One of the most frequently asked questions I get about meditation is: “Why do I have to sit this way?” You see, I suggest a very particular way of sitting when you meditate and this prompts all sorts of responses, such as:
Isn’t meditation about what is happening in your mind?
What does it matter if you sit, lie down, or stand on your head?
Does it really matter if you sit cross-legged or in a chair?
Does it make a difference if you sit back against a backrest or sit forward on the front edge of your seat?
My back hurts when I sit that way, do I have to?
The bottom line is this: you can meditate sitting up, or lying down, or standing on your head. You can sit cross-legged or in a chair. You can meditate resting against a seatback or not. Many people have done all these things with success. If you have a physical disability, you may have to meditate in a body position I wouldn’t normally recommend.
So why do I make such a point about sitting upright on the front edge of your seat with your feet parallel and flat on the floor? The reason is this: For those who can meditate this way, there are many benefits. It may not be easy at first, but the positive results are worth the effort.
First, it is common to experience some back pain when you initially sit in an upright posture without back support. You may feel tension in your neck, between your shoulder blades, or in your lower back. Is this a bad thing? Why does that happen? If this is the posture I recommend, shouldn’t it feel better? Isn’t meditation supposed to feel good?
In my view, meditation is for personal development and spiritual growth. It will help you de-stress, relax, and feel better. It will help you calm your emotions, clear and quiet your mind, and connect with inner guidance. It will develop your ability to concentrate, visualize, and focus strong intention. It will help you to be more conscious and integrated. A big factor in these results is posture training.
If you feel pain in your back when you meditate, this is because of chronic tension along your spine, spinal misalignment, and/or weak spinal muscles. When you sit in an upright unsupported position consistently over time, you will strengthen your spinal muscles, release chronic tension, and come into better alignment. These postural effects will also carry over into your psychological and emotional experience.
Without sitting in this way, you may not become aware of your weak muscles, your chronic tension, or your misalignment. The posture brings these things to your awareness. As you become aware of tension, you can consciously let it go. In that process, you will also let go of the mental-emotional holding patterns and past pain and trauma associated with them.
When you let go of tension along your spine, your spine will come into alignment. This also has more than just a physical impact. Yes, your nerve signals will travel more strongly and efficiently to your muscles and vital organs and this will benefit your health and function. In addition, as your system works better as a whole, you’ll experience a feeling of inner integration.
As you strengthen your spine, you will become more physically capable of holding yourself upright during your daily activities. You will also strengthen your “backbone,” your ability to “stand strong” and follow through on your intentions. These common expressions are not mere metaphor. They are based in the physical-energetic reality of the body.
All of these benefits are enhanced by consciously sitting upright during meditation. You learn to observe and accept your experiences as they arise (including back pain), let go of reacting to your experiences (such as by saying “I can’t do this” or “This is too hard for me” which creates suffering on top of pain), and maintain an intention (by maintaining your posture).
Seated meditation with correct posture also serves as an important barometer for your mind-body development. If you can sit still for hours and feel blissful the entire time, congratulations, your mind-body-physical-emotional system is likely in good shape. But, as is more often the case for the rest of us “mere mortals”, the tension and discomfort that arise during meditation provide important information about where your weaknesses lie and how you can address them in meditation, in the rest of your training, and in daily life.
Finally, upright posture during meditation will keep you more alert and aware during your practice. The effects of your meditation practice will also carry over better into your daily activities, most of which require alert awareness in an upright position. Living a purposeful, self-responsible, conscious life relates to having an upright, relaxed, aligned spine.
So with all this in its favor, and admitting that it takes some training to achieve, my suggestion is to sit forward in an unsupported posture for a minute or two at the beginning of your practice time. Then move back against your seatback for the remainder of your meditation time. Gradually expand the time that you sit forward without back support.
In next month’s article, I’ll share with you why I suggest sitting in a chair instead of cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion. In the meantime, be sure to try my free 7 minute releasing technique below.
Copyright Kevin Schoeninger
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