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Yoga teachers never tire of saying that sitting postures require you to remain straight , still, and comfortable. But what do you do if you cannot lollow all three requirements at the same time? Where do you compromise? Do you relax if relaxing droops your posture? Do you tense the body to maintain stillness? If so, where and how much? And how do you sit comfortably if all the classic postures are uncomfortable? Every teacher will have a different answer, and every teacher will answer differently to students of differing constitutions.

Many teachers feel that sitting straight is most important. Only by sitting with the head, neck, and trunk in proper alignment, is it possible to keep a clear mind. In the zen tradition a hall monitor whacks sagging meditators with a keisaku, a three-foot "encouraging stick," in order to rouse their postures and energies during long stretches of sitting.

I Technical note: Like all aspects of zen, there is a lot more to doing this job than just walloping someone on the back. It's an art form that involves the precise administration of the requisite "sensory input" to the muscular region of the shoulder just medial to the spine of the scapula. There is little margin for error. It informs you —the recipient—that sitting straight will alert the mind wonderfully and that if you put your life energy into what you have accepted in the moment, the job of the hall monitor—next time—may just be to pass you by.|

Sitting still is the next priority. When you attempt to improve the sitting postures, it is always a temptation to keep adjusting them: leaning forward, arching the lumbar region, pulling the shoulders back, adjusting the position of the head, and correcting a sideways tilt. You can make all of these adjustments while you sit, but you should make them so slowly that the movements cannot be detected by an outside observer. Obvious movements will disturb your concentration, but if you slowly tighten the pertinent muscles and feel the desired shift take place over a period of 30-60 seconds, your posture and concentration will become firm without diverting your attention from meditation. Your mind may be a bundle of nerves and random thoughts anyway, but you will have no chance of centering it if you scratch, twitch, and weave around.

Comfort is third. One meditator has said that the posture should be as easy as a coat hanging on a coat rack. And certainly you will be endlessly distracted if you are uncomfortable. Pain warns of clanger, and not honoring that signal will place you at hazard. And pain is a common problem: every one of the classic cross-legged sitting postures will become painful after a 20-60 minute period of sitting unless you have been practicing them and acclimating for a long time. So if you want to extend your sitting time it is legitimate to push up to the point of pain, but then stop. (It might be noted that zen traditions are generally not in agreement with this advice. Ignore pain, they say: it will pass.) In yoga, the customary attitude is not to force yourself, but to choose a posture in which you can sit straight and remain still for 10-30 minutes and yet be reasonably comfortable. The point is not to set records, but to avoid disturbing your concentration.

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The Health Zen

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