Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do you really need a meditation cushion to meditate?

Do you really need a cushion to meditate? 
Well...that depends on your posture.

Take a look at these pictures:

good meditation posture
Swami Sivananda, good meditation posture,
Now take a look at these ones:

Notice the difference in posture between the two sets of pictures.

Which one do you look like when you sit?

If you look at stock photos of meditation, photographs of models, not meditators, and compare them to photographs of experienced meditators, you will notice a difference. One look at the pictures of the models will show you the tell-tale knees sticking up in the air. This is a position that just cannot be sustained for long, and you just know they are going to get out of the position as soon as the camera clicks!  If you look at pictures of yogis and other experienced meditators, or even just people from cultures where sitting crosslegged is the norm (such as India), you will notice their knees are down, their legs are flat along the ground and they look more relaxed and comfortable.

But so what? Why is posture so important in meditation? It’s very simple. For most people, especially beginning meditators, “emptying” your mind, or keeping it focused is hard enough, given our propensity for “mind-chatter”, without physical discomfort intruding onto your consciousness and disrupting your meditation.

Most people are not flexible enough to be able to sit comfortably in the cross-legged or half-lotus position (let alone the lotus position!).  A common phenomenon in people who are not used to sitting crosslegged, such as most people in Western cultures who are more used to sitting in chairs, is that we have tight hip rotator muscles. Because our hips are not open enough, when we try to sit flat on the floor without a cushion, we sit with our knees sticking up in the air with all of the pressure concentrated on our tailbones. Ouch!

So we end up with an aching back, a sore butt, painful knees, tired legs that shake, feet that fall asleep, and overall fatigue that makes us sit in a slump, cutting off the free flow off our breath. No wonder so many people are antsy and restless while meditating, constantly shifting around trying to find a comfortable position, too distracted by their bodies to be able to focus.

And this is where the Cosmic Cushion comes in. The Cosmic Cushion is designed to help compensate for the tight hip rotator muscles commonly found in people with less flexibility and those who are more used to chair sitting. It is designed to help us reproduce the posture that comes natural to yogis and experienced meditators, and to eliminate the most common discomforts associated with sitting meditation. These particular design elements are the sloping wedge-shaped profile of the cushion, the thigh supports and the heel cradle.
Cosmic Cushion, best meditation cushion, meditate in comfort, good meditation posture, zafu, Zen,

The built-in slope tilts your pelvis forward and helps you settle into the natural S-curve of your spine at rest, allowing you to relax effortlessly into an upright position rather than strain to maintain it. This upright position lengthens the front of your torso and allows you to take deeper breaths more easily, triggering the relaxation response.

The sloped design also bring your knees down to the floor and allows your lower legs to lie flat along the floor, forming a stable base of support, and the thigh supports support your legs instead of letting them get tired, as they would if you sit with your knees up in the air.

The heel cradle allows you to bring your foot in close to your body which helps your knees go down to the ground, which in turn helps you sit in a stable position without your back getting tired and achey.

In short, the Cosmic Cushion enables you to sit much more comfortably than sitting on a regular cushion such as the commonly used zafu, the traditional Zen meditation cushion – a flat cushion without thigh supports that keeps your heels far away from your body – and a great deal more comfortably than sitting on no cushion at all. It enables you to sit like someone who has years of meditation behind them! And sitting in comfort means you are less distracted by your body so you can sit longer and go deeper into your meditation.

So do you really need to have a meditation cushion in order to meditate? No, of course not. What you need most of all, is the will to create a practice and stick to it. But a good meditation cushion like the Cosmic Cushion can help your practice immeasurably. It can make the difference between a shallow, distracted experience – or even a meditation practice that is embarked upon enthusiastically and then abandoned on account of discomfort – and a deep, profound and regular meditation practice.

So if the tool is available, why not use it? 

Try it out and let us know what you think!

And now, for your viewing pleasure, just because these two stock photos are especially priceless... 

uncomfortable medittation pose
funny meditation picture


Saturday, December 8, 2012

That's Why They Call It Practice
Life has it's little routines, some of them built in by choice, like that morning cup of tea, and some not so much, like paying the electric bill or letting the cat out. By doing things, the same things, over and over again, we usually get better at them. The tea doesn't steep too long and become bitter or cool off before we drink it. Remembering to sign the check and put a stamp on the envelope before dropping the payment into the slot at the post office. Letting the cat out before it deposits a hair ball on the kitchen floor. We need to pay attention, of course.

With meditation it's much the same. The path to stillness becomes more familiar the more often we use it.  Carving out a regular time in the day is often the best strategy to begin to make sitting meditation a part of your daily routine. Most likely that's going to be at the beginning of your day before the hustle bustle of the world sets in or in the late afternoon or early evening after the hurly burly has settled down and you may really need a way to unwind if it's been stressful or hectic. You might even consider bookending your day by meditating.

Any way you decide to do it, a conscious decision is best in order to seek out a time that's lends itself to the time apart needed to anchor your sitting practice. We all know the expression that says humans are creatures of habit. It's really very true. By letting this tendency work in our favor, we can encourage things like brushing our teeth, doing the dishes, writing to-do lists or going for a walk, to become habits. Almost anything can become a habit and become part of our routine, even if we don't do it daily.

Getting started is the hardest part. Now there's a piece of folk wisdom we should pay attention to. Can this really be true? Is simply sitting on a cushion with the intent to be mindfully present for a few minutes actually the most difficult task involved in establishing your meditation practice? There's only one way to know.

That's why they call it a practice. Ironically, is it not practice for the real thing, it is the real thing. And so is every other minute of every day. When you find yourself on your cushion once again, just smile and enjoy the ride.