A still body leads to a still mind. The very first step to start meditation is to find ways to still your body, hence the “posture” in meditation is extremely important. It is impossible to have a still mind if your body is moving continuously. If we observe great artists, composers, scientists, mathematicians or people who are achievers in their own field there is a stillness to them. Good posture leads to good focus on any activity & meditation is one of them.
One of the greatest meditators – Patanjali, who walked our planet about five thousand years ago emphasizes on perfection of the posture. Here is a line from A Million Thoughts – a book by Om Swami on Meditation.
The other things like Breath Regulation, Concentration and Withdrawal of Senses are all only possible after the posture is perfected. Stillness of the body and stillness of the mind go hand in hand. They compliment each other.
To sit still again does not mean that you have to sit for a couple of hours unmoving. That is a path for serious meditators. But even if you can sit still for 15 minutes or so the energies in your body will start to still and a calmness will start to descend on you automatically.
Before we get deeper into posture, there is a pre-requisite in order for us to be able to maintain a good posture – a Healthy Body. Without a healthy body we would not be able to maintain any posture for long. Body and mind complement each other and are intricately connected. For example, if we are not healthy and have aches and pains and discomfort in our body then we will only be able to concentrate on our discomfort. A healthy body is a must for meditation. We can achieve good health through good nutrition, exercise, proper rest etc.
We are what we eat, so if we learn to eat the right kind of food which is beneficial to our body we can reap immense benefits from it. Have you noticed how sometimes certain kinds of food creates imbalance in our body? After eating such kinds of food our body can go through flatulence, acidity, burning sensation and reflux to name a few. This is our body sending signals that says that it is unhappy with what it has been fed. Many of us choose to ignore it until it reaches crisis level. We can become tuned to our body if we are mindful in understanding the signals sent.
There is a book called – The Wellness Sense – that tells us how certain foods harm some people but can help others. The book further combines the yogic view of food to the modern view of food as acidic and alkaline. It states various body types also known as physical humours and the foods which can be taken according to it. Each body type is different and so medicines as well as foods act differently on different people. Your medicine can be poison for someone else. For example, milk can be easily digested by some people but may cause havoc in others. Ayurveda prescribes food based on the humours and suggests other treatments like – massage, oil bath, steam, purgation, etc.
To give you a proper perspective, here is a paragraph from the book:
Eating right has to be coupled with exercises to be fit. Stretches will help in having a flexible body. Thirty minutes of exercise is minimum for the body. Just like our body needs good nutrition it also requires exercise to function at its best. Our body is not designed to be idle and sitting. It has to be up and moving for it to function at its best.
There are ten vital energies in our body. The first five primary energies are descending energy, ascending energy, diffusive energy, effusive energy and prana vayu (life energy). The rest of the five energies are secondary and they control sneezing, coughing, blinking, hiccups, twitching and all such functions. In order to channelize them properly good posture in meditation is vital.
There are eight key elements to a good posture which if followed mindfully can lead to good meditation.
You should be sitting in a comfortable position. Unless having a medical condition it is best to sit cross legged. Sitting cross legged helps in controlling the descending energy also known as the “apana vayu”. If seated on the chair (if you cannot sit cross legged due to any reason) it is good to cross your feet and not sit with them apart. The joining of hands is important to allow the energy flow to be within you.
A straight back helps in channelizing the vital life force and thermal energy respectively. Thermal energy allows the fusion of vital life force and descending energy by acting as a bridge. And from that fusion does the arousal of the primordial energy starts. This primordial energy is also known as the serpent power or Kundalini. So, a straight back is non-negotiable if you are serious about meditation.
The arms need to be kept in a relaxed position and not stretched. To keep it stretched causes discomfort and exhaustion. The arms have to follow the natural shape of the elbow. The natural shape is a little bent. To keep the arms relaxed causes less stress and distraction.
The hands can be on top of one another or can be cross each other. If you rest your left hand on top of the right it influences the right side of the brain and fuels your feminine aspect and keeps your body warmer. But if you rest your right hand on top of your left it boosts your masculine energy as it affects the left side of the brain. It also helps in keeping your body cooler. These small modifications bring about subtle changes in our body which can be observed as we move ahead in our path. The thumbs should be joined at the tips ideally. Hands should be on your lap.
The neck and head should be in a straight line. Shoulders should be straight and relaxed but not slouching. This facilitates the channelization of the ascending energy known as udana vayu. For the primal energy to travel upwards through the central channel it needs a straight line. A straight neck does not mean a stiff and erect neck. The neck has a normal curve and that should be maintained. No body part should feel the stress but back should be straight without stiffness.
A still gaze comes with practice and experience but is one of the unfailing signs of a true meditator. A still gaze channelizes the five secondary energies. The hurdles of burping, sneezing, hiccups are removed by perfecting your gaze. It also helps in free flow of energy in your body and with the free flow of energy the numbness and aches in the body start to subside and disappear. The eyes can be either open or shut depending upon your preference. If it is open then you have to make sure that the gaze is still.
And a Gentle Smile
Finally, a gentle smile removes the tension from our face immediately. It is an important factor in bringing about an overall stillness of the body and mind. To smile gently relaxes the face muscles and brings about a calmness. With a smile we drive away negativity.
The positioning of the tongue is also important as it can otherwise cause saliva which can interfere with your stillness. The tongue should therefore touch the front part of your palate. This allows the saliva to keep moving on its own and you don’t have to keep swallowing. Swallowing will interfere with physical stillness. The teeth should be slightly parted and lips just joined. You should not clench your teeth and there should be no pouting of lips.
Your posture at all times should be firm and not tense. It should neither be stiff nor pliable. Whenever you sit down for meditation an energy is exuded. A free flow of energy occurs when a good posture is maintained, keeping all the eight elements of posture in mind. With a good posture, a natural stillness is born out of it. Then meditation becomes easier.