Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Meditation Series: Posture

One of the most important facets of meditation is posture. It is said the way one positions themselves during meditation greatly effects the balance between body and mind. Typically, when someone thinks of meditation they envision this pose (as I did):
meditation posture
This picture is courtesy of an online article, Bhuta Shuddhi an Esoteric Tantric Practice.
If you've seen a statue of the Buddha (which we all have at our favorite Chinese buffet), then this pose is easily recognizable. It is called the Vairochana Buddha or Lotus meditation posture and for all intensive purposes, as far as I'm concerned, should not be used by someone who is just beginning to meditate.

I remember the very first time I meditated. I dimmed the lights, lit a few candles; I even burned some incense to "set the mood" before sitting on my mat (which was nothing more than a comforter) and imitating the Buddha pose. Before attempting to meditate, I had taken no great lengths at all to research other meditation postures and techniques. I made up my mind, fairly early on, that I was going to do that specific pose, because that was the pose I saw all those beautiful statues doing, in all those movies, and in all those dreams where I envisioned myself in full Lotus, meditating at the peak of a mountain. I had it all so dreadfully wrong....and I found out, fairly early on, that I forgot an important fact.


Siddhartha Buddha, the "Silent Sage of the Sakyas," was a master at his craft and devoted his life to his ascetic practices. What's more, given all the postures he probably did in his lifetime, the vairochana is the one that's been most engraved in culture. Obviously, I had chosen one of the hardest poses to do as a beginner. My legs ached, my feet ached, my hands ached, my arms ached, my butt ached, and my mind "ached" from the continuous processing of how much the rest of me ached. Instead of supporting the weight of the world, which was my goal through meditating, I felt the weight of the world was crushing me and I had neither the mental conditioning or focus to ignore it. I was in agony. 

So, I went on to plan B:
meditation chair posture
This image is courtesy of an amazing ebook, Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kaat-Zin.
Now granted, meditating in a chair is perfectly ok (especially if you're older). But, as is illustrated above, the key is to remain in an alert and aware position. If you relax too much (like I did), you will fall asleep (just like I did) and sleeping is not meditation.
  1. Whatever posture you choose, there must be a balance between relaxation and awareness. Don't choose a pose too hard (like I did at first) and be too aware of you're body's aches. But, also don't choose a pose too relaxed (like I did in the second example) and end up making your meditation session nap time. Eventually as time goes on, the balance will shift and harder poses will become easier as your mind becomes stronger.
For now, my suggestion (and it is only that) is the kneeling pose:
Courtesy Full Catastrophe Living
In the kneeling position, you sit with you knees folded over either a meditation bench, cushion or, as in my case, a pillow. The hands and arms are resting which isn't as much a strain as the Lotus where they aren't. This greatly helped me, because I have absolutely no arm strength and found it hard to focus when my arms weren't in a passive position. 

Once again, the above is just a suggestion. There are many different meditation postures just like there are numerous meditation styles. But, how do we distinguish a true meditation posture from just another position that is comfortable, yet entirely worthless?