Mindfulness In Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana – How to sit

Extracts from Chapter Six:

The practice of meditation has been going on for several thousand years. That is quite a bit of time for experimentation, and the procedure has been very, very thoroughly refined. Buddhist practice has always recognized that the mind and body are tightly linked and that each influences the other. Thus there are certain recommended physical practices which will greatly assist you to master your skill. And these practices should be followed. Keep in mind, however, that these postures are practice aids. Don’t confuse the two. Meditation does not mean sitting in the lotus position.

The most essential thing is to sit with your back straight. The spine should be erect with the spinal vertebrae like a stack of coins, one on top of the other. Your head should be held in line with the rest of the spine. All of this is done in a relaxed manner. No Stiffness. You are not a wooden soldier, and there is no drill sergeant. There should be no muscular tension involved in keeping the back straight. Sit light and easy. … This is going to require a bit of experimentation on your part. We generally sit in tight, guarded postures when we are walking or talking and in sprawling postures when we are relaxing. Neither of those will do. But they are cultural habits and they can be re-learned.

Don’t tighten your neck muscles. Relax your arms. Your diaphragm is held relaxed, expanded to maximum fullness. Don’t let tension build up in the stomach area. Your chin is up. Your eyes can be open or closed. If you keep them open, fix them on the tip of your nose or in the middle distance straight in front. You are not looking at anything. You are just putting your eyes in some arbitrary direction where there is nothing in particular to see, so that you can forget about vision. Don’t strain. Don’t stiffen and don’t be rigid. Relax; let the body be natural and supple. Let it hang from the erect spine like a rag doll.

You want to achieve a state of complete physical stillness, yet you don’t want to fall asleep. Recall the analogy of the muddy water. You want to promote a totally settled state of the body which will engender a corresponding mental settling. There must also be a state of physical alertness which can induce the kind of mental clarity you seek. So experiment. Your body is a tool for creating desired mental states. Use it judiciously.

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