Sitting on meditation cushions allows you to sit erect and alert for a long time.
In each newsletter we will provide some tips for sitting in meditation with comfort and awareness. In our last Newsletter we talked about your legs. In this newsletter we will give you some suggestions for your back.
When sitting in meditation it's best to keep your body sitting up straight and relaxed. Take a look at this photo of Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker. When you are pondering something this makes for a pretty good posture. But when you are aiming to clear the mind it is better to do the opposite, and sit up straight and open.
To sit up straight, sit on the front half of your zafu (see photo). Your zafu and support cushion will help tilt your pelvis forward, allowing your torso to sit up straight and strong. Next you might imagine you have a string coming from the top of your head, pulling you up as you sit (or for that matter, as you stand). Held up by this imaginary string, now let your body relax. Let your shoulders, your back, your belly relax. That's the 'string method,' and we think it’s a pretty good rough guide.
Another way to get to a straight and relaxed posture is to give some attention to your chest. Breathe in and out naturally, and notice how your ribcage rises and falls with your breath. Now on an out-breath gently hold your sternum (the front and center of your ribcage) in the same place as you exhale. In this way you keep your sternum and chest slightly raised and energized. The rest of your trunk - your shoulders, back, and belly, can relax if your chest is carrying the load. You don't have to consciously straighten your back - raising your sternum will give your back the natural curve it has when you sit upright and relaxed. You might call this the 'sternum method.'
When told to 'sit up straight' many of us, whether we’re aware of it or not, pull ourselves up by our shoulders. This leads to a rigid posture and sore neck and shoulders. If you hold yourself up with your string or sternum, your shoulders can relax. If your shoulders get stiff, one trick is to pull them way up, level to your ears, hold them there for a few seconds, then let them drop naturally down around a strong sternum.
Your posture should not be rigid. Our company name is 'Still Sitting' but in truth no one sits perfectly still, nor should you try. Your body is always in motion - your breath is moving, your heart is beating, your blood is rushing around. Your body is alive with activity. Through meditation you may learn to still a fidgety body and mind, and join the natural ebb and flow of your body.
Rather than Rodin's Thinker, take as your model for meditation a one-year-old baby. She sits up naturally straight and relaxed. Have a good sit!
Next Newsletter we'll give you some advice about the position of your head.