By Harshada David Wagner
Create a comfortable and convenient meditation seat to boost your practice.
Anyone who has embarked on the path of meditation will tell you: it may be simple - but it's not always easy. As we set out on the journey to deep meditation, it is worth our while to stack the odds in our favor in any way we can. One way to do this is to improve your meditation seat. If you are serious about meditation practice, then you may want to spend some time considering the seat that you offer to your practice.
To guide us in this exploration, we will take the help of the ancient Yoga Sutra, written by the great yogi-sage Patanjali. In verse 2:46, he says:
Sthiram sukham asanam
The seat is stable and pleasurable Asana means seat or posture. It connotes intention and deliberateness. An asana is the seat or posture that is carefully chosen or prepared. It is not haphazard or accidental.
The first word sthira is often translated as steady, solid, or stable. It connotes stillness and freedom from distraction. Sthira is unwavering.
Lastly, sukha is pleasure - the opposite of dukha, pain. Sukha is comfortable, easy, and pleasant. When strung together in this sutra the words steer us towards a dynamic balance of steadiness and ease: support, discipline, pleasure and freedom.
The idea is to create a seat for yourself that will beckon you to practice - a seat that is both inviting and optimal for your meditation practice. Two main factors to consider here are comfort and convenience.
Comfort is a major factor in choosing your seat for meditation. There are several schools of thought on this subject. Some teachers have their students focus first on establishing a floor-sitting posture and learning to sit unsupported without moving. The idea is to establish discipline in posture before learning to plumb the depths of meditation. While this has its merits, I tend to err on the side of comfort. Everyone's body is different as are people's pathways into meditation. I like to have students find a seat they are very comfortable in and learn to meditate there. Once they have found their pathway 'in', then they may choose to refine their sitting posture to support that inner experience. It's true, if a seat is too comfortable, there is the risk of falling asleep during meditation. If, on the other hand, the seat is too uncomfortable, it is a near certainty that the beginner would be distracted by the body's pain and discomfort. Find a seat that feels good, a seat that makes you feel confident and benevolent, a seat that allows you to sit up and feel grounded at the same time.
In a Chair
Chairs are fine meditation seats though you may not look like the classical picture of a lotus-postured yogi. It's best to choose a stable chair that allows your feet to touch the ground. If the chair is too high, you can always place a firm cushion under your feet. Choose a chair that is neither too squashy nor too hard. Heavily padded chairs are okay as long as they provide firm support. Wooden or metal chairs are suitable if they have enough padding. Cushions, shawls and folded blankets can always supplement the chair you choose to sit in. Once you learn to meditate in a chair, imagine all the chairs you can meditate in: airplane seats, bus seats, office chairs, waiting room chairs�
On the Floor
If you sit on the floor, ensure there is sufficient support to be comfortable. Most modern people need some kind of firm cushion under their buttocks for support. Elevating the hips in this way allows the back to be straight and the chest to be open. You can experiment and see how much height you need to be upright and comfy. If your floor surface is hard, another good item to have is some kind of blanket, small carpet, or thin cushion to place under your legs. Many of my students sit on traditional woolen meditation asanas. A blanket folded into a large rectangle is also a good solution for this. This marks off your meditation spot and also provides padding for your feet and ankles. If you prefer extra support for your back, you may choose to place your seat near a wall.
Many among us meditate in places outside our homes. Temples, holy places, and natural locations are wonderful places to meditate in, but often are not the most comfortable. Many meditators find it helpful to have a little travel kit with a cushion and blanket to sit on. I use a small carpet that I can roll up and put in my travel bag. It makes a big difference when I go on a pilgrimage. Chair-sitters may even be bold enough to put a folding chair in the boot of their car. Portable asana kits are also great for business traveling. I always travel with an asana, shawl, and candle in my suitcase. This way, I can turn any hotel room or guesthouse into my personal meditation cave.
When you build your seat keep in mind sthira and sukha: supportive and comfortable, stable and pleasurable. When your body has the right combination of support and comfort, it's able to let go and relax.
Imagine if, every time you watched TV, you had to build your whole TV-watching area! You had to go to a closet, open it up, take out the TV, assemble the cables, take out chairs, rearrange your furniture, and then sit down to watch your favorite show. Imagine the impact it would have on your TV-watching.
Daily activities such as eating, bathing, and entertainment have their own assigned place in our lives. Your meditation practice relies on the same kind of support from you. If you are serious about your meditation practice, it would be wise for you to invest some time and energy into creating a space that makes it convenient for you to practice.
Your meditation spot should be as convenient as it is comfortable. It should be easy for you to go there and comfortable enough so that once you're there, you don't want to get up. The optimum solution is to have a fixed meditation area. Some people dedicate small rooms in their homes to their practice. Others designate a certain corner or chair as their meditation seat. This place, wherever it is, should be kept very clean and regarded as sacred. When you set your space up, take the time to be creative and make it beautiful. It's your spot. Make it up in the way that most inspires you to practice. You may want to set up a puja near your asana or choose beautiful candles, inspiring photos or other items to complement your practice. Do whatever you need to do to make your meditation space a peaceful, protected sanctuary.
I understand this approach emphasizes comfort and ease above all else. And I can already hear someone saying: 'But the ancient sages - they fasted for weeks and slept on hard stones! What about tapasya?' Yogic austerity does have its place for sure - and there are places where you can go off and do retreats with plenty of toughness. But when you come back home to your regular daily practice, it is better to have a place that is pleasant, comfortable and inviting. There is already enough struggle in modern life without bringing it into our meditation time. If you're looking for tapas, don't worry, when you seriously embark on the path of regular meditation, you will find all the tapas you need inside.
If you take the time to make your seat a convenient one, chances are you'll sit there more often. If your seat is comfortable, you'll want to stay there longer. Investing time, thought and energy in your meditation seat is a great investment to make. The seat you create will be the seat for some of the greatest experiences of your life.
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