Monday, March 30, 2009

Cobra pose meditation

Named for its resemblance to the graceful serpent, this asana provides a great backward stretch for your spine — and an antidote to any tendency to slouch forward. Instead of leading with (and possibly overarching) the lower back, be sure to initiate the stretch in your upper back and gradually extend it down your spine To get the benefits of this stretch, do it this way:
  1. Lie face down with your forehead on the floor.
  2. Place your hands under your shoulders with your fingertips facing forward and the outside edge of your hands even with the edge of your shoulders.
  3. Draw your elbows in so that your arms touch the sides of your torso.
  4. Keep your feet together and press your legs and thighs into the floor.
  5. Raise your chest slowly away from the floor, lifting and extending from your upper back, with your head and neck in alignment with your spine. At first, you may find that your chest doesn’t rise very far, but don’t force yourself in any way. Your back will gradually become more flexible.
  6. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, gently press your chest upward and forward and open your abdomen while pressing your pubic bone into the floor.
  7. Breathe deeply and smoothly, holding the pose for five to ten full breaths.
  8. As you exhale, slowly unfold the pose, vertebra by vertebra, until you’re once again lying face down with your forehead on the floor.
  9. Turn your head to one side and relax completely.

Cat pose meditation with variations

Watch how a cat stretches after a nap, and you’ll understand how this pose got its name. Not only does it stretch and strengthen your spine for sitting, it’s also a great way to start your day. Try rolling out of bed first thing in the morning, limbering up with the Cat pose, doing 10 or 15 minutes of meditation, and then going about your day Here’s how you practice the Cat:
  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your spine horizontal and your arms and thighs perpendicular to the floor (like a four-legged animal).
  2. As you exhale, arch your spine upward slowly like a cat, beginning the stretch at your tailbone. Feel your spine flexing vertebra by vertebra.
  3. At the culmination of the stretch, tuck your chin slightly.
  4. As you inhale, flex your spine downward, beginning with your tailbone and lifting your head slightly at the end of the stretch.
  5. Continue to breathe and stretch in this way for 10 to 15 breaths.
You can also do two variations of the preceding Cat pose, as follows:
  • Variation 1: From the four-legged position (Step 1), gently turn your head on an exhalation and look at your left hip, as you simultaneously move your hip toward your head. Inhale and come back to center and repeat to the other side. Continue for 10 to 15 breaths.
  • Variation 2: From the four-legged position (Step 1), move your hands slightly forward of perpendicular and draw broad circles with your hips, moving forward as you inhale and backward as you exhale. Continue for 10 to 15 breaths.

Four tried-and-true meditation positions — plus a few more

If you can’t sit comfortably in any of the usual sitting positions, you can take heart from the Buddhist tradition, which offers four equally acceptable alternatives for formal meditation:
  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Lying down
Giant statues in India and Southeast Asia show the Buddha himself meditating while lying on his right side with his head cradled in his hand. Yogis and ascetics have long meditated while standing, sometimes on one leg. And walking meditation is still widely practiced throughout the world, from the Zen monasteries of Japan and the forest monasteries of Thailand to the Sufi communities of the Middle East and the Christian hermitages of Europe and North America.
Of course, the Sufis recognize a fifth traditional posture — the spinning dance of the dervishes — and the Taoists teach the martial art t’ai chi as a moving meditation. In the West, some of the followers of Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung have developed a meditative form known as authentic movement, and some Christians practice walking in contemplation around a spiral labyrinth. Ultimately, any activity can become a meditation if you do it mindfully.
At formal silent retreats, I’ve seen people meditating in wheelchairs, newcomers perched on high cushions surrounded by bolsters, and oldtimers who do nothing but walk or lie down for ten days. And I’ve seen a photo of the great Indian yogi Swami Muktananda meditating while roosting like a bird in a tree. The point is, there’s no one right way to do it — just discover what works for you.