Olav Aarts talks us through the importance of a strong meditation pose. Keeping the mind still with a still body.
Meditation as a part of Yoga
When we talk about why we need a strong meditation pose we should perhaps first understand the place of meditation in yoga.
In many styles of modern yoga the focus is on asana and meditation is pushed to the background or not included in classes. Whereas in Traditional Hatha Yoga, especially in medieval times, meditation was very much the heart of Hatha Yoga.
When you look at the goals of Hatha Yoga it is all about transformation of the body and mind to liberate the soul - to let the soul shine.
The process of this increased openness and freedom on a physical and mental level is extremely intense and in order to come through it successfully it is important that the body is strong and balanced and that you’re confident.
As we advance through the practice of Hatha Yoga with challenging asana, the mind increasingly wants to rebel, but with practice we can help to still the mind. When the body is really still and stable in a meditation pose the mind can also become very calm and motionless too.
This stillness is basically the essence when I look at almost all the scriptures of Hatha Yoga. Stillness of the body, the breath, the energy and/or the mind in order to transform yourself or transcend the more obvious perceived reality to a more complete, unfiltered, uncensored reality.
A restless body is a very restless mind and so an important tool to quieten down the mind is to quieten down the body because when the body is quiet the mind will follow. That is why it is so important to have a strong meditation pose that you can sit in for extended periods of time.
Maybe you have noticed yourself in meditation: you sit for a minute, you’re really still and then mind becomes agitated which almost immediately translates to an inclination to move the body. Or maybe you’re meditating and everything is going well but then you notice your leg has gone to sleep - your mind says “well I’m still but my leg has gone dead and I don’t like it - I will have no legs within 15 minutes, I’d better move!”.
Well then you have already moved because your mind has moved and the next step is your body will as well and you’ve lost the momentum of your stillness.
Overcoming these sensations is something you can overcome with practice - I have meditated for four hours straight, your legs will not fall off - I can guarantee you!
So why sit upright when meditating and not in a comfortable chair, or even lying down?
As I see it there are three main reasons for this. Firstly, the spine will regain its natural stability and balance and over time the meditation pose will become strong and balanced without any effort.
Secondly, in this upright pose you’re also able to do many pranayama techniques, many asanas are done in this upright pose also.
The third reason is that in a reclined pose the mind gets comfortable, you come to stillness but the mind then gets too relaxed and wants to sleep. In Buddhist thought there are five obstacles to meditation, one of them is fatigue or sleep.
So where possible meditation should be done sitting upright using a meditation cushion or blocks so that the spine supports itself.
The mind will do everything and anything to pull you out of balance, but when the body is still the mind has one tool less to pull you out off balance. That is why a strong meditation pose is important.