Below is a yoga routine and selection of postural exercises intended to help with flexibility and comfort while sitting in meditation.
The routine will not help you sit in lotus pose immediately, but is intended to help with posture and comfort progressively over time, the more you do them the more they work and eventually they will allow your hips and legs to settle into lotus pose (as long as you have no medical conditions preventing you from doing so). I’ve also tried to make it a simple routine so that it can be done everyday if you chose to.
Despite putting together a yoga routine for meditation practitioners that helps them eventually ease into lotus pose, there are many other poses that can be used while meditating: for instance Burmese pose which I use most of the time myself, half lotus, or the use of a meditation bench or cushion. It is also good to break up long periods of sitting meditation with walking meditation. In fact, in another article I am currently writing I advocate the practice of running meditation.
Please remember there is no reason why you cannot meditate while sitting in a chair, the aim is to be comfortable, although not so comfortable that you fall asleep, and not so uncomfortable that you’re in pain or can’t concentrate and hold a relaxed focus.
The Lotus pose is useful because it allows you to sit very much like a tripod on the floor, the two knees are the first two points of contact with the floor and the bones of the pelvis represent the other point of contact, together they provide a solid base for the spine which in turn provides a solid base for the head and neck.
Of course, at first your knees will not touch the ground but given time through stretching the hips, thighs and hamstrings they will. it is not recommended to force your legs into lotus pose as this will strain the joints and ligaments, especially around the knees which can cause long-term problems. So loosen up the hips and they will take the strain off of the knees.
It is also possible to actually do the practice of Vipassana while carrying out the various yoga poses in preparation for sitting meditation, being aware of both breath and sensations, in fact that should be a given. So that by the time you come to sit, you will already be focused.
I would recommend doing this series of exercises before sitting for long periods of Zazen or Vipassana because it will also prevent pain and discomfort which you might carry with you off of the meditation mat and throughout the rest of the day.
In a future version of this article I will include a video of me running through the sequence and giving advice, but in the meantime I will add links to useful videos and images of the poses with some explanation.
Some might consider Yoga Asana and Buddha Vipassana to be mutually exclusive, but if yoga asana, indeed any activity, is done from the basis of Vipassana then there is no reason why the same insights would not arise, of course eventually, sitting in a settled position will give you the stillness and quietude that will allow you to go deeper on the meditation objects.
First we want to have some basic understanding of posture, in the past I didn’t know much about posture and suffered from a lot of pain in my neck, back and shoulders, especially while meditating. Through physiotherapy, yoga and research I found a lot of useful resources that have allowed me to meditate for long periods of time again.
Above is a picture of various kinds of hip, back and neck alignment. I myself had mild Lumbar Lordosis, this I was able to fix by tilting my pelvis and holding it there for a short amount of time every day until I naturally held it in the correct alignment. My shoulders weren’t held back properly and that was fixed by remembering every often to rotate them around and back and to open my chest more, lastly I needed to pull my head up and stack it above my neck. To do this you can imagine a cord pulling up through your spine and neck and coming out of the top of your head. And as the old saying goes, keep your chin up!
The head leaning forward creates a lot of pressure which the muscles have to make up for with strain, by stacking your head over the neck bones it takes some of that pressure off through out the day. I know some men feel a bit embarrassed about holding their head up and shoulders back because they don’t want to look aggressive or cocky around others, but it really is a natural posture as long as the chest isn’t thrust out because the buttocks are too far back as in the Lordosis diagram above.
Below are some useful postural videos helping to rectify the posture, you find that by doing these you feel far more comfortable while sitting in meditation and in your daily life.
Asanas for Vipassana
It is good to do a warm up before beginning the asanas, usually I do a couple of rounds of sun salutations to warm up and will use this in classes, or if you are more athletic: push-ups, squats, crunches can be added, indeed anything that will get your blood moving around your body and get your muscles warmed up to prevent injury, getting your blood moving will also help with settling into seated meditation later.
First we will start with the arms, neck, back and shoulders, before moving onto the hips and legs. There are ten asanas for the upper body, and ten asanas for the lower body.
2. Cross Body Shoulder Stretch (Both Sides)
4. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Both Sides)
7. Cat Pose
10. Tiriyaka-Dandasana (Twisted Staff Pose) Bring head to floor behind you to increase stretch in shoulders (Both sides)
Hips and Legs
- Hands Clasped Lunge (Like in the Video Link but clasp your hand together and raise them up behind your shoulders for the shoulder stretch, do on both sides) If you find the low lunge easy, then you can switch it to a high lunge.
2. Lizard Pose (if you can get your elbows to the floor comfortably, then you can try to reach both arms out in front of you on the floor to try and get your chest to the floor to get a deeper stretch)
3. Pigeon/ Sleeping Pigeon/Swan (Both Sides)
4. Twisted Pigeon (Both Sides)
5. Frog Splits
6. Butterfly Pose (Gently ‘flap’ the bent knees to touch the floor)
7. Cradle Pose (Both Sides)
8. Ankle to Knee/ Ankle to Knee Forward Fold (Both Sides, once you can sit in ankle to knee pose aim to forward fold over the legs till the top leg touches the chest or you can touch your head to the floor)
9 .Standing Ankle to Knee/ Fold over Standing Ankle to Knee (Both sides, after you can stand with ankle to knee aim to forward fold for a deeper stretch)
10. Burmese Pose, Half Lotus, Lotus (Below are three options for sitting on the floor in meditation depending on your needs) Remember, if you are not ready for any of these poses on their own, a chair, a meditation stool or a cushion can be used.
I recommend finishing the series with neck stretches, holding the neck in each stretch for 30 seconds, left and right, up and down, left ear to left shoulder, right ear to right shoulder, then diagonally up and down on each side. You can do these while sitting in your final posture if you are comfortable enough to do so. Note: Don’t do neck circles (as popular as they are with some yoga instructors) they can compress your cervical nerves and cause other long term issues. I wish someone had told me that years ago!
At this point it would be a good time to settle into Zazen or Vipassana, then after a period of time intersperse that with walking meditation. I hope these routines help you in your meditation practice and prevent a lot of pain and discomfort in your life. Look out for my further posts on meditation in future!
If can manage Lotus pose then the following optional routine can help to increase comfort, depth and flexibility of lotus, as well as the length of time you can sit in Lotus pose:
Lotus Forward Fold – Lotus Stand – Lotus Fish – Full Lion – Lotus Headstand – Lotus Core Raises
Aim to fold to fold the the floor in front of you, much like the ankle to knee forward fold.
Full Lion Pose
Once you have mastered lotus pose, this will give you the most stability for your spine while sitting on the floor, of course it takes time to get to the point where your legs feel comfortable enough to sit for long periods of time in this pose. The lotus pose allows you to sit very much like a tripod, with your two knees on the floor and the bones of the pelvis as the third point of contact.
Enjoy your Meditation!