Sitting comfortably tall for meditation.
A well-aligned seated pose is one that positions the body in a way that respects the natural curves of the spine and supports the body with minimal unnecessary tension. We seek effortlessness.
When we are well-aligned the bones of the body stack and support each other in the most natural way. When we sit with optimal alignment we sit with ease. We relax. By relaxing the body the mind automatically relaxes too, we don’t even have to think about this, it just happens.
It can take a bit of time and tuning-in to discover the best position to be in. Maybe you have a tendency to lean slightly forward or back. Making small, subtle shifts can with help you discover your optimal position while sitting taller with greater ease. As a child you did this instinctively; this is the way you used to move before bad postural habits and tension crept in. So in a way you are re-discovering. You are peeling back the layers of tension and stress that have made their imprint on your body for all those years and when you re-discover your own effortless state of optimal alignment it’s as familiar as reconnecting with an old friend.
In order to sit tall we need to engage certain muscles, specifically the muscles of the back and abdominal area. As we move through life these muscles can get lazy. Simultaneously we can carry tension, typically in the shoulders, jaw and neck area. We can learn how to engage the correct muscles to help us maintain this upright, relaxed spine while simultaneously relaxing the muscles we don’t need to engage, releasing unnecessary tension.
When we take our attention to sitting tall we start with our base. Notice the places you feel the chair or the earth beneath you. Start with your feet, work your way up to the feeling of the back of the legs touching the chair and around into the lower back. It’s helpful to sit away from the chair back initially so the spine feels completely free. Notice your base each time you exhale and allow yourself to settle down into the chair, feeling heavy, grounded, supported and solid in the chair. Stay with this for a few breaths.
Once we’ve established the base we look for length. Notice the inhale and as you breathe in allow the spine to lengthen. From your base to the top of your head grow long. Feel the side body lengthen, the sides of the neck lengthen and allow the crown of the head to float like a balloon towards the ceiling.
As you go through this process the muscles required to support you will engage. Initially this might feel like hard work and it is! However, our muscles adapt quickly, they strengthen and tone and this initial effort quickly soaks in. The process, after a few sessions, becomes more effortless.
Imagine a channel through the very central axis of the body. Keep this central channel long, relaxed, upright and bright. Now look for areas that could soften without loosing the integrity of this upright feeling. Our shoulders might slump forward or they might be tense and creeping up towards our ears. Often we don’t even realise this; just discovering this can be the biggest ‘light-bulb’ moment of the practice. Release the shoulders down away from the ears and towards the back of the chair. the lower tips of the shoulder blades slide down towards the back of waistline. The upper chest and collarbone area broadens and softens.
Allow the sides of the neck and the back of the neck to feel long and relaxed. Soften the jaw. Notice what happens if you swallow or yawn. Some days a yawn is not enough, we need to open the mouth wider, as if in a silent roar or scream, just to give it a big stretch, and then we soften. Take your attention to the hinge between upper jaw and lower jaw and soften that place. Open the mouth slightly so the teeth and the lips slightly part and then softly close the lips but don’t purse them closed. There is a space between the teeth when the inside of the mouth is relaxed (5-7mm). When the mouth is relaxed the tongue feels full and heavy and rests gently on the floor of the mouth with the tip touching the back of the lower or upper teeth. Check if you have a tendency to squeeze, grip or create a vacuum inside your mouth and take note if you do. Try to remain soft and tension-free inside your mouth.
Notice if you are gripping anywhere else in the body. Maybe the hands or the forearms are tense. See if you can allow the arms to feel heavy and relaxed, the fingers gently curled. Spread out your feet within your shoes as best as you can. Let the skin on your face soften, as it it were a delicate fabric draped over the bones of the face. Let the skin on your entire body soften, as if it were a delicate fabric draped over your entire body.
Take your awareness to your inner body. Can you allow the inner body to feel soft and relaxed? Can you notice a subtle sensation of breath in your inner body? Inner body should feel soft, fluid and bright.
When we have placed ourselves in optimal alignment it will feel right. You are the best judge of this. Take the time to notice what feels like freedom in your body. Make subtle shifts, again and again, to refine your upright seated pose and to release tension in the places where tension will invariably creep in. You are now ready for your meditation practice. Perhaps this is your meditation practice for today, taking your awareness, again and again, to the subtle sensations in your body as you consciously release tension.
“By cultivating strength without rigidity and relaxation without collapse you are helping create a balanced imprint on your nervous system. You are training your mind and your body to be awake and calm regardless of the external circumstances.” Jason Crandell.