Meditation and the Asana Practice

Until about last Fall, I had “meditated” a few times a week for about a year.  Yeah, air quotes around “meditated.”  I would lay on the floor for ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes listen to cool music.  Sometimes sit in a comfortable chair.  Take a longer savasana after practice.  Even though there’s no technical requirements for meditation, I was pretending.

But when I entered teacher training last Fall, I took my obligation to meditate seriously.  I was in for a pound with the full program, and they wanted serious effort:  30 uninterrupted minutes a day.  And sitting.  And no music.

The first few weeks of this, I discovered two things.  One, meditation is hard.  Real hard.  It’s hard to sit perfectly still.  Like, really, really still, not even moving my tongue or eyelids or twitching a finger.

The second thing is, it hurts.  It physically hurts.  My back, mostly.  Now, I came into meditation with some bone problems in my back, so I figured I was stuck.  As I became more curious about this, it turns out just sitting, unsupported, is painful for a lot of people.

But here’s where the asana thing comes in:  during TT I also worked real hard at improving my urdhva dhanurasana – wheel pose.  I practiced.  I held them longer.  I used a strap on my arms, blocks on the wall, anything to improve.  And I did improve, until one day it felt like someone had turned a switch, and my entire back opened up.  It was kind of cool, actually.

Just after that, something else happened: one day as I sat down to meditate, I aligned my spine from my tailbone up through my neck, I rolled it up and open, and it didn’t hurt.  For a full 30 minutes, no pain.  I was also sitting in supported virasana – hero’s pose – on a zafu, which I find helps to align my pelvis/spine better (try it!).  I continue to meditate – no air quotes on this one – almost every day.  Although I still have some discomfort in my back, I only find myself shifting once or twice in 30 minutes, if at all, and there’s no where near the pain I initially felt.

So there you go, a living example of how the asana practice and a meditation practice are related.  Still can’t stop my eyelids from twitching, though.

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