Best to begin, I guess, with the Disclaimers since I avoided and don’t intent to take on the issue of whether it’s “good” for you or “bad” for you to do these postures. If you are an adult, use your best judgment. If you think it will help, see you doctor and get their input.
Here is a guideline we use in our office: if it hurts when you do it, it hurts an hour later, and it still hurts the next day, you probably shouldn’t do it.
The trouble with that advice when it comes to sitting postures is that there is going to be some pain. Pain is the signal that there is stress on tissues. How much pain and how long you choose to endure it will be a learned skill. The distortions and structural defects in flexibility and alignment that we are always attempting to correct are a result of abnormal function: motion and alignment. It is always a matter of time and pressure. Remodeling and rehabilitation are going to also be a matter of time and pressure. It’s almost always true that lots of time (daily practice) and a little pressure are preferable.
So the sitting postures are an example of a daily practice (if possible), where you choose which postures and how long you spend in each posture by trial and error. You then build on the time spent in each posture until you are satisfied: a function of priorities, values, etc.
Cycle through each posture spending whatever is a reasonably comfortable/uncomfortable time. Your body will adapt and relax, and you will gradually be able to spend more and more time in each posture.
I do the sitting postures on couple of pillows placed on a Yoga mat. At the same time, I read, drink tea, and watch the squirrels and other wildlife in my backyard do what they do. And I do them pretty much in this order.
Crossed-Legged (Indian Style) Sitting Posture
I am not talking Lotus or even half Lotus, just cross-legged. On a pillow makes it easier; on two pillows makes it even easier, etc. Knee trouble might make this one a posture you “shouldn’t” do. If you have a health professional familiar with your knees issues, get their input. If not, use your best judgement and error on the conservative side. There is plenty of time to add it, do it longer, or sit lower down the road. Sit with your legs crossed first one way and then the other.
Japanese Sitting Posture
This might be a good time to mention that the names for these postures are made up. Lots of people sit the way the Japanese sit. Later I will refer to Thai style and Tibetan style. They are just different postures. Somewhere along the line I became aware that someone in these countries sat this way once. In the case of the Thai style it is common there, but I saw Ben Kingsley sit the same way in the movie about Ghandi, so maybe it is popular in India as well.
The point for our purposes is that each is a distinct posture and each offers different stress on the body and affects different tissues.
Japanese Style sitting involves sitting with your lower legs together and under you so that your butt is on your heels. Your knees and lower leg are on the ground. This stretches (and yes stresses) the knees and quadriceps muscles as well as the muscles along the front of the lower leg (anterior tibialus if you talk like that). It also stretches the ankles and feet. It is usually very comfortable on the lower back because the slight lumbar curve is encouraged.
A little time in this posture can sometimes go a long way. A common occurrence is cramping and “Charlie horse” action. So you will just have to move out of it and come back to it later.
Tibetan Sitting Posture
Remember, it’s just a name. I read in a book yesterday that this is called the 90/90 squat by some folks: they had to call it something.
For this one I move the blanket and pillow out of the way so it is just me and the Yoga mat. You are sitting on your butt with one knee out in front of you and the other off to the side. The knees are bent so the foot of the front leg is up against the knee of the back leg and the foot of the back leg is tucked back behind you.
(I know, we need pics, and we will get them eventually☺)
This is a great sitting posture for stretching the famous Ilio-tibial Band (IT Band). That runs along the outside of the upper leg. That and the hip muscles that rotate your leg outward (toe out to the side) are stretched very nicely – even more so if you gently lean toward that front knee. You are flexing and drastically stretching your lower lumbar spine when you do this forward lean, BE CAREFUL. If there is any doubt in your mind that it is ok to do it, don’t. Incidently, this posture also stretches the muscles that rotate your leg (at the hip) inward (on the other leg). Few movements and postures do that and many of us need that stretch: another good reason for doing this posture.
Do both sides. In other words, after a few minutes with both legs curled toward the left, switch them around so they go to the right.
If the Tibetan Sitting Posture is tough for you, then you will not be ready for the Thai Sitting Posture at all. Wait until you can do the Tibetan for five or ten minutes at a time before starting to break into the Thai Style.
Thai Sitting Posture
This one may require a picture to be clear but I am going to describe it for now… because I don’t have a picture.
Starting from the Tibetan Sitting Posture you simply take the foot that is by the knee and move it behind you so that the lower leg of the front knee comes under the other lower leg; the top of the foot connected to the front knee is then placed on top of the other ankle.
Once you’ve gotten into this position you may think you have done well. And you have. Now do that while sitting up straight with no assistance from either of your hands! It may be no big deal for you, but it make take a very long time before that becomes comfortable.
Unique to this posture is the strength in the lower spine required to hold yourself upright: it takes a lot of strength. So sitting this way is one way of getting all the stretch to the hips and lateral thigh while developing strength in the lower back.
Again, sit with the legs off to one side for a while, then off to the other side for a while.
In this as well as the Tibetan Sitting Posture, it’s the knees you have to watch out for. They may not take this stress. If it hurts your knees don’t do it. Or do it in tiny doses until things relax and get used to it. Be careful.
The Full Squat
This isn’t really a sitting posture, but many cultures sit in this posture. They meet, eat, work and carry on many of Activities of Daily Living while squatting all the way down. (And research has shown that they tend to have less arthritic changes in their lower spine than we do. Cause? Effect? Correlation?)
When I first attempted it, I had to hold on to something, and managed about 11 seconds before I had to get up and out of the position. To this day although getting there and staying there for reasonable periods of time is comfortable, getting up results in some pretty significant dizziness – so I don’t do it much.
But, it’s a fabulous way to stretch the ankles, hips, and lower back. Be careful, it flexes and pulls on the lower back and isn’t for everyone.