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cannot put this feeling aside or compensate for it in some manner, you will probably not be content with this pose in the long run. But still, if you keep having discomfort with the other postures, and especially if you wish to sit in perfect comfort for long periods of time, it's worth a try. Perhaps you can make it work.

THE EASY POSTURE (SUKASANA)

As the name implies, the easy posture (sukasana) is the first one beginners learn when they are ready to sit on the floor. To do it, simply fold the lower extremities so that each leg rests on the opposite foot and sit up as straight as possible. The lateral sides of the feet are against the floor and the legs and thighs may point up at an angle of 20-30° (fig. 10.10a).

The easy posture is appropriate for 2-5 minute periods of meditation or for breathing exercises at the beginning or end of a class, but it has several disadvantages as a meditative posture. To understand why, try the following experiment. Sit fiat on the floor and assume the easy posture, making a moderate effort to hold the back straight. Remembering that the psoas and iliacus muscles insert on the femur, lift the posture by using those muscles. Notice that when you try to lift and straighten the vertebral column, the lumbar lordosis is pulled forward by the iliopsoas muscles, as expected, but the thigh is also pulled toward the torso, raising the knees (fig. 10.10b). This makes the posture unstable: the thighs float up and down and the lumbar region floats back and forth.

Another reason this posture is unstable is that it doesn't form a true right tetrahedron. Compared with the other cross-legged sitting poses, the base triangle is smaller, since it is supported only by the lateral sides of the feet rather than the full length of the thighs, and the elbows are bent 90°, making it difficult for the upper limbs to stabilize the posture.

A cushion that lifts you several inches off the floor modifies the posture to the point at which it becomes more stable: the thighs are closer to being horizontal and the hands can grasp the knees with the forearms extended. And because of this you can lift the vertebral column without springing the thighs into a flexed position. This posture, supported by a thick, firm, round pillow called a zafu cushion, is commonly used for marathon periods of sitting in zen meditative traditions, and is definitely worth exploring.

THE AUSPICIOUS POSTURE (SWASTIKASANA)

At some point serious students of yoga will want to try one of the classic sitting postures for meditation, and the one to start with is the easiest of the three—the auspicious pose (swaslikasana). Place the left foot against the opposite inner thigh with the back of the heel to the right side of the genitals (fig. 10.na). Notice a prominent bony knob on the medial side of the ankle. This is the medial malleolus, and it should be just to the rigl of the midline of the body. The lateral malleolus (fig. 6.8), on the opposit side of the ankle, rests against the floor. Next, tuck the lateral side of tfi • right foot between the left leg and thigh. The two heels are now separat« | by the width of about four fingers. The lateral malleolus of the right ank is now to the left of the medial malleolus of the left ankle. In other wore they cross one another in the midline. If the heels are not far enough apa these bones will be on top of one another and will cause discomfort. No reaching between the right leg and thigh, pull the left foot up so it is fix 1 between the calf and thigh muscles. Then sit straight and place the har s lightly on the knees with the palms down (fig. 10.11b). The body is n< . stabilized in the form of a right tetrahedron.

Figure 10.10a. The easy posture (sukasana) isn't easy for long because it doesn't have a stable base. It is fine for a few minutes of meditation or breathing exercises at the end of a class, during which time you can make a special effort to sit up straight- Otherwise, it can be used as a more relaxed posture for playing music or eating a meal. In any case, the foot that is pulled in first should be alternated regularly. The pose is shown here with the hands at the sides for comparison with the profiles of the Ihighs and back in figure 10.10h. The hands would ordinarily be placed on the knees.

Figure 10.10b. When you try to sit up straighter in the easy pose, your psoas muscles act to pull the lumbar lordosis forward, and your iliacus muscles act in emphasizing an anterior pelvic tilt. That much j is fine. The problem, however, is f that the thighs are not stabilized, and the hip flexors create an unwanted side effect of increasing hip flexion (lifting the knees), which makes sitting in this posture for meditation a constant battle for stability.

10 relaxation and meditation s8l

As mentioned earlier, the right foot should be placed on the bottom every other time you sit in the auspicious pose, as well as in all other cross-legged sitting postures. Alter a few weeks, it becomes a simple matter of habit to alternate. As a reminder, you can place the left foot underneath on odd days of the month and the right foot underneath on even days of the month. Why-do this? With nothing on from the waist down, watch yourself carefully in a mirror and notice that the foot on the bottom lifts the pelvis slightly on that same side. More specifically, if the left foot is on the bottom, the left leg is slightly further underneath the left thigh than the right leg is underneath the right thigh. The proximal portion of the left thigh will therefore be slightly higher than that of the right thigh, and as a result the crest of the left ilium will be slightly higher than the crest of the right ilium. And since the pelvic bowl is tilted to the right, the vertebra] column has to tilt slightly to the right in the lumbar region, to the left in the thorax, and again to the right in the neck. If you switch the positions of the feet you will notice that the postural adjustments reverse themselves from head to toe, leaving you with an opposite set of right-left imbalances. It is impossible to eliminate them entirely, but it is a good idea to compensate for the imbalance on one day with an equal and opposite imbalance the next. It becomes a matter of routine and does not violate the classic injunction to stick with one sitting posture for meditation.

figure 10.11. To prevent imbalances in all the cross-legged sitting postures, the foot that is placed first should be alternated daily, such as the left foot first on odd days of the month (a) and the right foot first on even days of the month. The key feature of the auspicious posture (swastikasana, shown here) is that the feet are placed against the opposite thighs so that the medial malleolus of the lowermost ankle and the lateral malleolus of the upper ankle are both situated beyond the midsagittal plane (b). In other words, the malleoli cross one another rather than being on top of one another. In the case pictured above, the left foot (big toe side) is pulled up between the right calf and thigh, and the right fool (little toe side) is inserted between the left calf and thigh (b).

The Auspicious Sitting Posture

figure 10.11. To prevent imbalances in all the cross-legged sitting postures, the foot that is placed first should be alternated daily, such as the left foot first on odd days of the month (a) and the right foot first on even days of the month. The key feature of the auspicious posture (swastikasana, shown here) is that the feet are placed against the opposite thighs so that the medial malleolus of the lowermost ankle and the lateral malleolus of the upper ankle are both situated beyond the midsagittal plane (b). In other words, the malleoli cross one another rather than being on top of one another. In the case pictured above, the left foot (big toe side) is pulled up between the right calf and thigh, and the right fool (little toe side) is inserted between the left calf and thigh (b).

The auspicious pose is the easiest of the three classic sitting postures because the feet cross one another in the midline of the body and end up in a natural and stable position planted against the opposite thighs. The adductors and pubofemoral ligaments are not stretched excessively, and the knees and hip joints are not placed under intense torque. Your main needs for this pose will be to develop hip flexibility and to acclimate to torques and pressures on the ankles. After that, almost everyone can be comfortable in this posture. If you are using a cushion, adjust it to the point at which it is high enough to support you but not so high that you do not need to make moderate efforts to keep the lumbar lordosis arched and the sacroiliac joints in full nutation. Decrease the height of the cushion over a long period of time until you are sitting closer to the floor. This pose is aptly named the auspicious posture. You can settle into it indefinitely and without regret.

THE ACCOMPLISHED POSTURE (SIDDHASANA)

The accomplished pose (siddhasana), also known as the perfect pose, is said to be the meditative posture of yoga adepts and renunciates. It is the most demanding—and some say the most rewarding—of all the sitting postures, but anyone who is reasonably comfortable with the auspicious pose can begin to learn it.

Several variations of the accomplished posture are given in the hatha yoga literature, but for even the commonest one which we will describe here, different authorities give slightly different directions for how to place the feet. Regardless of this, all agree that the backs of the heels are to be exactly in the midsagittal plane of the torso.

In men the base of the penis rests against the bottom heel, so when you first explore the posture it is best not to wear anything from the waist down. lift the penis, scrotum, and testes up and out of the way, and then place the left heel underneath the inferior pubic rami (figs. 1.12 and 3.2) so that there is barely room for the penis to emerge above the heel. If you are sitting squarely on the floor with no support to lift you up, the back of the heel will be situated slightly in front of the center of the perineum (fig. 10.12). Your weight will be supported by the thighs, the ischial tuberosities, and by the left heel and inferior pubic rami.

The corpus spongiosum of the penis (chapter 3) will be slightly compressed from below by the medial aspect of the heel, but it will be protected by the depth of the upside-down V formed by the inferior pubic rami (fig. 10.13). The back of the heel should be pressing against the inner surfaces of the inferior pubic rami from which the corpora cavernosa arise. The skeletal foundation of the posture, which shows the contact points of the heel with the two ischiopubic rami, as well as space for the penis between the heel and the pubic symphysis, makes the nature of this pose io RELAXATION AND MEMTATHJN 583

apparent immediately (fig. 10.13). The corpus spongiosum should be exactly in the midline, locked between the heel and the top of the V. Be careful not to get any part of the spermatic cord (containing the ductus deferens, blood vessels, and nerves) caught between the pelvic bones and the heel. Make doubly sure of this after settling the first foot into position (in this case the lell foot) by pulling the skin of the scrotum up and forward so that the skin and underlying tissues of the front of the perineum are pulled taut.

Notice that the medial malleolus of the left foot is to the left of the midline. Adjust the genitals to either side of the heel—penis and one testis to one side and the other testis to the other. Then place the right foot above the left so that the back of the right heel is exactly in fine with the back of the left heel. You can lift the right heel above and to the front of the pubic bone, allowing the foot to angle downward, or if that is not possible you can fold a small, soft cloth and use it as a cushion between the two ankles without violating the essence of the posture. The malleoli do not cross beyond one another as they do in the auspicious posture. The lateral madeolus of the right foot is now to the right of the midline and also to the right of the medial malleolus of the left foot. Straighten the spine and rest the hands on the knees, allowing the thumbs and index fingers to touch one another. The body has now formed a right tetrahedron (fig. 10.14). As with other cross-legged sitting postures, the positions of the feet should be switched on alternate days or sittings.

Women, like men, should position the heel against the inner surface of the inferior pubic rami. But this means that the heel will have to be placed directly against the soft tissues of the genitals, well in front of the fourchette (the fold of skin which forms the union of the lower ends of the labia minora). The heel will be more intrusive in the female because the

Figure 10.12. The key feature of the unpropped accomplished posture (siddhasana) is that the back of the heel of the lowermost foot is placed at the perineum (between the anus and the genitals) exactly in the midline. The medial and lateral malleoli of the respective feet are both located short of the midsagittal plane of the body, so that if the top foot is laid down directly against the bottom foot, the two malleoli do not rest on top of one another. Most people will require a prop to make this posture comfortable.

upside-down V formed by the pubic rami is shallower than in the male. Some authorities describe a posture in which women sit with nothing on from the waist down and press the lowermost heel between the labia, calling the pose yoni siddhasana. Other authorities state heatedly that womer should never sit in any form of the accomplished pose. Those who find ii uncomfortable can use the auspicious pose.

It is said that the accomplished posture stabilizes and sublimates sexua energy because of the position of the feet with respect to the genitals. So ti monitor the subtleties of the pose you have to monitor the position of th lower heel in relation to the structures lying within the confines of th urogenital triangle (figs. 3.4 and 3.27-29). If you are sitting straight in th

Figure 10.13. The skeletal details of fig. 10.12 (unpropped accomplished pose) reveal that the tarsal bone of the heel (the calcaneus) is locked squarely against the inferior pubic rami. Ihe soft tissues at possible hazard in the male are the corpus spongiosum of the penis in the midline, and especially the two corpora cavernosa, which take origin along the medial borders of the inferior pubic rami. It is the possible damage to arteries within the corpus spongiosum and the corpora cavernosa that suggest contraindicating extensive practice of the accomplished posture in men who wish to maintain sexual activity. With three exceptions, a similar situation occurs for a woman: the exposed portion of the clitoris is well out of harm's way; the pubic arch is wider, thus easing contact of the heel with the corpora cavernosa; and the back of the heel will be placed squarely between the labia in the vaginal introitus (Dodd).

Prevent Trauma Exercises

—corpus caver-^.nosum left infenor pubic ramus: its medial border is mount for

Figure 10.13. The skeletal details of fig. 10.12 (unpropped accomplished pose) reveal that the tarsal bone of the heel (the calcaneus) is locked squarely against the inferior pubic rami. Ihe soft tissues at possible hazard in the male are the corpus spongiosum of the penis in the midline, and especially the two corpora cavernosa, which take origin along the medial borders of the inferior pubic rami. It is the possible damage to arteries within the corpus spongiosum and the corpora cavernosa that suggest contraindicating extensive practice of the accomplished posture in men who wish to maintain sexual activity. With three exceptions, a similar situation occurs for a woman: the exposed portion of the clitoris is well out of harm's way; the pubic arch is wider, thus easing contact of the heel with the corpora cavernosa; and the back of the heel will be placed squarely between the labia in the vaginal introitus (Dodd).

—corpus caver-^.nosum left infenor pubic ramus: its medial border is mount for to REijtxArmNAnnMgimnioN 5K5

accomplished pose without a cushion, and if the sacroiliac joints are fused or locked, the pelvis will rotate forward in exact proportion to how far the lower back arches. And if or as the posture improves under these circumstances (which means establishing a fuller lumbar lordosis and a straighter posture), the inferior pubic rami are rotated to an even more acute angle with respect to the floor. In men this catches the base of the penis between two unyielding surfaces—the bones of the foot and the inferior pubic rami. In women, coming more fully into the posture presses the lower heel more deeply into the soil tissues of the external genitals.

It is at this point that sacroiliac joint mobility makes a big difference. If instead of being fused or locked, the sacroiliac joint is capable of 5-10° of movement bet ween the extremes of nutation and counternutation, you will want to establish full nutation. This can help the posture circuitously in two ways: First, because nutation spreads the ischial tuberosities apart, it eases tension on the adductors, and this helps you sit straighter with an intact lumbar lordosis. This can help you in all of the classic meditative sitting postures, hut nutation is especially important in the accomplished posture for yet another reason: with the sacroiliac joints in full nutation, the pelvic bowl as a whole does not have to be tipped quite so far forward to complete the posture, and this means that in relative terms nutation will have produced a slight posterior pelvic tilt and will have reduced the acuteness of the angle between the inferior puhic rami and the floor. In combination with spreading the ischia apart, this makes a little more room for the penis. Each of these effects is tiny, but the results add up. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that sacroiliac joint mobility for nutation is almost as important to this posture as adductor and hip flexibility.

Figure 10.14. The completed accomplished posture. As in the case of the unpropped auspicious pose, the foot that is placed first should be alternated daily for the accomplished pose. There are two options for the upper foot, one with a pad between the ankles (but with the malleoli short of the midsagittal plane), and the other with the upper leg rotated severely enough that the upper foot is placed entirely above the genitals. The former is easier; the latter, shown here, is more traditional. In any case, the toes are tucked in between the calves and thighs as in the auspicious pose.

Siddhasana Pose

As to props, a supporting cushion changes the position of the heel and alters the posture so completely that even calling it the accomplished pose becomes questionable. If you are lour inches off the floor, the lower heel will probably not even be in contact with the body and even the upper heel will be below the base of the penis, or, in the female, midway in the labia. At three inches off the floor the lower heel can be positioned easily in the center of the perineum in either men or women, but it may not press firmly at that site; and the upper heel is still below the genitals in the male and at the level of the opening of the urethra in the female. One to two inches off the floor, the lower heel is situated in front of the center of the perineum, and the upper heel will now be slightly above the penis in men, and at the level of the clitoris in women.

The hatha yoga literature suggests that pressure of the lower heel against the penis is beneficial for men who arc attempting to maintain celibacy. At the same time we see occasional warnings that the accomplished pose can cause impotence. There are two concerns. The first is that the posture can cause numbness in the penis as the result of direct pressure on the cutaneous nerves. If you wish to maintain sexual activity you should therefore sit without traumatizing those nerves. This is easy if you sit on a support which lifts the ischial tuberosities—and with the ischial tuberosities the inferior pubic rami—high enough so that the base of the penis is not compressed. Also take care to sit with the heel perfectly in the midline. Cutaneous nerves (nerves that distribute their fibers to the skin) never cross the midline, and if the posture is adjusted perfectly no serious problems are likely to be found.

A second concern is potentially more serious: impotence caused by traumatization of the central arteries of the corpora cavernosa, the erectile bodies of the penis (fig. 3.28a), from too much or too prolonged pressure from the lowermost heel. Urologists who specialize in sports medicine commonly see this problem in cyclists who fall against the top tube of a bicycle, a mishap which damages the arteries of the corpora cavernosa and interferes with their ability to dilate. Sitting on a support for the accomplished posture may prevent trauma to the central arteries of the corpora cavernosa as well as numbness because the rear of the heel is situated more posteriorly and will not lock the corpora cavernosa quite so firmly against the inferior pubic rami.

In summary, sitting up on a cushion that protects the vessels and nerves of the base of the penis changes the posture from one that significantly restrains sexual energy to one that moderates the sexual impulse more subtly and provides support and nurturance generally to the base of the body. A soft, supported posture seems more appropriate for men who are in an active sexual relationship or who wish to maintain that potential. For men at least, sitting for hours daily in the accomplished pose in its pure form—flat on the floor with the penis locked in place—is appropriate only for those who are in a state of celibacy and who wish to remain so for the rest of their lives.

If women sit directly on the floor, the back of the lower heel will be in the exact place where both the urogenital and pelvic diaphragms are interrupted by the vaginal introitus. We do not have enough data to say whether this heel position brings the same benefits (or problems) to women as it does to men. Some women report that it is uncomfortable but harmless, others say that it is beneficial for restraining sexual energy.

If you wish to master the accomplished pose, first sit in the auspicious pose regularly for a few months, gradually decreasing the height of your support. Then make it an inch higher and try the accomplished pose. Because the backs of the heels are aligned in the midline of the body for the accomplished pose, the adductors must be longer than for the auspicious posture (given a constant height of the support), and for this reason the accomplished pose will create more resistance to flexion at the hip joints. Adjust the height until you are stable and then gradually decrease it. Your final position will depend on exactly what you hope to learn and gain from this posture.

THE LOTUS POSTURE (PADMASANA)

The lotus posture {padniasana) is one of the most beautiful postures in yoga but it is not practical for most Westerners as a meditation pose. It places peculiar stress on the knee and hip joints, and unless you have done it in your formative years it is not likely to work satisfactorily. If mastered it is said to bring an incomparable feeling of repose and calmness to the mind. The lotus posture is also used in connection with numerous other asanas such as the headstand (chapter 8), so it is worthwhile to practice even if you do not intend to use it for meditation.

To come into the posture place the lateral surfaces of the ankles against the opposite thighs as close to the torso as possible. The feet should be upturned and the toes should rest against the lateral sides of the thighs. Then straighten the spine and place the hands on the knees, generating the right tetrahedron (fig. 10.15). As with other cross-legged sitting postures, the positions of the feet should be switched on alternate sittings for the sake of balance, placing the left foot first and following with the right, then placing the right foot first and following with the left.

Because the knee joints are hinges, the legs force the thighs into extreme lateral rotation when the feet are lifted onto the thighs, and when coupled with an initial flexion and abduction of the thighs, the extraordinary lateral rotation places the hip joint in a stressed and unusual position. This plus the stress on the knee is what makes this posture so difficult. Years of consistent effort may be neeiled to alter the anatomy of the hip joints and supporting ligaments enough to make the pose feasible. And even after this, one knee is likely to resist resting squarely against the floor unless you are sitting up on a cushion or other support .

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  • bellino
    How do you pull your the iliacus?
    8 years ago

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