Yoga Natarajasana Pose

In Meditation

I will now describe a typical meditation session, the way it is taught in the initial stages of meditation, by focusing on postural variables. I assume, here, that the person meditating is comfortably using the lotus (padmasana) posture. Most of my remarks also apply to someone who, because of a lack of flexibility, prefers to meditate sitting on a chair.

1. The person meditating first properly organizes the situation10 in which he finds himself. He does not want to be disturbed during the following half-hour. The organism wants to protect itself from the stimulations of ordinary life so that its attention can concentrate on what is going on in the confines of the body. Nothing is cooking in the kitchen. The phone is silenced. The computer is turned off.

2. The person meditating then structures his basic posture.11 He sits on a clean rug and places the back of each foot on the opposite upper thigh near the groin.12 The triangle formed on the ground by the knees and ischia13 feels like an immense and solid pedestal that firmly maintains the base of the spine. He bends forward and backward and senses his spinal column rise like a tree trunk toward the sky. The articulation that links the head and the spine is stretched and made supple by some movements of the head up to the point when the individual himself, aligned from the perineum14 to the anterior fontanel, feels as if a string tied to an immobile star above the body axis was pulling the fontanel. This metaphor is used by many body-mind methods today. I have heard it in dance, in the methods of Moshe Feldenkrais and Mathias Alexander, in yoga and tai chi chuan courses in Europe, and so on.

3. Having regulated the basic posture, the one meditating now passes through a phase of autoregulation. There is a need of some time before the heartbeat, the thoughts of the day, and the respiration calms down. A fish swims near the bottom of a pond, disturbs the silt with its tail. The water loses its transparency. Once the fish moves away, it takes a certain amount of time before the silt falls to the bottom and the water becomes transparent again. Such is the type of metaphor that inspires someone in meditation at such moments. To calm his respiration, for example, he breathes alternately with each nostril. He bends an elbow and blocks his right nostril with a finger. He breathes in through the left nostril; then he blocks that nostril and breathes out through the right one. He breathes in this manner for a few minutes, blocking one nostril and then the other until his respiration becomes noiseless.15 He will then let his arm rest. A variation would be to bend the arms so that the back of the wrists can rest on each knee; or he will place the back of the left hand on the feet in front of the navel, and then the back of the right hand on the palm of the left hand.16

4. The meditative state can finally emerge. The individual slides into the oceanic depths of his being, practices his attention exercises, and sometimes senses rising within, like a giant ray fish, the very life that animates him.

Sometimes, a moment will come when, like a deep-sea diver, the individual in meditation finally returns to the surface of his awareness. His legs are becoming numb, the blood circulates poorly, the tissues need more oxygen, and the joints need to move. To resurface, the individual follows a procedure quite like the diver who must return to the surface in stages so that the body can progressively re-accommodate to breathing like before, for his eyes to tolerate the surrounding light, and for his ears to be able to comprehend the words that someone will soon enough speak to him. One possibility is to bend an elbow again, move a few fingers, and then use them to repeat the alternating breathing exercises so that his physiology gradually accustoms itself to handling more oxygen. The individual is now able to auto-regulate to become active again. He opens and closes his eyelids repeatedly. At first, everything is blurred. He unfolds his arms and legs and stretches them He also shakes them a bit to help restore the flow of blood to the extremities. To enter the meditative state, he paid attention to the setting and to himself. Now he retraces his steps as he rises, walks about, drinks something, and then gradually returns to his ordinary life.

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