Guest blog by Jim Barrett – Serenity Community Member
There are many thoughts about the posture one should take when meditating with many Ways presuming that their Way is the only correct method. For many of us, most of these “correct” ways are not practical or possible but we still meditate and we still derive benefit from our meditation.
Why does it matter?
Unless one sees meditation as a form of penance or punishment a primary aspect of our posture and position is to be comfortable. Most of us find it difficult to Sit for long periods of time if we are not comfortable. Trying to hold an uncomfortable posture can certainly be a distraction if our purpose is to remain in the Now. Most of us find little benefit if our meditations center around “I hurt Now”. Few of us would find it a beneficial mantra.
The Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, generally credited with bringing Zen to America and the author of the seminal book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, tells us that we Sit with our legs crossed as a way of minimizing the duality of our body. When we stand or sit as in our normal manner we have a left side and a right side. When we sit with our legs crossed we have the right foot on the left leg and the left foot on the right leg. This is intended to merge the right and left sides of our bodies, facilitate the connection between the right and left sides of our brain, and remove or minimize our dualistic perceptions of ourselves. When we sit in a crossed leg position we are also creating a tripod stance, generally thought of as the epitome of stability. This stability of posture is thought to help provide us with a stability of mind.
Most Ways tell us that we should Sit with a straight back or spine, generally as a way to encourage or facilitate the movement of our energy (ki or chi). This emphasis on posture and head positioning can serve other purposes for the student of meditation. One purpose is to provide a focus for the mind, that is, to occupy the mind with the task of monitoring posture in order to keep the mind in the present moment. Another purpose is to allow the Master to see if and when his students allow their posture to change, usually indicating a loss of concentration or wandering from the Now. At this point the Master corrects the student in whatever manner he uses, returning the student to the Now.
For our purposes, let’s move from the ideal to the practical.
Meditating in any posture is much better than not meditating at all. Most of the meditators I know sit in a chair and many of them derive great benefits from their Sitting.
Keeping the back straight does allow energy to flow through the body efficiently but it is also the optimal position for the use of our lungs. By sitting up straight we allow ourselves to take maximum advantage of the benefits of abdominal breathing which provides maximum blood and organ oxygenation and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, activating a “relaxation response” in the body. Probably just as important is that our bodies have developed the way they have for a reason and when the human spine is properly positioned we actually use gravity to help support us.
The position that we use when we Sit can often become a part of our practice and arranging ourselves in a particular way at a particular time can be a signal to our body and brain that we are about to meditate. When I Sit at home I sit with my legs crossed in a large cushioned chair. When I Sit in the zendo I sit with my legs crossed on a meditation cushion. This is the Way I have learned over many years. More importantly, to me, is that I do many things when I sit down. I do only one thing when I sit with my legs crossed. I Sit.
Serenity is our zendo and we are located at 13825 W. National Ave. Suite 100,
New Berlin WI 53151. If you are in the Milwaukee area and would like information about our Meditation Groups or are interested in our New Meditator workshops, or would like one-on-one meditation coaching please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also appreciate constructive comments or subject suggestions for this blog.
Jim – Serenity Community Member