While concentration and meditation can be found in a variety of seated positions, lotus pose was held in particular high regard by the ancient yogis. Our goal is to find a comfortable and steady seat as suggested by Sri Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. This requires several forces within the body to balance. From the pulls of the spiraling hips to the shoulders as they press upon the breath, our physical practice can enhance our opportunity to sit in easier balance and quiet the mind. Here are a few movement suggestions that can release and activate the body to maintain a seat for longer meditation practices.
1) Finding the sit bones - The position of the hips in a half lotus seat is an exceptional request that requires a significant amount of external rotation at the hip joint. Tight muscles like the piriformis (image 1) can grip which pulls the pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt (tucking into a slouch posture). By sitting on a bolster, zafu (meditation pillow), or multiple blankets when doing this, the demand on hip flexibility is reduced which helps the pelvis organize more neutrally. Once you get to a height where you have total play of the pelvis (you can tuck the tail, stick the tail out, and tilt into each sit bones freely) you have found a comfortable and sustainable seat. If it seems like you wouldn’t find play in the pelvis unless you were sitting in a chair, then sit in a chair! You and many others feel the same. If your yoga classes doesn’t offer a chair then try thunderbolt pose, sitting on the shins with the legs together or with the pelvis on a block (no rotation at all). A posture that deeply opens the hip and the piriformis is Pigeon pose or a simply figure 4 (isolating the front leg of Pigeon pose).
2) Finding the spine - As we sit for longer periods of time the muscles of the spine fatigue and your body falls into a head forward upper chest collapsed posture. We essentially hang on our connective tissue as gravity weighs on us. The key muscle group to help us stay erect is the multifidus (image 2) which runs up and down the vertebral column snuggling the spinous processes (your stegosaurus bones). The muscle fibers span 2-4 vertebrae from origin to insertion and run the entire length of the spine from the cervical to the sacrum. When the right and left sides co-contract it offers stability and decomposes the vertebral bodies, literally making you taller. To strengthen this muscles group in your meditation, place a block between the pelvis and the wall (establishing distance from the wall) then move the block to your behind your head. Gently press the head into the block and imagine you could “slide” the block up the wall. Be sensitive to the tendency to extend the spine. To create opposition, as the block slides up visualize your tailbone rooting downward and your low back elongating. A posture that helps activate multifidis is locust especially when emphasizing length rather than deep back bending.
3) Lift your shoulders - Before you sit, take your shoulders through full range of motion. In giant circles lift you shoulder blades to your ears, back to squeeze the spine, down onto the ribs, and then forward into a rounded position. Continue this circle many times over, hydrating and mobilizing all the muscles and connective tissue that connect the arms to the ribs. Once you have created some warmth and mobility, allow the shoulder blades to rest passively on the ribs as if they were floating on top of a cloud… DO NOT PUSH THEM DOWN. As we draw our mind to our breath we want the lungs in their entirety to be free to inhale and exhale. A posture that will help open your shoulders is gomukasana (cow-face pose) that emphasizes the shoulder blades mobilizing.
All of these notes can be used as a mindful external focus. Begin your meditation on the seat and its comfort, then move the mind to your spine and its length, then allow your breath to be the main point of focus. Using the container, our body, as a guide for our seat. Once you have explored your seat with mindfulness place your awareness on the rise and fall of your breath.
Anatomical images created by 3D4Medical Ltd. (2019). Complete Anatomy (Version 4.0.1 (7770) Mac application software.
Loveless-Lennartz. (2018). Asana for meditation [Blog post]. Retrieved from www.yogabhoga.com/blog/asana-for-meditation