They are the cries of moms all over the world: “Sit up straight”, “Stop slouching”. Even when I was a child, I remember my mother constantly reminding me to “Keep your head up”, “Walk tall”. Research studies have revealed that people with strong and erect posture develop several physical and psychological benefits such as improved organ function, less body pain, increased overall confidence and better ability to concentrate and focus. If we believe in the importance of good posture and the benefit it brings to our daily lives, then the next logical question to ask is: does posture have any effect on spirituality? What advantage does posture give us in our meditation?
At a very basic level, meditation is the process by which we try to obtain peace of mind. And we get this once we are able to still our mind and withdraw our consciousness to the eye centre. The fundamental idea is to try and keep our attention upward and inward rather than let our thoughts scatter downward and outward. At the time of initiation, we are instructed to give two and a half hours to meditation daily. This process requires us to still the body and to sit in one position for a considerably long period of time. That suggests that our posture does play an important role in meditation.
Learning to sit still during meditation is essential in Sant Mat. And to be able to achieve that, good posture is critical. The important principles that one should bear in mind while adopting a suitable posture are first, we have to be relaxed and comfortable, and second, our posture has to allow us to remain alert and aware. Both are equally important.
An uncomfortable sitting position can be distracting and affect one’s concentration. We should sit in a natural and comfortable position, but not one that lures us to sleep. Some may feel that they are most comfortable lying down and that is their most relaxed position. However, lying down is associated with sleep, and therefore, even if you are not asleep, your mind will be foggy and lazy. If you have ever been to a yoga class that ends with everyone having to adopt the shavasana position – this is when people lie flat on their mats to relax - you would have noticed that many fall asleep within minutes. This is the reason why it is not recommended to meditate while lying down.
Sitting on a chair or sitting cross-legged on the floor is generally prescribed, as that helps us stay alert. However, the main factor here is to ensure that our spine is kept straight.
Even in our daily work, we are advised to keep the spine straight. At our desk and table where we work, the chairs are always straight. If they were very comfortable or you sat on a sofa to work, you would just go to sleep because you would become too lazy.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Die to Live
The mind is a creature of habit that easily forms associations. With practice and discipline, we sustain a fixed sitting posture. Over time that posture will create a groove on our mind and it will start associating that particular position with meditation. Eventually, we will be able to develop better concentration and our minds will be alert and sharp.
Having said that, it is important to highlight that there is no one particular position which is correct or necessary for meditation. For example, we are taught during initiation that sitting cross-legged on a chair or cushion is an ideal posture for simran, and the bhajan position is recommended for listening to the divine melody. These are only suggested from a health point of view – one is encouraged to sit in any position that one finds comfortable. Spiritual advancement comes from concentration and not from the position you sit in.
Hazur Maharaj Ji advised us that although the posture itself may not be important, it is essential to stick to the posture we choose and remain motionless in that posture during simran. Any movement will interfere with the withdrawal of the life-consciousness from the body. One should try to remain motionless in the same position and let numbness set in, which in turn is a sign of withdrawal. We should try to bear the initial aches, pains and pinpricks in the body. This happens only when the consciousness first begins to leave the body on its way up to the eye centre. This feeling will not last forever. Ultimately, we will forget the posture we are sitting in or whether or not we are even in the body. Then withdrawal itself will be a joyful process without any pain whatsoever.
The posture should not be such as will induce sleep, because one should remain alert. We should not have to wrestle with the body during meditation; it is the mind that we have to control. We have to forget the body. If we are wrestling with it, our mind will always be concerned with the body. Then how can we concentrate? But these postures which are explained to us at the time of initiation are very good from the point of view of health and for keeping alert so that sleep does not overtake one during meditation.
Maharaj Charan Singh, The Master Answers