How many times have you tried meditation, but given up after 30 seconds because it’s just so uncomfortable? Why would anyone put themselves through the torture of sitting still! Maybe the thoughts in your head go something like this: Ah, I’m relaxing. Breathe in peace, breathe out compassion. Breathe in peace … ouch! My knee hurts so much I should really go to acupuncture later or ask a doctor if all that softball in college really ruined me ... oh right, I’m breathing in peace … dangit, now my shoulders feel heavy … I’m just gonna go make dinner.
But you have probably heard how good meditating is for you: it reduces stress and anxiety, deepens creativity, aids in anger management, increases the ability to “sit with” emotions rather than react quickly, and on and on. Often these mental/emotional/spiritual benefits may elude you due to the fact that seated meditation can be, quite literally, a pain in the butt. If your low back is screaming at you, your hips are feeling pinched, or your knees are tingling, you won’t be interested in sitting long enough to tap into all the juicy benefits of meditation.
It’s true that sometimes those initial discomforts go away after a few minutes of stillness. But sometimes they don’t. And sometimes the many sensations in your body can be the point of focus for a sense-based meditation or body scan. But sometimes they’re so distracting that the pain of trying to sit turns you off to meditation for good.
There’s hope yet! The good news is that there is not one correct way to sit for meditation. The hope is that with practice (and it is a practice), you’ll find a mostly comfortable way to sit or be for meditation that works for you. Everybody is different, so it’s worth experimenting to find the best pose, cushion, timer, or teacher to guide you on your meditation journey.
Enjoy the following poses to prepare for meditation. Try them as a sequence or pick one or two before your sit.
hips-circles-1.jpghips-circles-2.jpgStanding Hip Circles
These get the blood circulating in your lower limbs and help release tension in the low back. When you’re ready to sit, your legs won’t feel stiff.
- Stand with your feet wider than your hips.
- Bring your hands to your waist.
- Bend your knees slightly and begin to circle your hips and knees in one direction five to 10 times. Wind down and repeat in the other direction.
- Try a figure-eight shape for a deeper sense of freedom.
foward-fold.jpgStanding Forward Fold (Uttanasa)
This is a low back and spine release, as well as a hamstring stretch. When you’re ready to sit, your low back won’t be talking to you as loudly, and your legs will feel longer.
- Stand with your feet as wide as your hips or wider.
- Bend your knees and slowly roll down and fold over your legs.
- Keep a generous bend in your knees and allow your upper body, torso, arms, and head to hang heavy.
- Shake out your head and hair and relax your jaw.
- Sway gently side-to-side and forward and back to feel all parts of your feet on the ground.
- Stay folded and experiment with different arm variations for 10 to 15 breaths.
- Roll up slowly.
squat.jpgYoga Squat (Malasana)
This is deep inner hip opener. When you’re ready to sit, your groins, hip flexors, and adductor muscles will be open.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
- Begin to bend your knees and squat down. Keep bending until you need to pause.
- Rock slightly foot-to-foot as you settle into the pose.
- Angle your tail backward and lift your heart forward. Reach through the crown of your head.
- Bring your palms together in front of your chest. Press your elbows into your inner thighs. Lower your heals and lift the arches of your feet.
- Place a block under your seat or a blanket under your heals to modify.
- Breathe deeply for five to 10 breaths.
- Come out of the pose by sitting all the way down.
twist.jpg Reclining Twist (Jathara Parivartanasana)
This twist on your back is a great way to ready the spine, back muscles, abdominal muscles, and digestive tract. The outer hips also receive a stretch here. When you’re ready to sit, your back muscles will be toned to support you.
- Come onto your back.
- Hug your knees into your chest and rock a few times side-to-side.
- Bring your knees out at 90 degrees and reach your arms out to your sides.
- On an exhale, allow your knees to tip over to the right side and come all the way to the earth or a cushion.
- Soften your shoulders to the ground and turn your head away from your knees.
- Hold the twist for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Repeat on the second side.
Finally, come to your most comfortable seat. If you’re sitting on the floor, elevated hips and lots of cushions or blankets on a flat, supportive surface help to align the body for optimum seated comfort. Whether you choose to sit on the floor in a seated Virasana, Sukhasana, Siddhasana, in a chair or on a bench with your feet flat on the earth, or you find your own creative variation, situate yourself and begin your practice. Your body is prepared.
Bonus: Post-Meditation Stretches!
When you’re sitting time has ended, try the following for a bonus stretch:
- Extend your legs out in front of you, give them a pat down with your hands, and gently massage your knees.
- Allow your head to loll from side-to-side or make slow neck circles and enjoy a twist from a seated or reclined position.
- Carry on with your day!
Whether you sit in meditation for 10 minutes or an hour and 10 minutes, ensuring that your body is well prepared can make all the difference.