The Six Postures

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The three classic sitting postures can be challenging, but fortunately there are easier poses you can use while you work up to the traditional ones. We'll consider six meditation poses in an ascending curve of intensity and effort. The friendship posture (rnaitryasana) is excellent if you need (or prefer) to sit on a chair; the adamantine posture (vajrasana) while kneeling on a bench is probably the most comfortable; the easy posture (sukasana) is suitable for short periods of sitting before you are comfortable in the traditional poses; the auspicious posture (swastikasana) is the easiest of the three classical postures; the accomplished posture (siddhasana) is valued for stabilizing sexual energy; and the lotus posture (padmasana) brings a profound sense of repose.

THE FRIENDSHIP POSTURE (MAITRVASANA)

The friendship posture (rnaitryasana), in which you are sitting on a chair, is best if you are just beginning to practice hatha yoga, if you are among those who are not able to sit comfortably in any position on the floor, or if you usually sit on the floor but are in pain for one reason or another. And even if you do not intend to use the posture as your primary sitting pose in the long run, it is a useful learning tool. Start with a wooden chair cushioned just enough to enable you to sit still comfortably for 10-20 minutes. To do the posture simply sit on the edge of the chair with the head, neck, and spine in a straight line, the knees comfortably apart, the feet flat on the floor, and the hands resting on the thighs (fig. 10.8).

The greatest advantage to this pose is that the lumbar lordosis is easy to maintain. The thighs arc at a goc angle from the trunk, the feet are planted solidly on the floor, and the arms are resting on the knees where they can help stabilize the spine. The vertebral column can be held erect because there is no tension from the adductors and hamstring muscles 01 the underside of the pelvis, and also because the iliopsoas muscles exert only minimal effort to maintain a right angle between the thighs and thi torso. This makes it easy to do breathing exercises, pranayama, ant meditation.

The disadvantage to the friendship pose is that sitting on the edge of th chair requires you to be constantly alert to keep your balance. Unlike th classic postures, your base does not form a solid triangle against the floo and without that stability a big part of your attention must remain o staying upright. If your awareness lapses, the posture will begin to sa and wobble.

Sitting toward the rear of the chair is a more secure option because i that position your back is steadied from behind. The pelvis and sacrum ai braced, and the position of the ilium against the back of the chair stabilizi the origins of the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum muscles. So i this version of the friendship posture you can concentrate your attentio on keeping a sense of lift to the spine and do not have to think aboi stability. There are two downsides, however: it is too easy to relax, gt drowsy, and lose your concentration, and the pressure of the chair again-your back impedes diaphragmatic (although not abdominal) breathing.

Figure 10.8. It is easy to sit straight in the friendship pose (maitryasana), because neither the adductors or the hamstring muscles create tension on the base of the pelvis that would cause a posterior pelvic tilt (a rotation of the top of the pelvis to the rear that would in turn degrade the lumbar lordosis). It is also easy to maximize sacroiliac nutation in this posture by selectively contracting the psoas muscles. The main disadvantage of the pose is that without a broad base it tips around (both front to back and from side to side) fairly easily, and you have to remain hyper-alert to maintain stability.

Maitryasana The Chair

W. HELAXA1ION AND MEDITATION 577 the adamantine posture (vajbasana)

There are several variations of the adamantine, or warrior pose (vajrasana), but only two of them are suitable for sitting more than a few minutes or so at a time. For the basic posture start in a kneeling position with the thighs together and the head and torso vertical. The feet should be together with their upper surfaces facing the floor and the heels slightly apart. Now lower your body until you are sitting on the heels, which forces full extension of the ankles. If the posture is beyond your capacity you can use any combination of several props: supporting the ankles with a small pillow or folded towel, placing a soft pillow between the thighs and the legs, or placing a substantial pillow under the hips and between the feet.

To develop enough flexibility for the basic posture, you can spread your feet apart and sit between them in one of three possible positions: with the heels up, with the heels in and the toes out, or with the heels out and the toes in. In this last one you usually place some of your weight on the feet as well as on the floor. If your knee and ankle flexibility do not permit sitting squarely on the floor in these three variations, most instructors suggest that you place a supporting pillow between the feet just high enough to make the posture comfortable.

The basic adamantine pose can be used for brief periods of meditation and pranayama, but unless you have grown up with it in an Islamic culture, or have taken a decade or two of training in the formal Japanese tea ceremony, sitting in this posture for more than a few minutes should be approached cautiously. First of all, it may strain ligaments in the knee that are not accustomed to prolonged tension. Second, circulation may be cut off in the legs as a result of the extreme flexion of the knees, causing a pins-and-needles sensation. Finally, the pose places pressure directly on a superficial branch of the common peroneal nerve, which is subcutaneous just lateral to the head of the fibula and which supplies several muscles on the anterior side of the leg. If that nerve is traumatized by prolonged sitting in the adamantine pose, the muscles it supplies can be temporarily paralyzed. You will experience numbness and a clinical syndrome—someone clcverly but unjustifiably thought to call it "yoga foot drop"—in which you are unable to flex the ankle when you step forward. If the trauma is mild you will experience the symptoms for only a few minutes or at most a few days. But if you damage the nerve to the point at which its axons degenerate distally from the site of their injury, you will have to wait for the nerve fibers to regenerate from that site to the peripheral sensory receptors and muscles before you regain sensory and motor function. This regeneration happens slowly but surely, at the rate of about one mm per day.

All of these problems can be remedied by sitting 5-8 inches off the flot> on a small bench with a tilted-forward seat (fig. 10.9). In this position t.h knees are incompletely flexed, and because of this, little pressure is place on the common peroneal nerve, and blood circulation is less impeded. Tl biggest advantage, however, is that none of the muscular tension associatt with cross-legged postures is present. It is easy for the iliopsoas muscles tilt the back of the pelvis up and forward to create a strain-free lumt lordosis, even for those with severe restrictions in hip flexibility. The peh is automatically placed in a forward tilt defined by the angle of the seat (t only sitting posture in which that happens) and this creates an automa; o lumbar curve that keeps the abdomen open and yet taut, which in turn i helpful for experimenting with different methods of breathing. The oth r attractive feature of this posture is that it is possible to sit comfortably ,1 it for much longer than is possible for any of the three classic sitt. g poses—all without pins-and-needles sensations, lower back discomfort, a: d cramped circulation.

The advantages to sitting in the adamantine posture on a bench e logical, obvious, and huge. So why is it not in widespread use, and why i it not included in the canon of traditional yogic meditation postures? T e reasons fall into two categories. Structurally, the adamantine posture o i bench does not form a right tetrahedron, and it is therefore not as sta e as the classic sitting poses. The thighs are not at a right angle from e spine, the knees are not very far apart, and the upper extremities do 1 it brace the posture as efficiently as they do in the cross-legged posture.1- [f you have gotten accustomed to one of the three classic sitting poses, d you try this one as an alternative, you may sense a lack of groundednes -a floating feeling and a sense that your energy is being dissipated. If 1

Figure 10.9. The adamantine posture (vajrasana) on a bench is hard to match for long periods of sitting. The psoas and itiacus muscles work efficiently to keep you upright, the tilted-forward seat places the pelvis in a natural anterior pelvic tilt that encourages a comfortable lumbar lordosis, the feet and knees are not stressed, and problems with blood circulation and damage to the common peroneal nerve are minimized. The disadvantages, often mentioned by those who have long accustomed themselves to one of the three classic sitting postures on the floor, is that this posture leaves them with an ungrounded, floating sensation that distracts them from meditation.

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