I am often amazed at how my physical posture affects my state of mind. If I find myself walking along on a beautiful summer day, but I am looking at my feet, it’s a pretty good indication that my state of mind is less than cheerful. Noticing that I’m looking at the ground can suddenly be a reminder to raise my gaze and look around at this amazing world of light and color, textures and simple forms. I cheer myself up just by changing how I hold my physical posture. Our bodies are built for enjoyment and appreciation, and contain wisdom and bliss, but we need to hold them well.
Meditation, which begins by establishing good sitting posture, helps us to overcome the mad elephant of our mind. We often feel controlled by our thoughts and emotions, and sometimes we are disturbed, or very disturbed, by problems we experience with friends, family and colleagues. Because we are unable to feel these emotions fully, they get a grip on us. They are uncomfortable or overwhelming, and they have power over us. How do we take control of this mad elephant?
The mad elephant is quite a dramatic and disturbing example of what our experience is like sometimes. An elephant in must is very powerful and dangerous, and cannot be controlled. Likewise, how can you control your own mind when you feel powerless to do so? The secret is this: don’t control anything. Inner calm is attained through learning to just be with good posture. The elephant eventually calms down.
Often when we first sit down to meditate we find that our head is still spinning from the activities of the day. We want to slow down and rest but the momentum continues. We can’t just get rid of the whirlwind of our mental commotion. We need an effective antidote which goes beyond trying to control our mind, or suppress our thoughts and emotions.
Establish a Regal Posture
The antidote to a turbulent mind is good posture. This is the first instruction of mindfulness meditation practice, and it’s the best one of all! You sit in the posture of a queen or king. Just feel yourself be. By holding a good regal posture your agitated mind can settle down by itself — it is as simple as that! The posture may be uncomfortable at first if you are not used to sitting upright and unmoving. However, with some practice you will habituate yourself to it.
The 7 Points of Good Posture
1. Sit on a meditation cushion, like a gomden or zafu. Or else sit on a chair, not leaning back, but upright. Your back is straight, but not too forced and rigid.
2. Cross your legs in front of you, or if on a chair, place your feet flat and uncrossed on the floor.
3. Place your hands on your thighs.
4. Your shoulders are outstretched (not caved in) and your head is upright, as if a string were coming out of the top of your head and pulling it up.
5. Your eyes are open and gaze downwards to the ground in front, approximately 2 meters. The gaze is relaxed, not focused on anything.
6. Your chin is slightly tucked in (not raised up).
7. Your mouth is slightly open is if saying “Ah”. Place your tongue against the palate.
Establish these seven points and hold the posture without moving and with a sense of presence, being there.
Being kind to yourself
Experienced meditators know that sometimes, when everything is just not working, when life seems impossible, the best way to deal with it is to simply hold a good regal posture. You have a strong back and at the same time you are soft and open in front. We can accommodate our life in this way. Of course, I am not saying you should just always sit and not relate with the challenge at hand. Rather, when you take a good posture, your mind can settle down and relax naturally. Then you will be able to see the panorama of your life with greater clarity. With greater clarity and perspective you can act with greater skill and kindness to those around you. Holding a good posture is being kind to yourself and therefore that kindness can extend to others. Good posture is good for you and everybody around you.