When sitting in meditation, how often do people need pillows to tilt their pelvis? We would love to sit comfortably for 30 minutes but seem to stiffen up without support. It has been suggested that a few long-term back stiffness problems can evolve from fighting this discomfort. How upright should you sit? I am guessing a balance between a straight spine but not too stiff, would this be right? Is sitting better than lying down? Cross legs versus straight legs? Annie, via email
The reason for sitting on support during meditation and pranayama practice is to put the pelvis in a neutral position so that the spine and trunk can be lifted with minimum effort. BKS Iyengar says that “the aim is to sit straight, with the spine upright and the back ribs and muscles firm and alert”.
The amount of support needed will depend on the asana and the flexibility of the practitioner. While sitting with legs crossed, students with stiffer hips will need extra support under the buttocks to bring the knees to a level no higher than the pelvis. Even flexible students should use some support for this pose and for Virasana (Hero Pose), to maintain an upright spine and an open chest. If one can sit comfortably in Padmasana (Lotus Pose), very little support, if any, is needed under the buttocks.
The use of a wall can give support and also assist your alignment. Sitting with straight legs is not recommended, as it requires a great deal more effort to maintain a lengthened spine. If the classical sitting poses prove to be uncomfortable, sit in a chair.
If you are finding that you cannot sit comfortably for an extended period, you may need to spend more time refining your asana practice. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) is especially useful, as it both flexes the hips and opens the chest. A well-rounded practice of all the asanas, including standing poses, twists, backbends and inversions, will help to bring flexibility and firmness to the body and help steady the mind in preparation for pranayama and meditation. A sitting position is generally recommended for meditation, however the practice of Savasana helps to prepare us for sitting and relieves fatigue after extended sitting.
For a more detailed explanation of the sitting postures for pranayama and meditation, read Light on Pranayama and Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar.
Frank Jesse is a senior Iyengar teacher. He runs retreats and classes at Griffins Hill in the Southern Grampians, Victoria. Visit www.griffinshill.com.au.