In his booklet Secrets of Meditation, Swami Kriyananda offers as his second secret a vital key to our success in meditation: correct posture.Even though it is the very first thing a beginning meditator learns, alas, often it turns out that even after years of regular practice this important foundation of our “house of meditation” still requires some additional “cement,” or some “repair”. For only with that strong foundation – correct posture – will our “house of meditation” stand solidly, rising with higher and higher stories toward the sky.
Is your own posture truly solid? Or might it need some “repair”, too? I say “too” because some time back, after years of practice, I happened to see a photo of myself meditating… it was a humbling experience. My spine was bent, revealing nothing of Swami Kriyananda’s important secret:
The Secret of Meditation is….
sitting upright with a straight spine; feeling that your strength emanates
from your spine rather than from the muscles of your body.
Paramhansa Yogananda gives us further instruction for a correct posture, for both the Hong Sau and Kriya Yoga technique. So let us check, point for point, if we really apply what he tells us to do.
- Face east, sitting on a woolen or silk blanket
- the spine straight
- the chest out
- the abdomen in
- the shoulder blades together
- the chin parallel to the ground
- the upturned, cup-shaped palms rest at the junction of abdomen and thighs
- the eyes closed or half-closed, looking up, without crossing them
Applying all these instructions, you will feel that your body, though relaxed, definitely expresses energy, even power. Especially your spine (the center of our body)… observe how radiant it feels! At that point you may clearly perceive what Swami Kriyananda meant with “your strength emanates from your spine rather than from the muscles of your body.”
Now, still in meditation posture, just for fun, try for a moment not to apply Yogananda’s instructions. Slump a little. Observe how your “meditative house” immediately crumbles. That bent posture, unfortunately, is quite tempting and comfortable, more so than the straight spine which requires some effort. But ask yourself with a smile: “Could I ever rise to superconsciousness like that?” And: “Could I affirm in that posture, I am divinely inspired?
Let’s see, then, what techniques we can apply to check up on the foundation of our “house of meditation”: our posture.
- Set a watch or computer, making it beep every 5 minutes. Each time you hear it, check your posture, asking yourself: is my spine still straight? Is my abdomen in? My chest out? My shoulder blades together? My eyes uplifted? Do you feel the secret “that your strength emanates from your spine”?It is hard to break the habit of a bent spine, once it has settled in (I speak from experience!). In that case you would actually do well to take a step backward in your meditation: humbly concentrate not on the subtle inner realms, but on establishing a correct posture. It might even be advisable to meditate less, because during longer meditations we easily slip back into our old pattern, the bent spine. Here is a happy promise: changing that obnoxious habit will bless you with a new meditative life, just as happened with me. It has truly been a new meditative birth.
- Film yourself as you meditate (your smartphone will do that). When you watch it later, you may receive a happy confirmation that your spine is indeed straight; or you may be surprised to see that you only thought it was.In that case, don’t despair. Just roll up your sleeves and let the necessary “foundation-work” begin. You may find encouragement and inspire with these words of Yogananda (Praecepta Lessons):
“A bent spine is the enemy of Self-realization. Your mind is on the bent spine; you will be muscle-bound, and your electric currents will be busy with the muscles and flesh, and you cannot concentrate upon God. Practice this discipline over the body and your mind will be free to lift your consciousness from the body to the Infinite.”
- Meditate on various photos of Yogananda in which he sits in meditation, concentrating on the great inner strength they express. Emulate that strength in your own meditation, in your own posture. As you meditate, try to feel Yogananda’s power in your spine.
The asanas can be a great blessing: they develop necessary back strength, as well as important spinal awareness. Both help our “asana” of meditation. Swami Kriyananda writes in his book, The Art and Science of Raja Yoga: “The hatha yogi should train himself to be deeply aware of the spine. The majority of the yoga postures relate in some way or another to the development of this spinal awareness, either by stretching and irrigating the spine, or by inducing a more centered consciousness.”
For our purpose of developing the secret of “feeling that your strength emanates from your spine”, you may especially practice backward bends, such as Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana, or Salabhasana. Feel that it is the spinal energy, not the muscles, which takes you into the pose and into the affirmation.
Practice keeping your spine straight all day long: at the table, at the office, while walking, standing, even in the car. Create a new and noble habit. Be a yogi throughout the day. Follow this advice of Swami Kriyananda, again from Raja Yoga:
“Right posture is vitally important to the yogi. A bent spine impairs the flow of energy. It also cramps the breath, making it almost impossible to breathe deeply. Right posture, however, from a standpoint of yoga, is by no means the rigid stance of a soldier on parade. One must be relaxed even while standing straight. Indeed, until one can learn to keep his spine straight he will never know how to relax perfectly. Stand in such a way that you feel yourself centered in the spine, with the rest of your body suspended from the spine in much the same way as branches are suspended from the trunk of a tree. The chest should be somewhat (but not too much) out, the shoulders a little bit back, the head neither hanging forward nor drawn back too rigidly. If you stand perfectly straight, you will find that it takes very little strength to remain standing–only enough strength to maintain your balance.”
In divine friendship,