There are innumerable types of meditation originating from different traditions. Despite the apparent variations in approach, they all share certain common aspects. Assuming that we have managed to overcome the initial hurdles of finding the time to meditate, identifying the style of meditation that appeals to us etc., in this post we will look into one such fundamental aspect to most types of meditation - how to make our physical body support us in our attempt to contemplate on our mind?
This particular information is typically one of the first handouts at most meditation classes. It is based on a popular book called “How to meditate – A practical guide”, written by Kathleen McDonald, a Buddhist nun. It is particularly helpful to those who are new to meditation. To those already practicing, it is always worthwhile to revisit the basics. After all one of the many meanings of meditation is ‘to remember’.
Kathleen McDonald refers to this posture as the ‘seven point posture’.
The recommended posture is vajra or padmasana (‘lotus pose’). To sustain this posture requires a significant amount of flexibility, which grows with practice. However it is not the only suitable posture. We can also sit in ardha padmasana (‘half lotus pose’), vajrasana (‘diamond pose’) or most convenient of them all sukhasana (‘easy pose’). Those who find it difficult to sit on the floor may use a chair.
Initially we may also place props like cushions or blankets under our buttocks to elevate the hip above the level of our legs. This is to ensure that our hips are slightly tilting forward and to avoid rounding of our lower back, which is very critical in maintaining a straight back. With time we would be able to discard the props.Irrespective of the pose we choose, we must ensure that both our sit bones are in contact with the floor or the chair and be seated comfortably.
We may hold our hands loosely on our lap, about two inches below the navel, right hand on top of the left, palms facing upwards, with fingers aligned. The palms should be slightly cupped so that the tips of the thumbs meet to form a triangle. Shoulders and arms should be completely relaxed.
The position of our back is very important. It should be straight, held relaxed and lightly upright. Each vertebrae aligned on top of the other like a stack of coins. Maintaining a straight back enhances the ability to breathe, lets the energy flow freely and prevents drowsiness.
Shutting our eyes fully may induce sleepiness and keeping our eyes open can be distracting. It is recommended that we keep our eyes slightly open to let some light in with the gaze pointed downward.
Jaw should be relaxed and teeth slightly apart. Mouth should be relaxed with lips held together lightly.
The tip of the tongue should touch the palate just behind the upper teeth. This reduces the flow of saliva and thus the need to swallow often.
Our neck should be slightly bent forward such that our gaze is naturally directed toward the floor in front of us. Visualize a string tied to the crown of our head very gently pulling our head towards the ceiling. This will also help in maintaining a straight back.
That is the ‘seven point posture’. Now, let’s try the posture and meditate.