Maintaining proper bodily posture

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Correct posture is important for meditation. Here's a seven-point checklist that can help you develop good sitting habits:

✓ Back: Your back position is the single most important physical feature of your meditation. Your back should be straight but relaxed, with your chest open and your neck free. Correct posture enables your bodily energies to flow more freely, which prevents sleepiness. (Flip to "Understanding cakras: Your wheels of fortune" earlier in the chapter for details on the bodily energies.) Most Westerners need a firm cushion under their sits bones (the bones directly under the flesh of the buttocks) to encourage good posture during meditation and to stop their legs from going to sleep. If you go that route, however, make sure your pelvis doesn't tilt forward too much. Alternatively, you can sit on a chair. Any posture is acceptable as long as you can comfortably maintain it for the desired duration.

✓ Head: For the correct position of your head, picture an attached string pulling the back of your head upward so that your head is tilted slightly forward. Too much of a forward tilt invites drowsiness, but not enough of a tilt can cause mental wandering.

✓ Tongue: Allow the front part of your tongue to touch the palate just behind the upper teeth. This position reduces the flow of saliva and the number of times you have to swallow, which many beginners find disturbing.

✓ Teeth: Don't clench your teeth — keep your jaws relaxed. And be sure that your mouth doesn't hang open either.

✓ Legs: If you can sit cross-legged for an extended period of time without experiencing discomfort, we especially recommend the perfect posture (siddhasana), which we describe in Chapter 6. The folded legs form a closed circuit, which aids your concentration. If sitting cross-legged is a problem for you, just meditate in a chair.

✓ Arms: Keep your hands cupped in your lap with your palms up and your right hand on top of your left. Relax your arms and shoulders, leaving a few inches between your arms and your trunk, which allows the air to circulate and prevents drowsiness.

✓ Eyes: Most beginners like to close their eyes, which is fine. As you develop your power of concentration, however, you may want to experiment with keeping your eyes slightly open while gazing downward in front of you to signal your brain that you aren't trying to go to sleep. Advanced practitioners are able to keep their eyes wide open without becoming distracted. In any event, make sure that your eye muscles are relaxed.

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