How About The “Simple” Cross-legged Pose?
Fellow pilgrims: How about the “simple” cross-legged pose? If you want to sit comfortably for extended periods, perhaps to work on your pranayama techniques or to practice any of the many forms of meditation, you are faced with the question of what to do with your body. Lying on your back or stomach may work, but there is a tendency to fall asleep. Standing has some merit, but you’ll soon find that takes a lot of energy and is hard to hold for a long time. Alternatively, “sitting” has been the choice of many meditators down through the ages, allowing both comfort and extended awareness. This may be performed on a comfy chair or bed (apparently, the Dalai Lama prefers the latter, with lots of pillows), but many serious meditators have chosen variations of padmasana, the “Lotus Pose”. For many reasons, including injury and inflexibility, strict padmasana (with both feet on top of opposite thighs) is not available comfortably to most persons who have sat in chairs all their lives. However, the simpler variation, sometimes called sukhasana, or “easy posture”, is available to almost everyone.
Fundamentally, sukhasana is a balance pose. Like all balance poses, the keys are alignment, strength and attention. Comfortable alignment starts with placing the weight of your upper body on top of the ischial tuberosities, the prominent, rounded portion of bone that forms the lower and back parts of the pelvis. To sit upright on these parts means, for most people, tilting the top of the pelvis forward to maintain the natural, multi-curvature of your spine rather than a single C-shaped curve (flexion). You want look like a toddler first sitting up (butt jutting backward) rather than an old witch hunching over! Again, for most people, it is essential that your knees and upper thighs are lower than your hips with the knees also touching the floor or an appropriate cushion. This often means sitting on another cushion to elevate the hips. Once stacked properly, the body is stable like a triangle, the spine is in a congenial position and, most importantly, the other muscles forming your core do not have to work so hard, thus allowing you to maintain this position, comfortably, for a longer period. Don’t misunderstand. Those core muscles will still be working and you’ll find a strengthened core makes sitting much easier. Keep doing those planks!
Once fundamentally aligned, you can work on your balance. Pay close attention to find your most effortless balance. The top of the bowling ball called your head might feel like it’s light and pulling your spine upward. Where best do your shoulders fall to release tension in your neck? Where do your hands feel most comfortable? Once you find better balance, can you maintain your attention so that you maintain a most unworried position? Maybe focus on a spot two fingertips south of your navel. Feel your spine solidly sinking into those tuberosities and the cushion and earth below you. After a while, you might find sukhasana most akin to mountain pose or tree pose. There are magic spots of balance.
One important side note: Most meditators are seeking stillness, quiet, best to hear God, feel the love flow, manifest inter-being with self or others, experience not just imagine non-attachment, or simply to pray and/or lessen the “fluctuations of the mind.” But if you try to stay perfectly still, you soon notice that there is this large muscle, your diaphragm, constantly moving up and down in your body, changing the shape of your spine, chest and abdomen, and thus affecting your balance. If you try to stop that movement, you’ll soon suffocate or at least feel a lot of tension generated by this natural movement and your goal of stillness. Incorporating this breathing into the alignment, strength and attention you train with sukhasana is worthy of much practice and may be the greatest gift you can give your spiritual self.