One of the most common challenges I see when teaching yoga classes is around sitting. Let me start by saying that I don’t advocate spending long periods of time sitting, even for meditation. I think our bodies are built to move. There’s some strong evidence that modern people sit too much and that it can negatively impact our health. Taking stock of how much time you spend sitting each day is a worthy enterprise. Make sure to get up and move around as much as possible and of course, incorporating yoga and exercise (which I see as two separate practices, more on that in the future) into your daily routine will help to balance out any negative impacts of sitting.
That being said, people sit. They sit at home and often sit in a yoga class. So since we are going to sit, let’s become expert sitters, shall we?
6-Point Sitting Checklist
Let's start with a bit of self-assessment. Find your expression of sukhasana (easy seated pose) by sitting on the floor in what the kids today call “criss-cross applesauce” or cross-legged pose. Here's a pic of me in my expression of easy seated. You'll notice that I can sit comfortably with my knees toward the ground and with good posture. I've been practicing yoga for many years so please know this is based on years of practice. This is not meant to be a model for ideal sitting, but just to give you a visual of one expression of sukhasana.
Once you find whatever your expression of easy seated is in this moment, scan through this list:
Notice the rounding in my spine in the picture above.
Now see how my spine is curved a bit toward my belly? This is the natural curve of my spine. If your spine doesn't look exactly like this, not to worry. Explore YOUR body and its needs.
I've done a pretty good job here of stacking in the picture above.
After this scanning exercise, you might have discovered the need to modify. Here are several suggestions for how you might find an expression of easy seated pose that is better suited to your body.
In the picture above you can see the blocks on the chair, covered by a blanket for comfort. I would always rather see a student sitting in a chair and using good posture than sitting on the floor in a hunched position. Seeing students use props to take care of their bodies makes me a very happy teacher.
A student of mine recently told me that he struggled with his meditation time because his legs started to hurt after about fifteen minutes in cross-legged pose. I’m sure there are some schools of thought who would tell him to ignore or transcend the pain in his body. I’m not of that mindset. Our body is our temple and we are gifted with the responsibility of taking care of it. If it hurts, it’s talking to us. Listen. I suggested that he try modified hero or a chair, that he continue specific asanas to help open his hips and stretch his hamstrings a bit more, and that he think about walking meditation. Another option he could try would be to break his meditation into two sessions.
Be curious about your body, honor its unique needs, and experiment. One of the reasons that we say that yoga is a science and not a religion is that we are asked to take nothing on faith. Rather, we are encouraged to test everything for ourselves and to honor our experiences. Try different expressions of sitting and see what is the best fit for you. As a teacher, my job is to help you to become more aware of your own needs so that you can make the best choices for yourself in your yoga practice, on and off the mat.
Once you find a comfortable seat, consider using it to close your eyes and to sit quietly in meditation for five minutes. Take some deep breaths in and out of your nose. Just five minutes each day is a great place to start with developing a regular meditation practice. Can’t sit still? I used to carry that story too. I hear you. It can be hard to push pause. You might consider trying a guided meditation to begin. There are many that you can download online or through apps.
One of my friends and fellow yoga teachers once reminded me that we are human beings, not human doings. Finding some time each day to be still is not just important, it is a fundamental part of who we are and it’s necessary for our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Just try five minutes, just for today, and see what comes.
Happy sitting. If you have questions about how to find a comfortable seated position, please comment or contact me!