This article is for anyone who may be thinking about learning Applied Awareness™ meditation techniques, but worry you might be asked to sit in uncomfortable positions or on the floor. Don’t worry, your comfort is as important to us as it is to you.
Although sitting on the floor is still considered the norm in many meditation circles, it’s a tradition that begs to be broken.
How we sit can concern our health as much as our comfort. For example, I learned to meditate sitting cross-legged in Thailand, where it was also generally considered to be comfortable, or at least not uncomfortable. However, after several years of meditating cross-legged, or in the half lotus, my knees and legs began aching almost continually. I didn’t initially attribute the pains to my meditation sitting position. The continual discomfort could have just as easily been the result of my activities in the U.S. Marine Corps. After all, I had meditated for years before the pain in my legs became a serious concern. Then, one day a back injury prevented me from sitting cross-legged for a while. After a few days, the pain in my legs began to subside.
When my back was feeling better, and I resumed sitting cross-legged, and the pain in my legs returned. Then, as a test, I stopped meditating cross-legged, and after a few days, the pain in my legs lessened.
I already knew the reason I sat cross-legged on the floor had nothing to do with effectiveness, and everything to do with tradition. Now common sense was screaming that it was time to unfold my legs and get off the floor for good, which I did. It took several years for the aching pain in my legs, and the calluses on my ankles, to clear up.
Sixteen years later my legs still become uncomfortable after sitting still for more than a few minutes, and my knees do a snap-crackle-pop imitation for the first few steps when I get up. This is why I often prefer to stand while teaching classes.
So, if it’s not about effectiveness, why do so many still sit on the floor?
Many modern instructors have simply continued the tradition of sitting on the ground or floor because that’s the way they learned to meditate. Their teacher carried it on from their teacher… and on and on. Especially if the tradition is rooted in Buddhist meditation practices, such as “Mindfulness”, “Insight Meditation”, “Zazen” (zen meditation), etc.
There is even a story of the Buddha instructing a student to go and sit cross-legged under a tree and meditate. When we understand sitting cross-legged was sitting comfortably a couple of thousand years ago, it’s fairly obvious that even people who taught meditation in it’s earliest days saw the value of being comfortable.
Our modern-day equivalent to sitting comfortably is finding a comfortable chair because it’s what we’re accustomed to. In my opinion, a zero gravity chair* is about as specialized as you might want to get when finding a ‘comfortable’ place to sit. In fact, my students rave at how comfortable my zero gravity chair is and I’ve noticed how they relax into the techniques much easier.
Zero gravity chairs lean back to a position where the feet are just above the heart so it’s much easier for the heart to distribute blood throughout the body. It also takes the compression off the spine and distributes your weight over the length of your torso. One person even told me that sitting in one of these chairs for an hour was reason enough to come to class. Although you can spend a lot for a premium zero gravity chair, I find the deck/lawn chair type shown in the pictures to be nearly as comfortable, yet portable enough to take with you.
If you don’t have a zero gravity chair, any place to sit or even lay comfortably is fine. There are times when sitting on the floor or ground with your legs crossed is appropriate. For instance, children in school sitting around the teacher during story time, or during a Marine Corps shooting qualification. But practicing Applied Awareness requires relaxing our bodies and using our minds, which is much easier when we’re not fighting with discomfort.
On a side note, I do find it curious how sitting on the ground/floor is still so common, but nobody sits under trees?
* The original zero gravity chair was created for NASA as a training device so astronauts could get the feeling of what it would be like to sit in the shuttle at take off. The astronauts had to recline until practically horizontal. It didn’t take long to realize just how comfortable the chair was, and the design quickly found footing in the commercial market. The instant popularity of this comfy anti-gravity style is, at least in part, due to their reported therapeutic effects of sitting with your feet above your heart.