- Focus the mind
- Establish the asana
- Relax the body
- Establish diaphragmatic breath
- Breath awareness
- Mantra awareness
Proper preparation is key. Your preparations start way before you start your actual practice session. This means how can I come to quieting my mind if the days and nights before have been very stressful and even unhealthy. So one always starts wherever they are at. This beginning must be understood. Don’t follow blindly some path of meditation. If you are an active person, you may need to balance your active lifestyle with more relaxation and breathing preparations. Maybe you even need to do some exercises to ease the tensions first. Don’t strain to relax. Identify what you need to do in order to naturally come into a place where you can more easily guide the mind on it’s interior travel.
Now when you begin to sit, first get your minds attention here. You may have to slowly remove it from there. This withdrawal of the mind step is important. Give the minds attention the time you need to switch from “there” to “here”. Withdraw the mind’s focus from all other sensations, thoughts and feelings. Bring it first into this space, place and time. Start anchoring it to the sense of the body’s posture or asana.
Choose the proper seat on which to sit. The guidance is always to sit with the head, neck and trunk in a straight line. When you are standing, notice with your hand on your lower back, how much curve you feel in that low spine area of your back. This amount of curve is the guide for the amount of curve you must have when you sit.
Therefore, pick whether when you sit on the floor or chair, you can take your hand again to the low back area and feel for a similar curve of the lower spine. If you sit on the floor, often you will find that you can more easily keep a curve in the lower back by simply raising your hips on a blanket. This blanket (non-compressible wool type is best) should be folded to the height that allows for you knees to be slightly lower than your hips. Hips and knees can be level only for someone who can “nutate” or rotate their sacral base (the top end) forward. This forward rotation of the sacrum allows for the proper in-ward curve of the lower spine segments.
Sometimes sitting on a “Zen” bench in the vajrasana or virasana posture is helpful. This variation has one sitting on the floor in a kneeling position and the hips over the heels. The bench takes one out of their end range for many people and increases comfort (whew!). There are lots of little tricks to try with blankets supporting the bench like pose.
If you sit on the floor with some folded blanket, you usually only need the sitting bones and buttocks elevated on the blanket. The legs are then folded in front in a variety of positions. There are several key points to finding the proper way to fold the legs. If you are having trouble, working with a skilled practitioner is helpful. (Will post more on folding the legs at some other time)
If sitting on a chair the legs are positioned again with the hips usually higher than the knees. Many chairs have the front edge higher than the back of the chair. This backward sloping of the chair seat allows the pelvis to roll and the whole spine to round, especially the lower or lumbar end. Feel are placed under the knees. The ankles, knees and hips are similar in width. Some people will have their knees spread far apart. Just do watch the alignment of knees over the ankles. (so that you are not rolling on the outside edges of your feet and stressing your ankles more)
Proper placement of the pelvis in relation to the legs and trunk can be a separate lesson.
Keep checking that your whole spine is working to stay in alignment as a straight line. Remember a straight line respecting the natural curves of your spine. A straight line in this context is a spine with normal neck, rib spine and lower back curves in their relative neutral. This is not a straight line like a ramrod stiff pipe.
Next arrange the shoulders to be relaxed yet open in front. Allow the elbows to bend and simply hang down at your sides. Don’t hold your elbows out away from your body with any tension. Then the palms/hands rest on your thighs either turned up or down, whatever is comfortable. Balance the head over the upper chest. Tucking the chin is one over used strategy. The lower neck needs to be placed over the upper ribs. This relationship needs usually some coaching and feedback.
Eyes are closed or rested shut. The lips are together, mouth and tongue are in their natural resting position.
There is a lot more to cover but this is a good start in developing your idea of your asana. Note that many of us may not be comfortable and changes need to be made to accomodate rather than torture ourselves to fit this model. Often we need to work on years and years of accumulated mechanical musculoskeletal and nervous system dysfunctions.