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Mindful : June 2018
Sometimes as meditators, the last thing we’re inclined to pay attention to is how we’re sitting. It can be tempting to ignore the physical side of practice and focus only on the workings of our mind. Isn’t the body just tagging along for the ride? Not so. We meditate with the body and mind as one unit. When we try to ignore our body, or to literally bend it to our will in meditation (cramping our legs under a too-short cushion, straining to keep the hips above the knees), we find our body and our state of mind aren’t easily compartmentalized. If our body is uncomfortable, it has a way of nagging at us, holding our attention and causing us to tense up—thus making the discomfort even worse. We’re able to be more naturally attentive when our bodies are supported and in alignment. And while healthy posture looks similar for most, what people need varies widely in terms of the cushions, chairs, or props that allow us to hold that position with ease. Knowing the various options for meditation seats and bolsters will serve you well for two reasons. First, comfort is a significant factor in whether or not you’ll keep up your practice. Sec- ond, and just as important, what you find com- fortable will shift over time. The body is con- stantly in flux, just as the mind is. A well-made zafu may cost a little more, but it can last for decades, and you can adapt it in countless ways as needed. You can make your seat taller with a bolster, add a zabuton or extra padding under knees or ankles, or use it as a footrest when you meditate in a chair. It’s a good idea to talk with a meditation teacher who’s qualified to advise you regarding particular physical concerns. Especially when you’re learning to meditate, the intention to be attuned to your body will help you deal with the inevitable cramps and aches of seated meditation practice. Elizabeth Deboo, a physical therapist and meditation teacher, recommends that when you notice dis- comfort in any area of your body, first identify where you feel the sensation. Then take a few deep, slow breaths. It’s normal for the brain to zero in on what feels unpleasant. See if you can instead shift or expand your attention into the space around you. “As you calm down, your nervous system calms down, and the tension in your body is going to soften,” says Deboo. “If it doesn’t soften, and it’s the only thing that you can become aware of,” then it’s probably best to adjust the way you’re sitting. With this gentle method of inquiry, you can find a healthy balance between getting com- fortable and perhaps, gradually, creating the potential for more spaciousness in your seated posture. Deboo has noticed some meditators struggling to push through pain, saying to themselves, “ Even if I’m not comfortable, I should probably just endure this.” But, she says, it’s more constructive to work with your body. She emphasizes that you “can create the space—meaning body space and meditation space in your environment—that works, and that makes you want to come back to it.” Supporting your body, when you’re meditat- ing and when you’re not, is a meaningful act of self-compassion. It’s also an opportunity to let go of resistance and comparison (including any lingering mental images of graceful gurus who, by all appearances, were born sitting cross-legged). There really is no ideal to strive for. When you approach your practice with a spirit of acceptance and curiosity, your expecta- tions don’t carry so much weight. Then you can deeply explore what it’s like to be here: in your seat, in this moment, just as you are. ● APerchwithPurpose We’re able to be more naturally attentive when our bodies are supported and in alignment. June 2018 mindful 61 meditation