practice of meditation has been going on for several
thousand years. That is quite a bit of time for experimentation,
and the procedure has been very, very thoroughly refined.
Buddhist practice has always recognized that the mind
and body are tightly linked and that each influences
the other. Thus there are certain recommended physical
practices which will greatly assist you to master your
skill. And these practices should be followed. Keep
in mind, however, that these postures are practice aids.
Don't confuse the two. Meditation does not mean sitting
in the lotus position. It is a mental skill. It can
be practiced anywhere you wish. But these postures will
help you learn this skill and they speed your progress
and development. So use them.
purpose of the various postures is threefold. First,
they provide a stable feeling in the body. This allows
you to remove your attention from such issues as balance
and muscular fatigue, so that you can then center your
concentration upon the formal object of meditation.
Second, they promote physical immobility which is then
reflected by an immobility of mind. This creates a deeply
settled and tranquil concentration. Third, they give
you the ability to sit for a long period of time without
yielding to the meditator's three main enemies--pain,
muscular tension and falling asleep. The most essential
thing is to sit with your back straight. The spine should
be erect with the spinal vertebrae held like a stack
of coins, one on top of the other. Your head should
be held in line with the rest of the spine. All of this
is done in a relaxed manner. No Stiffness. You are not
a wooden soldier, and there is no drill sergeant. There
should be no muscular tension involved in keeping the
back straight. Sit light and easy. The spine should
be like a firm young tree growing out of soft ground.
The rest of the body just hangs from it in a loose,
relaxed manner. This is going to require a bit of experimentation
on your part. We generally sit in tight, guarded postures
when we are walking or talking and in sprawling postures
when we are relaxing. Neither of those will do. But
they are cultural habits and they can be re-learned.
objective is to achieve a posture in which you can sit
for the entire session without moving at all. In the
beginning, you will probably feel a bit odd to sit with
the straight back. But you will get used to it. It takes
practice, and an erect posture is very important. This
is what is known in physiology as a position of arousal,
and with it goes mental alertness. If you slouch, you
are inviting drowsiness. What you sit on is equally
important. You are going to need a chair or a cushion,
depending on the posture you choose, and the firmness
of the seat must be chosen with some care. Too soft
a seat can put you right to sleep. Too hard can promote
clothes you wear for meditation should be loose and
soft. If they restrict blood flow or put pressure on
nerves, the result will be pain and/or that tingling
numbness which we normally refer to as our 'legs going
to sleep'. If you are wearing a belt, loosen it. Don't
wear tight pants or pants made of thick material. Long
skirts are a good choice for women. Loose pants made
of thin or elastic material are fine for anybody. Soft,
flowing robes are the traditional garb in Asia and they
come in an enormous variety of styles such as sarongs
and kimonos. Take your shoes off and if your stockings
are thick and binding, take them off, too.
you are sitting on the floor in the traditional Asian
manner, you need a cushion to elevate your spine. Choose
one that is relatively firm and at least three inches
thick when compressed. Sit close to the front edge of
the cushion and let your crossed legs rest on the floor
in front of you. If the floor is carpeted, that may
be enough to protect your shins and ankles from pressure.
If it is not, you will probably need some sort of padding
for your legs. A folded blanket will do nicely. Don't
sit all the way back on the cushion. This position causes
its front edge to press into the underside of your thigh,
causing nerves to pinch. The result will be leg pain.
are a number of ways you can fold your legs. We will
list four in ascending order of preference.
American indian style. Your right foot is tucked under
the left knee and left foot is tucked under your right
Burmese style. Both of your legs lie flat on the floor
from knee to foot. They are parallel with each other
and one in front of the other.
Half lotus. Both knees touch the floor. One leg and
foot lie flat along the calf of the other leg.
Full lotus. Both knees touch the floor, and your legs
are crossed at the calf. Your left foot rests on the
right thigh, and your right foot rests on the left
thigh. Both soles turn upward.
these postures, your hands are cupped one on the other,
and they rest on your lap with the palms turned upward.
The hands lie just below the navel with the bend of
each wrist pressed against the thigh. This arm position
provides firm bracing for the upper body. Don't tighten
your neck muscles. Relax your arms. Your diaphragm is
held relaxed, expanded to maximum fullness. Don't let
tension build up in the stomach area. Your chin is up.
Your eyes can be open or closed. If you keep them open,
fix them on the tip of your nose or in the middle distance
straight in front. You are not looking at anything.
You are just putting your eyes in some arbitrary direction
where there is nothing in particular to see, so that
you can forget about vision. Don't strain. Don't stiffen
and don't be rigid. Relax; let the body be natural and
supple. Let it hang from the erect spine like a rag
and full lotus positions are the traditional meditation
postures in asia. And the full lotus is considered the
best. It is the most solid by far. Once you are locked
into this position, you can be completely immovable
for a very long period. Since it requires a considerable
flexibility in the legs, not everybody can do it. Besides,
the main criterion by which you choose a posture for
yourself is not what others say about it. It is your
own comfort. Choose a position which allows you to sit
the longest without pain, without moving. Experiment
with different postures. The tendons will loosen with
practice. And then you can work gradually towards the
on the floor may not be feasible for you because of
pain or some other reason. No problem. You can always
use a chair instead. Pick one that has a level seat,
a straight back and no arms. It is best to sit in such
a way that your back does not lean against the back
of the chair. The front of the seat should not dig into
the underside of your thighs. Place your legs side by
side,feet flat on the floor. As with the traditional
postures, place both hands on your lap, cupped one upon
the other. Don't tighten your neck or shoulder muscles,
and relax your arms. Your eyes can be open or closed.
all the above postures, remember your objectives. You
want to achieve a state of complete physical stillness,
yet you don't want to fall asleep. Recall the analogy
of the muddy water. You want to promote a totally settled
state of the body which will engender a corresponding
mental settling. There must also be a state of physical
alertness which can induce the kind of mental clarity
you seek. So experiment. Your body is a tool for creating
desired mental states. Use it judiciously.