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Any seasoned meditator knows that the best meditation posture to achieve a deeper level of meditative states is the sitting posture. You can do that in the lotus position, half-lotus, or even on a chair without leaning back, of course.
But, in doing so, you need to keep your body straight and motionless. Because, if you’re constantly moving and reacting in response to thoughts, feelings, and outside stimulations, you’re not giving yourself a chance to learn how your mind works. Only by sitting still you can direct and maintain your attention to whatever is happening in the mind.
Yet, the sitting posture is a great challenge. I’m sure you know what I mean. Have you ever experienced pains and aches while you’re trying to keep your body still when sitting? Well, I’ve experienced them, a lot! To be honest, I’m still experiencing them now albeit at a much less and manageable degree.
If you’ve been practicing for a while, I’m certain that you have experienced pains and aches in many parts of your body during sitting meditation:
Yes, I’m aware that pains and aches are bodily sensations that make good meditation objects. But, if you do absolutely nothing to get through them, they may potentially stagnate your practice. They may even discourage you to keep going. This is why proper sitting meditation preparation is essential to the practice.
It’s a fact that physical fitness is very important in meditation. This is why Shaolin monks are required to practice martial arts; to prepare their bodies; to make them physically ready for meditation.
According to Chinese legend, when Bodhidharma first came to the Shaolin monastery, he found that the monks there were physically weak. He thought that with such a physical condition, it would be impossible for them to practice meditation. So, he laid the groundwork for martial arts training in the monastery, later known to be the Shaolin Kung Fu.
Practicing martial arts is great and is actually a form of meditation in itself. Not only strengthening your body physically, many of them include sitting meditation as well in their training to focus your mind. But to be honest, it’s not the most practical way for me. Because I’m too lazy for that!
If you happen to be like me, you probably want a more direct and easier method. A trick if you will, that’s not only effective but also time-efficient. How time-efficient? 10 minutes of simple exercises before each of your sitting meditation sessions is all you need. Of course, you can do it longer if you wish.
That’s why, in this post, I’m going to share with you the most simple and practical exercises to eliminate pains and aches to prepare your body and mind for better and more comfortable sitting meditation.
The exercises I’m going to share with you are a sequence of 9 beginner-level yoga asanas or yoga poses specially designed for this purpose. Do you know that traditionally, the purpose of the yoga postures is to prepare the body and mind for meditation? It’s not just for the sake of physical fitness which you’ll also gain as a bonus.
I’m not a yoga expert. I only learned it not long ago for exactly this reason, to prepare myself physically and mentally for sitting meditation. Because, without proper preparation, pains, and aches during a long sitting can be demotivating.
Now, this article is not meant to be a thorough post on yoga. Instead, it’s a practical guide on sitting meditation preparation using several yoga poses or asanas I’ve been practicing myself that I find to be very practical and effective for preparing my body and mind for sitting meditation.
The best part is, you can do all of them yourself in the comfort of your home. This is especially convenient since a lot of us are in a stay-at-home situation right now as we’re going through this COVID-19 pandemic. You don’t need to go to a gym either as most of them are closed anyway.
As an additional advantage, you don’t need a lot of space. An area of 3.3 by 6.6 feet (1 by 2 meters) is sufficient.
You’ll need a yoga mat or if you don’t have one, a blanket will do just well. If you practice these poses directly on the floor, you may feel your knees and shins hurt or at least very uncomfortable. I tried it. That’s what I experienced.
Without further ado, let’s start.
When doing all the poses outlined here, always remember to be gentle with your body, and work within your own limits and flexibilities.
1. Cat-Cow pose (Bitilasana – Marjaryasana)
The yoga cat pose (Marjaryasana) and cow pose (Bitilasana) are often paired together to form the cat-cow pose which is a gentle back-and-forth flow between the two poses. Paired together like that, it builds flexibility to the spine and warms your body up in the process.
It also stimulates and strengthens your abdominal muscles, opens the chest thus encouraging slower and deeper breath.
As a bonus, coordinating those two poses with your breathing calms the mind and relieves stress while, at the same time, developing awareness and balance throughout your body.
These poses help to stretch the back muscles and effectively prepare your body for sitting meditation.
Cow pose is where the body arcs downward whereas cat pose is where the body arcs upward.
- This pose should always be pain-free. If you feel any pain, gently back out of the pose.
- If you have pre-existing back pain, check with your doctor before doing this exercise to make sure these movements are appropriate for your condition.
- If you have a neck injury, keep your head in-line with your torso, don’t tilt your head forward or backward.
How to do it:
- Start with your body in tabletop or all-fours position like that in the photo above: your hands, wrists, and elbows directly under your shoulders perpendicular to the floor, your knees directly under your hips. Spread your hands shoulder-width apart and spread your knees and shins hip-width apart. Line your head in a neutral position, in-line with your torso, eyes to the floor.
- First, move into cow pose: as you inhale, gently move your belly downward, lift your chest and chin up, forming a downward-pointing arc. If you have a neck injury, just keep your head in-line with your torso, no need to gaze up.
- Widen your shoulders and move them away from your ears.
- Next, move into cat pose: as you exhale, move your belly up and round your back to form an upward-pointing arc like a cat stretching its back.
- Ease your head down, don’t use force to press your chin into your chest.
- Inhale as you come back into cow pose, and then, exhale as you go into cat pose again.
- Repeat 10 times (or more if you wish, but you don’t need to go more than 20).
2. Hare pose (Shashankasana)
Also known as rabbit pose or child’s pose (Balasana), the posture is similar to the one adopted by the hares or rabbits hence the name.
It has calming effects of relieving stress, anxiety, and anger along with many other benefits: getting rid of constipation, strengthening back muscles.
Pregnant women, people with vertigo, high blood pressure, knee problems, slipped disc, osteoarthritis should avoid practicing this pose.
How to do it:
- Kneel on the floor, sit on your heels with your big toes touching together. Spread your knees wide apart. Place your hands on the floor in front of your inner thighs.
- Exhale as you bend forward and lay your torso down between your thighs. Keep your palm on the mat, as you stretch full-length forward. Place your chin or your forehead to the ground. Bend from your pelvic region not from your spinal region.
- Keep your buttocks touching your heels. Many people tend to lift the buttocks to bring the forehead or chin to touch the ground. Move only as far as you comfortably can without lifting your buttocks and straining your body.
- Breath slowly, relax and maintain this pose for anywhere between 30 seconds to 3 minutes. I’d recommend 1 to 2 minutes.
- Return to starting position.
- You can repeat this pose several times as a single exercise, but, for sitting meditation preparation, once is enough.
3. Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
The name says it all. The pose resembles a cobra raising its hood. Practicing this pose regularly can strengthen spinal support muscles, help relieve back pain, improve lung capacity, reduce stress, and stimulate many internal organs of your body.
Pregnant women, people with a back injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, headache should avoid practicing this pose.
How to do it:
- Lie prone on the floor, stretch your legs back, top of the feet on the floor. Place your palms under your shoulders, keep your elbows close to your body.
- Press the tops of the feet, thighs, and pubis tightly into the floor.
- Inhale as you push down and lift your chest off the floor until the hips lift slightly. Draw your shoulders down, away from your ears while gazing forward.
- Your elbows can be slightly bent or you can continue to push until your arms are straight depending on your flexibility.
- Hold the pose anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds, breathe slowly, and release back to the floor as you exhale.
Remember to keep your shoulders down. If you spread your hands too far away, the resulting angle will bring your shoulders up. If you push until your arms straight and locked, you might also bring your shoulders up. So, it’s better to keep your elbows slightly bent.
And, since the lower back is often more flexible than the upper back, you might end up flexing that area more. Therefore, always try to bend back evenly throughout the entire spine.
Also, you don’t need to overextend your neck backward. Keep it in a natural extension by facing forward.
4. Downward-facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Also known as the downward dog pose, this pose is probably the most popular yoga asana often depicted in films, literature, and ads. It’s also practiced as part of a flowing sequence of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation).
This pose stretches the hamstring and calf muscles in the backs of the legs and builds strength in the shoulders, arms, legs, and the deep abdominal muscles that help stabilize the spine. Also, it can help relieve back pain. The mild inversion nature of the pose brings more blood flow to the brain. Therefore, this can help with headaches, improve memory and concentration, and relieve stress.
This pose isn’t recommended if you have a wrist injury or carpal tunnel syndrome, or if you are in the last trimester of pregnancy. It should not be done if you have a condition in which you should not allow your head to be below the level of your heart, such as high blood pressure, detached retina, or recent dental bone grafts.
How to do it:
- Start with your body in all-fours or tabletop position, like when you’re about to do the cat-cow pose with the wrists slightly ahead of the shoulders, shoulder-width apart, and the knees underneath the hips, hip-width apart. Point your hands forward, spread your fingers apart, and press your hands firmly into the mat. Don’t twist your hands outward. Because if you do, the weight will go to your outer wrists, destabilizing your posture.
- Curl your toes under and press into the mat at the base of your fingers. On an exhale, push through your hands to lift your hips and straighten your legs while stretching your arms straight.
- Initially, keep the knees bent to find a neutral spine. Keep your arms straight to lengthen the spine. Find the length of your spine by pressing back from your hands, lengthening from the shoulders and armpits.
- Once you’ve found the length of your spine, slowly begin to straighten the legs, bringing the sit bones upward. Slowly lower your heels to the floor. If your heels don’t touch the floor, don’t worry, just focus on straightening the legs. Be careful not to lose the length of your back as you do so.
- Aim to get that inverted “V” shape. Make sure your lower back doesn’t round. The key here is to squeeze your abs, draw your navel in.
- Breath slowly and maintain this pose for 10 to 20 breaths before slowly bring your knees down to rest.
- Now, this pose has quite some details in its steps, so, better watch the 4-minute video above.
5. Crescent moon pose (Anjaneyasana)
The pose resembles a young, divine child (Anjaneya), reaching towards the sky and the warmth of the sun, captivated by a glowing fruit in the sky as depicted in the traditional epic.
This pose stretches the core, hips, gluteus muscles, and quadriceps, strengthening those muscles. It also expands the chest, lungs, and shoulders. Practiced regularly, it develops stamina and endurance in your thighs, improves your balance, concentration, awareness, and also, calms the mind.
- Those with knee injuries, back injuries, high blood pressure should consult their doctors to make sure if this exercise is safe for their condition.
- Those with shoulder problems should not raise their arms above their head. Instead, placing their hands on their front thigh.
- Those with neck or spinal injuries should not take the backbend variation, and should instead keep their eye gaze forwards or downwards.
How to do it:
- From downward-facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), exhale and carefully swing your right foot forward between your hands, aligning the right knee over the heel. Then, lower your left knee to the floor. While keeping the right knee in place, slide the left back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the left front thigh and groin. Turn the top of your left foot to the floor.
- Inhale and lift your torso upright. As you do, lift your arms above your head, perpendicular to the floor with your palms facing each other. Draw the tailbone down toward the floor and lift your pubic bone toward your navel. Lift your chest from the firmness of your shoulder blades against the back torso.
- Tilt your head and gaze up, be careful not to jam the back of your neck. Hold for 5 to 10 deep breaths, lower your torso back to the right thigh and your hands to the floor, and curl your back toes under. With another exhale, lift your left knee off the floor and step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana.
- Repeat with the left foot forward for the same duration.
6. Half Pigeon pose (Ardha Kapotasana variation)
The original version of this pose is called Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in Sanskrit which means one-legged king pigeon pose. This pose stretches the hips, increases their flexibility which helps a lot for longer sitting. Other benefits include relieving sciatic nerve tension and easing chronic low back pain.
For sitting meditation preparation, I choose the easier variant which is the half pigeon pose (Ardha Kapotasana), the one with the straighten back leg.
The original version, with the back leg bent and pulled up, requires greater flexibility which is not suitable for a beginner like me. And, as for sitting meditation preparation? Not really necessary.
Pregnant women, those with ankle, knee, hip, and sacroiliac injury should avoid practicing this pose.
How to do it:
- From downward-facing dog, gently swing your right foot toward your right wrist and then, land your knee and shin on the mat.
- Straighten your left leg back. Now, ideally, your two legs will resemble the shape of the number 7. But, if your flexibility doesn’t allow you to align your shin parallel to the front edge of the mat, compromise by pulling your heel closer to the groin.
- Align your right knee in line with your right hip. Flex your right foot.
- Walk your hands forward and lower your forehead to the mat.
- Lower your hips evenly toward the mat.
- Hold that pose for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
- Release and walk your hands back up and straighten your arms. Go back to the downward-facing dog and repeat for the left leg.
Your hip should not be too far from the ground. You should also avoid resting your hip on the floor because it will lift the opposite hip away from the floor making them uneven. If the hip stretch feels too uncomfortable, try placing a block at its lowest height under the sitting bone of your front leg.
7. Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana)
The shape of the pose resembles a bridge hence the name. Practicing the bridge pose strengthens your back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, increases the flexibility of your spine, relieves tiredness in your back, and stretches your chest, neck, and spine. It also calms the mind and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
People with neck or back injuries should avoid practicing this pose.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, soles of your feet on the ground, and your heels touching your buttocks or, as close as possible. If you’re practicing on the floor without a mat, you might want to place a thickly folded blanket under your shoulders to protect your neck.
- Place your arms on your sides, palms face down or, you can also hold your ankles.
- On exhale, press your feet firmly into the floor, slowly lift your buttocks, then lower back, middle back, and finally upper back off the floor. Keep your thighs and feet parallel to each other.
- Push your knees forward, away from your hips.
- Lift your chest toward your chin without bringing your chin down.
- Breathe slowly and normally.
- Hold the posture for 30 seconds and exhale as you gently release the pose by lowering down your torso back to the floor.
8. Knees to chest pose (Apanasana)
The Sanskrit name Apanasana means downward-flowing life force. As the name implies, this pose is thought to help move toxins downward out of the body, eliminating impurities through the lungs and excretory systems.
Practicing this pose helps the body to reduce and expel waste, toxins, and tension. It also calms the mind and rebalances your energy. As simple as it may seem this pose eases the lower back, improves blood circulation, reduces bloating, massages the abdominal organs, improves digestion, and helps relieve gas.
This pose is a pretty easy one, often performed at the end of a yoga sequence. Here, it’s the second last.
Pregnant women, those recovering from abdominal surgery, hernia, those with spinal, knee, neck, or hip injury should avoid practicing this pose.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back, draw your knees gently in toward your chest.
- Inhale as you release the knees slightly away from your chest. Exhale as you hug them in. Repeat slowly.
- Play with rocking side to side or moving the knees around in a circle to explore the releasing tension in the lower back. Keep your spine lengthening along the floor; try not to lift your buttocks and hips off the mat. Lengthening your spine is more important than drawing your knees toward your chest.
- Tuck your chin slightly to lengthen your neck. Keep your head and entire back flat on the floor. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and broaden across the collar bones.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, keep your breathing smooth and even.
- Exhale and release both your legs back to the floor. Repeat once or twice. No need to overdo it.
9. Supine spinal twist pose (Supta Matsyendrasana / Prasarita Merudandasana variation)
As the name suggests, it’s a gentle twist to the spine and the abdomen that lengthens and strengthens the spine while detoxifying the internal organs, all performed with a supine resting position.
Practicing this pose stretches your shoulders, chest, spine, hips, and lower and upper back, relieving the stiffness in those areas. It encourages blood flow to the digestive organs, increasing the function of the entire digestive system. It’s therapeutic, provides deep relaxation, and relieves stress and anxiety. It also tones the waistline and helps to remove toxins.
Pregnant women, people with neck, knee, back, or hip injury should avoid practicing this pose. Those with internal organ issues should consult their doctors to make sure if this exercise is safe for their condition.
How to do it:
- Lie on your back with your arms stretched out at shoulder level.
- Bend your right knee and cross it outside of your left leg close to the left knee.
- Slowly start twisting toward the left side. Use your left hand to put slight pressure on the bent knee; push it down toward the floor as much as you can. If the knee is not touching the floor, It’s ok. Try to focus on your twist.
- Once you’re comfortable, try to keep both your shoulders squared and rooted to the floor. If your right shoulder is off the floor, It’s no problem, just try and be aware of it. Keep pressing it toward the floor and keep breathing into the spine and feel the twist.
- Hold it for 30 seconds and then, slowly bring your knee back to stretch out your legs.
- Repeat the same on the other side.
The 9-pose sequence in action
This video below demonstrates the 9 poses in action. This is my reference or go-to video. It’s only 10 minutes long. In practice, my preparation takes about that same duration, more or less. Quite time-efficient, isn’t it?
Notice the transition between poses and you can see that the downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is pivotal. It is used as a transitional pose when:
- switching legs from right to left in Anjaneyasana
- transitioning from Anjaneyasana to Raj Kapotasana*
- switching legs from right to left in Raj Kapotasana*
- transitioning from Raj Kapotasana* to Setu Bandhasana
* The Raj Kapotasana-variation in the video is the Ardha Kapotasana or half pigeon pose.
Wrap it up
Although all the poses above are perfect for beginners, still, you need to do it gently and carefully without straining your body too much and always work within your own limit and flexibility.
Don’t worry if your poses aren’t perfect. My poses aren’t either, not by a long shot. At the time of me writing this post, I still can’t lower my heels to the floor in the downward-facing dog pose. As long as you practice regularly and keep correcting yourself, you’ll get better over time.
After practicing this 9-pose sequence only for a short time, I’ve already been experiencing the undeniable result. Now, I can do longer sittings with a lower level of pain, much lower, to a degree that they no longer bother me. I don’t need the pains and aches gone completely. I just need them to be manageable. As I said before, they make good meditation objects anyway.
By doing these simple exercises, not only you’ll have a better sitting meditation experience, you’ll improve your physical fitness and overall health too. Plus, they’re relatively easy to do. That’s a BIG bonus. Imagine if you practice daily!
The bottom line is, if a lazy person like me can benefit from these practices, I bet you can too! You might even love the results as I do. For this reason, I consider them to be the most practical sitting meditation preparation exercises to eliminate pains and aches for lazy people.
If you have a more easy hack for overcoming pains and aches during sitting meditation, please share it in the comment.
If you need a simple guide for practicing mindfulness meditation, you can download my free e-book: Mindfulness in Two Steps.
Need to explore deeper and find the most suitable meditation technique for you? I highly encourage you to check this course.
You can read my full review here.
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