Are we sitting comfortably?
One thing that held me back when I was learning to meditate was that I could not get comfy. My back would start to ache, pins and needles in my legs, or starting to nod off! How do we sit with comfort and poise so that we can actually try to meditate?
So, to begin, it is not the end of the world if we drop the goal of sitting in perfect lotus pose and looking like an Instagram superstar when we meditate. I usually meditate in my pyjamas or in my wellies in my favourite woods. It’s really not that glamorous! Remember it’s what’s going on, on the inside, that counts!
Posture is key for seated meditation. For seated meditation, the most important thing is a tall spine. Not a straight spine, but tall. Think like a giraffe. Engage your core slightly, lift the sternum, take a deep breath in and lift the crown of your head up to the sky, neck long. Try it now, just sitting wherever you are. On your out-breath, let the shoulders relax but keep the feeling of tall and lifted. Look at the photo on the right, see how my spine has curves in it, even though I’m sitting up ‘straight’. Yours will do this too. It’s meant to do that.
So, if you can feel into that, and you already feel more present, then hopefully you can see that it doesn’t matter if you are sitting on a chair, a cushion, a meditation stool, a park bench, a seat on the bus. If you are sitting on a chair, just don’t lean into the back of it. Support your spine with your own core muscles, deep in the belly. If possible have a support under your sit-bones; it is usually more comfortable with the knees lower than the hips.
Then, see if you can sway gently forwards and then backwards, and feel the pull of gravity on your shoulders, wanting to pull you down to the centre of the earth and the effort it takes to pull away from that force of gravity. Now, we want to cheat gravity and become invisible to it. So, find the sweet spot, where your shoulders balance perfectly above your hips and all effort ceases. Take a breath here. You’re doing great!
Now, the next thing to tackle is the ‘nodding dog syndrome’. We get sleepy if we relax the sternum, start to roll the shoulders forward slightly and the space between the shoulder blades opens. OH NO! You have just switched on your Relaxation Response… snore… Quick! Push the chest up, imagining a hand placed under the shoulder blades gently pushing you forward and up. Alert response! Phew! That was close.
Lastly, how to breathe? Breathing only into the belly, again, triggers our Relaxation Response. Breathing only into the chest triggers our Alert Response. So let’s combine the two. Take a deep in-breath and split it into two parts, send the first half into the belly, the second half into the chest. Pause. Pull the tummy muscles in a bit more (you still have your core switched on, right?) and let the breath out gently, half from the belly and then let the chest relax for the second half. Pause and begin again. A few rounds of this breath will help you to feel settled and present. Don't too many, it can make you feel light-headed if you are taking deep long breaths to really anchor what this feels like. Let the breath soften once you have got the hang of it.
Keep checking your posture as you watch your breath. Stay a bit longer. You can do it!
If your back starts to ache then you need some strengthening yoga postures for your back. Ask your yoga teacher for advice here or find an online class with your favourite teacher. Remember we call our time on our mats / cushions / chairs our PRACTISE, and practise makes perfect so get practising!
Photo credits: All photos by Desh Kapur except the two grid images of people meditating - Deposit Photos