and make sure they’re not resting directly on a hard floor. Sitting cross-legged makes my legs fall asleep, but Siddhasana (feet tucked into the creases behind the calves) is great. And like Brian said, sit on a cushion, or even two, to ensure that the hip flexors are completely relaxed and blood flow can get to and through the knees. I also like to sit w/my back against a wall; in group meditations I’ll sit in a chair, and that’s what I’d recommend if you can’t get Siddhasana or Sukhasana to be comfortable.

  • Matt

    I find I like to sit on my knees with my butt resting on my heels when meditating, but after 10 minutes it became uncomfortable. A quick search revealed the meditation stool, which rests on the floor, goes over your heels, and you sit on it. With the meditation stool and a pillow for my knees, I can easily do an hour of meditation, although I usually do 15-20 minutes. I made two for $8, the cost for a 6″x96″x1″ piece of wood. I already had the screws sitting around, so I just modified some plans I found on the internet to size it for me. You can buy them if you don’t have the tools to build your own.

  • My advice would be to sit in a simple posture, that doesn’t strain your legs. If you feel difficult with padmashan, try sukhasan, its much simpler.

  • Brian,

    I have been meditating for some years- sometimes consistently. Sleepy legs can be a problem, but I have adjusted. My routine is usually 20 minutes.

    But I want to know what is an optimal time frame? Within the context of a modern life, what is the most beneficial period to meditate(night or day)?

    I knew a Burmese nun and she meditated regularly. But a Sri Lankan women affirmed that she found the earliest hours of the morning the best time, since the world slept during this period.

    Any tips?

  • Personally, I usually do 15-20 minutes at a time. That seems good for a normal busy day. A five-minute “quiet time” during your lunch break will be calming and good for you, but I don’t think that’s anywhere near enough time to really experience the full benefits of meditation (MY OPINION!). An hour or two would be great, but who can really squeeze that in every day?

    I still, even now, don’t do it as regularly as I know I should; maybe 3 or 4 times a week. When I do, it’s usually in the early evening. It’s like exercise, I always feel better after doing it, and I know this will be the case, but it sure is easy to put off.

    I don’t think there is any particular time of day that’s better for everyone. It’s going to be a unique thing dependent on your body’s internal clock and your “real life” schedule. I would say that it’s probably a good idea to do it at the same time every day, just so you get into a routine, but what time of day that is would be entirely up to you.

  • As usual, thanks Brian.

    Just curious to know how long do monks (not novices) spend meditating. And, finally, among the different schools, do some stress longer periods than others?

  • Depends on the monk and the monastery, of course, but I have heard many stories about monks who do two hours in the morning, then their daily work, then two to four hours evening. With retreats, the time spent meditating is much higher, 8-10 hours or more, but that’s not a common thing.

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