The idea is to create a seat for yourself that will beckon you to practice- a seat that is both inviting and optimal for your meditation practice. Let’s look at two main factors: Comfort and Convenience.
Comfort: helping your body be happy and relaxed
Comfort is a major factor in choosing your seat for meditation.. There are several schools of thought on this subject.
Some teachers have their students focus at first on establishing a floor-sitting posture and learning to sit unsupported without moving. The idea is to have students work for a long time establishing the foundation of discipline in their posture before learning to plum the depths of meditation. While this has its merits, at Banyan we tend to err on the side of comfort. Everyone’s body is different as are people’s pathways into meditation. We like to have students find a seat they are very comfortable in and learn to meditate there. Once they have found their pathway "in", then they may choose to refine their sitting posture to support that inner experience. It’s true, if a seat is too comfortable, there is a risk of falling asleep during meditation. If, on the other hand, the seat is too uncomfortable, there is a near certainty that the beginner meditator will be distracted by their body’s pain and discomfort. Find a seat that feels good- a seat that makes you feel powerful and benevolent, a seat that allows you to sit up and feel grounded at the same time.
In a chair…
Chairs are fine meditation seats. You may not look like a classical picture of a lotus-postured yogi on the outside, but on the inside- everything is available in a chair. If you sit in a chair it’s best to choose a stable chair that allows your feet to touch the ground. If the chair is too high, you can always place a firm cushion under your feet. Choose a chair that is neither too "squooshy" nor too hard. Heavily padded chairs are okay as long as they provide firm support. Wooden or metal chairs are suitable if they have enough padding. Cushions, shawls and folded blankets can always supplement the chair you choose to sit in. once you learn to meditate in a chair, there are benefits; imagine all of the chairs you can try out: airplane seats, bus seats, office chairs, waiting room chairs…the world is filled with great meditation seats!
On the floor…
If you sit on the floor, ensure that there is sufficient support for you to be comfortable. Most modern people need some kind of firm cushion under their buttocks for support. Elevating the hips in this way allows the back to be straight and the chest to be open. You can experiment and see how much height you need to be upright and comfy. If your floor surface is hard, another good item to have is some kind of blanket, small carpet, or thin cushion to place under your legs. Many of my students sit on traditional woolen meditation asanas. A blanket folded into a large rectangle is also a good solution for this. This marks off your meditation spot and also provides padding for your feet and ankles. If you prefer extra support for your back, you may choose to place your seat near a wall. A firm cushion between the wall and the small of your back gives you something to gently lean on without slouching or rounding your back too much.
Many among us like to meditate in places outside of our homes. Temples, holy places, and natural locations are wonderful places to meditate, but often are not the most comfortable. Many meditators find it helpful to have a little travel kit with a cushion and blanket to sit on for such places. I use a small carpet that I can roll up and put in my travel bag. It makes a big difference when I go on a pilgrimage. Chair sitters may even be bold enough to put a folding chair in the trunk of their car. Why not? If it helps you to experience the truth inside, I say do whatever it takes. Portable asana kits are also great for business traveling. I always travel with an asana, shawl, and candle in my suitcase. This way, I can turn any hotel room or guest house into my personal meditation cave.
When you build your seat just remember shtira and sukha:Supportive and comfortable, stable and pleasurable. When your body has the right combination of support and comfort, it’s able to let go and relax.
Convenience- making it easy to go there
Imagine if, every time you watched TV, you had to build your whole TV-watching area. You had to go to a closet, open it up, take out the TV, assemble the cables, take out chairs, re-arrange your furniture, and then sit down to watch your favorite show. Imagine the impact it would have on your TV watching.
Daily activities such as eating, bathing, and entertainment have their own dedicated place in our lives. Your meditation practice relies on the same kind of support from you. If you are serious about your meditation practice, it is wise for you to invest some time and energy into creating a space that makes it convenient for you to practice.
Your meditation spot should be as convenient as it is comfortable. It should be easy for you to go there and comfortable enough that once you?re there, you don?t want to get up. The optimal solution is to have is a permanent meditation area. Some people dedicate small rooms in their homes to their practice. Others designate a certain corner or chair for their meditation seat. This place, wherever it is, should be kept very clean and regarded as sacred. When you set your space up, take the time to be creative and make it beautiful. It’s your spot, so you can make it in whatever way that most inspires you to practice. You may want to set up a small "sacred table" near your asana or choose beautiful candles or inspiring photos or other items to compliment your practice. Do whatever you need to do to make your meditation place into a peaceful, protected sanctuary.
I understand this approach emphasizes comfort and easiness above all else. And I can already hear someone saying, "but the ancient sages- they fasted for weeks and slept on hard stones! What about tapas? What about austerity?" Yogic austerity does have its place for sure -and there are places where you can go off and do retreats with plenty of toughness. But when you come back home to your regular daily practice, it is better to have a place that is pleasant, comfortable and inviting. There is already enough struggle in modern life without bringing it into our meditation time. If you’re looking for intensity and challenge, don’t worry. If you seriously embark on the path of regular meditation, you will find all the intensity you need inside.
If you take the time to make your seat a convenient one, chances are- you’ll sit there more often. If your seat is comfortable, you’ll want to stay there longer. Investing time, thought and energy in your meditation seat is a great investment to make. The seat you create will be the seat for some of the greatest experiences of your life.
About Author: Harshada Wagner. Director of Banyan Education in New York City
Banyan Education – Banyan Education, based in New York City, serves the mission of teaching meditation, promoting uplifting causes, and helping people of all walks of life access their inner greatness