The Posture of Meditation
Empty the mind, adopt a posture firm
Which naturally comes, heralding success!
Assume a posture, easy, comfortable, calm,
Standing or sitting, with total concentration!
The backbone straight, the body relaxed,
Half-closed eyes, hands rested on the lap!
Q.Is there any need to practice asanas or pranayama for meditation, or the mere emptying of the mind and brain of all thought creates the right atmosphere for dhyana?
Ans. No method of sadhana can be partial or one sided. It is designed to discipline the body, the mind and the soul, because all the three are closely-knit, and each one influences and is influenced by others. In the practice of preksha meditation, three disciplines of steadiness occupy an important place. The first relates to the steadiness of the body—to make it still, to train it properly, to acquire the capability of controlling it. Without disciplining the body, it is not possible to control speech or the mind. Because the body is the grossest of the three. That which is gross can be more easily grasped. In the process of meditation and in kayotsarga also, the first consideration is control over the body. The practice of asanas, too, is a kind of body-training.
What posture should one assume while sitting for meditation? There is nothing obligatory about it. Any sadhak can assume any posture at any time, which he finds convenient and comfortable. However it should be kept in mind that facility in assuming various postures acquired through regular and systematic practice of asanas, can prove extremely convenient to a sadhak during meditation. From this point of view, a few asanas are recommended, such as Ardha-Padmasana, Padmasana, Vajrasana, cross-legged pose, etc, All these are comfortable enough and good for meditation.
Q.Is an asana used for meditation only, or has it other uses, too? Even people not practicing meditation, do yoga asanas regularly. Indeed, some people look upon the doing of asanas as yoga itself. Generally, in the yoga classes, only asanas are taught. Does the word yoga, signify a whole tradition or merely the exercise of asanas?
Ans. Asanas are essential for meditation. But apart from that, these are also performed for physical and mental health. The chief cause of bodily and mental illness is the wrong working of the parts of the physical organism. Sloth and over-exertion are the two conditions which upset the bodily system. To prevent such a disorder, the sadhak is given training in asanas. Many asanas are taught which are helpful in controlling the senses and mental perversions. In the method of preksha dhyana, asanas have a distinct place. Besides the asanas mentioned above, there are many others, whose regular practice is designed to maintain the equilibrium of energy, to impart a feeling of lightness to the body, increase its agility and lustre, reduce fat and strengthen the nerves.
The asanas form a part of yoga. Of Hatha-yoga, they form the chief part. But they do not embody the whole of yoga. Acharya Haribhadra gives the name of yoga to all those actions which deliver a man from bondage and lead him to salvation. According to the masters of yoga, controlling the functioning of the mind is yoga. Although the word ‘yoga’ today has become synonymous with asanas, but the asanas do not constitute the whole of yoga. Asana-dhyana, devout austerities and various religious performances constitute an organised system through which the yoga-sadhaks have to pass.
In the Jain Agamas, ‘position’ is the word used for yoga-asana. Three kinds of positions are mentioned there—standing position, sitting position and sleeping position. The root meaning of ‘asana’ is to be motionless. Thus, the use of the word ‘position’, is very appropriate. It is indicative of situation. To practice kayotsarg while standing is an instance of the first position; any asana in the sitting pose, an instance of the second; while doing an asana lying down is an instance of the lying-down position. The sadhak of preksha dhyana tries to achieve mastery in all these postures.
Q.The talk of mastering various asanas for disciplining the body is quite intelligible, but how does it affect the mind?
Ans. The asanas principally affect the body. But with prolonged practice, they begin to influence the endocrine glands also. For instance, sarvangasana influences the thyroid gland. Sashankasana and paschimottanasna influence the adrenal glands. Similarly, some other asanas activate the pituitary and the pineal glands. Their secretions change, and the mind is willy-nilly affected by them. As a matter of fact, any change in any part of the body leaves its impact on the entire physical organism in a gross or subtle form. The mind and the body are linked together. Bodily sickness affects the mind. Likewise, bodily health is a factor of mental health. It is, said that a healthy mind can live only in a healthy body. Even if this be a partial truth, it is an established fact that, with the regular practice of asanas, changes occur both in the body and the mind.
Q.Do asanas relate only to a standing or a sitting position, or does their practice involve the body as whole?
Ans. A partial, one-sided view, can never be holistic. Many important questions are naturally involved in the practice of asanas. For example, what should be the position of the backbone? Should the body be perfectly straight and taut or bent? Should the eyes be kept open or shut? Where should the hands be? The spinal cord is a part of our central nervous system. It is intimately connected with physical changes and mental processes. This also constitutes the path of upward movement of vital energy. It is again through the spinal cord that, before entering the state of meditation, the vital current is made to flow between the center of wisdom and the center of energy. In brief, it may be said that the well-being of the spinal cord connotes the well-being of the whole body. And it is possible to develop the practice of meditation on this basis. During the meditation-period, the backbone should be perfectly straight. That is the first condition. The body may be bent a little forward, never backward. Therefore, one should deliberately keep the backbone straight, with the upper part slightly bent forward.
For the eyes, three possible conditions are: close, open, and half-closed. If the eyes are kept open, there is greater probability of interference from outside; if shut, there is the possibility of being assailed by wrong notions or sleep. Both these possibilities can be avoided by keeping the eyes half-closed. Therefore, half-closed eyes is considered to be the best option. It is also the prescribed condition in the meditation-posture of an arhant.
Last of all the position of the hands. This may be considered from two angles. While meditating in a standing position, pendulous arms are the norm. For a sitting position, hands are folded in the lap, sticking close to the part between the navel and the pubic region. The right hand is placed above the left. This is one kind of meditation-posture. After one’s practice has matured, one could sit for meditations in any other posture. The best condition for meditation, though, is the standing position. Because in that posture, a complete cycle of energy is formed. In a sitting position there may be some obstruction in the flow of energy. Still, the sitting posture is usually adopted for the practice of dhyana in the shivirs. It stands midway between the standing and the lying-down postures, and is considered to be the most suitable for practicing sadhaks.