Settling The Body In Meditation

"I have visited in my wanderings shrines and other places of pilgrimage. But I have not seen another shrine blissful like my own body."
Saraha, Buddhist Texts

"When walking, just walk. When sitting, Just sit! Above all, don’t wobble."
Master Lin Chi

In our busy lives, our minds are often churned up by the stress of the day and our bodies accumulate the tension that goes with a churned up mind. When we meditate, we step away from the mental actions that keep us stirred up and off balance. Enabling our bodies to settle down is a first step towards settling the mind. You can’t reach a deep state of quietude in meditation if your body is tense, unbalanced, or fidgety. So here are some suggestions for settling the body in meditation.
Being uncomfortable will not enhance your meditation, so meditate in a comfortable position. Most people sit in meditation, but it can be done lying down as well. Lying supine, that’s facing the heavens, is a fine meditation position. Lie on a soft enough surface with your head on a small cushion if you wish. Your spine should be straight. Your feet can be slightly separated. Your arms lie a few inches away from your body with your palms facing up.

Meditation while sitting is more likely to keep you awake. Some people sit in a chair. If that is your choice, you may want to sit toward the front of the seat of the chair so that the base of your spine is supported and you can sit fully upright, much in the same way you would if sitting on a cushion on the floor. Slouching in the chair is not likely to be helpful.

If you sit on the floor, choose a comfortable cushion to sit on. The cushion should support the base of your spine, so that you can sit fully upright.

How you cross your legs, depends on your flexibility. The full lotus position requires considerable flexibility, since each foot is placed upon the opposite thigh. Less strenuous is the half lotus position where one foot is placed on the opposite thigh or at the crease between the thigh and calf. The heal of the other foot is then close to the groin. The Burmese position is easier, since both feet, ankles and calves are rested upon the floor.

Your hands can rest upon your thighs close to your knees. If they are too close to your knees, you may notice a tendency to slump forward, so experiment where you should place them. Various other hand positions are used also. The usual Buddhist mudra or hand position is with the right hand palm up resting in the left hand, which is also palm up. The thumbs gently touch each other’s tips. The hands are then held near the abdomen.

If you find a tendency to slump forward, just elevate your sternum a couple of inches. That will open your chest and put your spine in an upright position. Your head should be well balanced. Your chin can be tucked in just a bit to further elongate your spine.

Your jaw should be relaxed. Placing the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth helps with this. One way to think of this is that the positions of the tongue, the hands, the legs and the openness of the spine create pathways for your vital energy to flow through. When you find the right position in meditation your energy unblocks and harmonizes. As a result, one can feel wide-awake, but totally calm.

Closing your eyes may make you less awake, so you may want to keep them open at least part way. In some meditation practices the eyes are open, but with a vacant gaze. Often a hooded gaze is recommended. This means the eyelids are partway closed. You may want to briefly close your eyes and then bring them halfway open. Your gaze is then directed to a spot about 45 degrees down in front of you.

Once you have gotten into position. Take three deep breaths. Then allow your breath to settle into a natural rhythm. Don’t force it. Just let it happen on its own.

Pay attention to your body position and sit with dignity. Sit like a mountain, solid and unwavering.

Scan your body for tension and where you find it, allow it to relax. Make the entire field of body sensations your point of attention. Just pay attention to what is happening in your body. As sensations arise, note them, but try not to cling to them or push them away. See if you can rest in a place of acceptance and equanimity toward what is happening in your body.

When you feel relaxed, realize that you can relax even more and allow that relaxation to happen.

As you spend time attending to your sensations, your body can become very quiet and you may find that so is your mind.

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© 2004 Tom Barrett