Meditation is a mental phenomenon, yes, but it’s also very much a physical one. When we meditate we do so by assuming a particular physical meditation posture and it is this posture that lays the foundation for our experience of personal inquiry.
Habitually, as we go about our day, we assume different postures that express our different attitudes and emotions – anger is held in the body in a particular way, happiness is held in the body in another way, and so on through the emotional spectrum. Often there is an element of self-consciousness or unnaturalness inherent in these postures. Sometimes we use them to create or reinforce our self-image and so hold ourselves in a way that is slightly contrived. However, if we can release these layers of posturing we can, over time, access a more natural state of mind and being; one that is open and responsive, rather than one that restricts our range of emotional expression through the manipulation of the body.
Our ability to find a natural state of physical balance is the primary condition upon which meditation rests. Thus, a meditation posture has three key characteristics:
Alignment occurs when we sit tall and stack our spine as though we were “supporting the sky with our head”. The natural curves of the spine remain but are not exaggerated in one direction or the other. When we are not aligned with the natural force of gravity the body must work hard to keep us upright and this can cause pain and tension. Physical tension is expressed mentally as tense or restrictive thinking. Proper alignment will release this and lead naturally to expansive thinking and alert awareness. It is important to remember that posture is a responsive rather than static state and so will change infinitesimally according to the forces that are exerted on it, moment by moment.
When we can access proper alignment we become more relaxed. When we relax we become more aware of the sensations and feelings inside of the body. We also have greater clarity when it comes to our sensate perception; we hear, feel, see, taste with greater ease. The incessant chatter of the mind becomes dimmer, and we become still. Stillness in this sense is a mental rather than physical quality. It arises naturally when the body is aligned and relaxed.
The final characteristic of meditation posture is resilience. This refers to our ability to adapt and yield to the forces of nature that move through us. Gravity is one of these forces, breath is another, the spectrum of bodily sensation is yet another. Resilience is born of mental and physical flexibility and it always involves surrender.
The three characteristics of the posture of meditation – alignment, relaxation and resilience – constantly influence and support one another, yet, although there may be times during your meditation where you experience a perfect balance between the three, this is generally a signal that you are about to drop a level deeper into your practice where the three will once again need to be aligned as new tactile and cognitive data become accessible.
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