I find in teaching meditation the biggest complaint is students being able to get comfortable. When the mind is distracted by the complaints of the body, the breath won't flow as easily. With a bent spine the breath's capacity is lessened. Now there are physical reasons for this as well as mental reasons. If we can tackle the physical side of it we can more easily get a handle on the mental side of it.
Like any physical disapline, it takes consistent effort to build endurance. This effort can be aided with props like blocks, cushions, blankets, a chair, or the wall.
- Blocks & cushions lift the hips up of off the floor so the spine can rise up nice and tall. Being lifted enables the tailbone to lengthen instead of being stuck underneath. The tailbone is much like the rudder of a boat; when a rudder is angled the boat will turn, so when you sit on the tail bone the spine curves out of it's natural position.
- Blocks or cushions are a personal preference. A cushion will provide a wider base of support and conform to the body. A block will provide a firmer seat, much like sitting on the floor.
- Blocks & cushions under the knees. If the hips and legs are tight the knees won't easily release out and down toward the floor, which can be uncomfortable. Putting support under them will cradle the knees and help the hips and back to be more relaxed.
- Blankets are to have under you blocks or cushion if the floor is cold and also for the comfort of your ankles.
- Chairs are a wonderful option for those who can't get up and down off the floor easily or have a bad back. If your feet don't reach the floor flat, use books or blocks under them. A straight back, rigid chair is best to help keep the attention. Some meditation books will say if you use a chair to sit with the back away from the chair back so you don't get too comfortable and drift off into a nap.
- The wall: I have read in some books not use wall so the spine can rise up on it's own; however I disagree. If you are able to get up and down off of the floor easily but the back is weak, the wall will provide some ease and lessen tension.
- Shawls or wraps: While these don't provide a physical support, they can give a feeling of security and protect from distracting drafts.
Props can help set your practice up to succeed. Overtime, the props you use may change as your body changes. Maybe your hips will loosen and you won't need support under your knees. Perhaps you strain your back and you will need to use a chair instead of sitting on the floor. Maybe you may find it helpful to kneel with a block under you one day, but the following day a cross legged seat with a cushion is more appropriate.
Also, warming up for meditation by practicing yoga, doing physical exercise, or even working in the garden or doing housework will help the body to surrender into the stillness of meditation. My personal preference is to do spinal flexes either seated or in cat/cow and some gentle twisting to enliven the spine; what else I do depends on my mood and the amount of time I have.
In pondering how to sit comfortably in meditation, I kept envisioning a tree. Trees root down deep so the trunk and branches can reach up to the sky while being strong yet flexible. Try this meditation to find the tree in you; stay in each stage for 10 to 20 breaths:
Set yourself up with whatever props you need to sit. Close your eyes, palms facing down on the knees or thighs:
- Breathe into the legs and visualize your roots reaching into the Earth creating stability and gathering nourishment.
- Breathe into the hips where the tree meets the Earth and the roots are visible like fingers spread.
- Breathe into the torso, which rises up out of hips like a tall tree trunk; your tree trunk is strong but not rigid, able to adjust with the wind of your breath.
- Turn your palms up: Breathe into the collar bones, arms, and neck like the top of the trunk where the branches reach up and away toward the sun.
- Breathe into the head and face where your leaves live floating through the mind.
- Breathe into the crown which accepts the sun and the rain to warm you and quench your thirst.
Stay here feeling your tree-state. Then proceed to part two when you are ready.
- In your mind's eye see yourself as your favorite tree. Feel your breath like the wind.
- Envision yourself in spring full of buds and full of possibility of what is to come. Know you are ready to experience what is about to bloom in your life.
- Envision yourself in summer, verdant and alive. Leaves dancing. Allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of your success and happiness.
- Envision yourself in fall ready to release what you no longer have use for in preparation to move forward. Attach your thoughts and judgments to the leaves and watch them glide away.
- Envision yourself in winter, bare but still vibrant and strong. Thoughts and inspirations like leaves resting gently in the bottom of your mind. You are clear and calm, building strength to blossom again.
Stay here in winter for as long as you like feeling rooted and tall.
- To finish, bring the warmth of the sun into your legs and feel it rise up through your roots, through the spine to your crown. Allow your arms lift over your head and gently sway like branches in the wind. Deepen your breath and feel your vitality. Be your tree.
|My favorite tree, the Japanese Maple early last summer|
|The Japanese Maple today in winter|
- Red like bricks, breath fills the legs and base to form a firm foundation of support
- Orange like the sunset on flowing water, breath softens the hips, sacrum, and flower belly
- Yellow like the fiery sun, breath expands the solar plexus stoking the inner flame
- Green like a precious emerald, breath opens the heart lifting meeting the sky
- Grace and ease follow the breath relaxing the hands, arms, shoulders
- Smokey blue like sandalwood incense, breath lengths and opens the throat and neck
- Bright, clear blue, the breath opens the third eye sharpening the inner ear, knowing
- A thousand petal lotus rimmed in purple, breath expands awareness in the crown
- Brightly lit, breath fills the whole body creating space, knowledge, and peace
Shanti, shanti shanti OM