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A useful collection of Buddhist teachings - theory and meditation.

Meditation Posture
Part 2

  mind and body: the need for posture
  the 7-point posture of Vairocana
  eyes and gaze
  a bare minimum
  things to avoid
  things which may help


There are many different breathing techniques used in Buddhist meditation. They can be extremely beneficial but can also be very dangerous and therefore one must learn them under the direction of a competent master. It is risky, to say the least, to just pick up techniques from friends or books. Some, such as vase-breathing and forceful holding of the breath, can (when not used in the right circumstances) provoke long-lasting psychological troubles or health problems.

Beginners' meditations mainly help to calm and stabilise the mind. For this, it is best to breathe naturally and evenly: not forcedly or artificially. The main point of the practice will be to keep returning the mind to its focus of attention, be it the breath or something else, as well as to relax. Natural breathing helps one to relax, lettting the body find its own settled state.

You may notice, as you meditate, that
.. the inbreath,
.. the holding of the breath
.. or the outbreath
are not all taking the same length of time. One or more may be very short or very long compared to the others. If this is the case, it may be helpful, from time to time only, to practise breathing evenly, perhaps by counting slowly 1 -2 -3 -4 for each stage, i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4 for the inbreath, then holding the breath 1, 2, 3, 4 and then 1, 2, 3, 4 as you breathe out. This is quite calming and can help to create a good, even breathing habit which helps the mind be more balanced.

One breathes evenly through both nostrils of the nose, if possible, with the mouth almost closed. The best breathing is diaphragm breathing, i.e. a process of breathing animated by the abdomen going in and out somewhat like a bellows, rather than the main breathing movement coming only from the chest.

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A Bare Minimum

Sometimes elderly people, those with physical disabilities or problems or even just newcomers find it too difficult to maintain all aspects of meditation posture. They want an 'at least' option. The main thing in that case is to try to maintain the back as straight as possible and to pay attention to the position of the head, the gaze of the eyes and a natural, even breathing. One can sit on a chair. Comfortable armchairs (which cause one to lean backwards) and lying on the floor are to be avoided, as more often than not one becomes sleepy and dreamy. This is fine if one only wants to relax but the main point of meditation (not relaxation) is to awaken the mind; to go from illusion to truth.

If, for whatever reason, you need to meditate in a comfortable armchair, try to pack cushions behind the back so that you don't lean backwards.

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Things to Avoid

  Sitting crookedly, i.e. do not lean to the left, the right, the front or the back. Due to physical imbalance, many people feel that they are sitting perfectly straightly when they are quite twisted. Meditation texts describe the various sensations, experiences and problems caused by each wrong posture, once it becomes a habit. For instance, meditating with the head tilted slightly backwards can produce some fairly pleasant, spacious feelings at first but leads to neurotic ones later.

The best thing to do is to have a meditation teacher or experienced friend helps you establish a good posture. Mirrors or video cameras can be a help too. This initial training may require some effort and even slight pain at first but it is a truly worthwhile investment which will bring its rewards each time you sit..

  Poor environments. Stuffy, dirty, untidy or noisy places and places with many associations and distractions make learning to meditate much more difficult for beginners. Clean, neutral places, well-aired rooms and, if possible, pleasant outdoor places, especially those such as hillsides where one can have a lot of space before oneself, help one first learn to settle the mind and find inner peace.

  Long sessions for beginners. It is better to just meditate well, in a good posture, for a few minutes than to become drowsy and pained over a longer period of time. The idea is to associate the meditate session with the most precious, awakened moment of the day. If, after say 5 minutes, there is pain and distraction, one can take the mind away from its focus and let the body relax - perhaps stretch or fidget a little without getting up from the cushion. Then one returns mindfully to the practice for another 5 minutes. As soon as one can line up several sessions of clear, crisp meditations, then one can lengthen each to 6 minutes, 7 minutes and so forth.

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Things which may help

  A good, experienced teacher
  regular practice
  try meditating regularly in the morning, before breakfast (and before the mind is full of the day's busy-ness)
  loose, light clothing
  a cushion that suits you. The height of cushion needed varies from person to person. A firm cushion is best. A good trick is to roll up a blanket tightly until it is just the right height where the legs are comfortable, with each knee on the ground, and the back nicely straight. This will not only give some idea of the firmness needed but will indicate the sort of height you need. Many meditation centres now sell cushions or zafu
  someone will knowledge of meditation, yoga or massage may be able to teach you some simple leg and ankle movements to make the muscles more flexible - so as to avoid beginners' pains (knees, ankles, top of foot)

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