The Art of Standing in Meditation
I learned to sit in Lotus Position, known as Padmasana, to meditate when I was 14. Crossing my legs in upon my thighs, one ankle over the other, folding my fingers into one of several elegant Yoga Mudras, usually Gyan, my favorite, and placing my hands, palms upward on my knees, gave me a sense of physical calm, peace and internal stillness in a world that I experienced as neither calm, nor peaceful, nor still.
My body had become so flexible from eight years of modern dance that sitting in full Lotus Position came easily to me. Yet not so the requisite stilling of the mind that is meant to accompany the physical discipline. For that is the purpose of practicing Yoga after all – to prepare the body for a spiritual practice, only one aspect of which is meditation.
All those thoughts flowing in and out of one another. All those emotions rising and falling like the Sun, the Stars and the Moon. The continual chattering of the internal dialogue, some of it with myself, much of it with others, imagined or real, turning over and over within my mind, sometimes like gentle breezes, other times like cyclones.
Over the years it became easier of course, but all the while my definition of what it means to meditate was shifting, changing and morphing like sand dunes, like the arroyos in Northern New Mexico where I grew up after a Summer’s rainstorms had deepened them, carved out their sides, and often changed the course of their flow.
I let that shift happen, after a while abandoning the traditional Hindu posture for meditating, and experimenting with the Seiza posture for sitting Zazen in Buddhist meditation. Yet I let even that go.
Over the years I began to experiment with still other forms of personal meditation – making art, gardening, writing, cooking, and even flying, all things that require stillness, focus and concentration – forms of practice that may fall outside of what is traditionally accepted as meditation, but which still offer individual benefits that are richly rewarding in ways that, for me at least, traditional meditation does not necessarily offer.
From time-to-time throughout the years I have always gone back to traditional meditation postures, much the way a dancer returns to practice at the ballet bar or a singer vocalizes before performing. There is a reason these postures have been around for so very long.
But when I experienced two serious injuries last summer, I had to confront the reality that I may never again be able to sit as I have done for decades, either in Padmasana or even Seiza. It was a strange and sorrowful letting go of something that has always been like breathing for me. I can only describe it as a dancer might at discovering they are no longer able to plié very well, if at all, or a singer after vocal surgery having to say goodbye forever to notes that had once come so effortlessly.
Once again, as I often do when things roil within me, I turned to nature for guidance and found, not surprisingly, that my life long spirit friends, Praying Mantises, had much to offer in terms of suggested meditative poses.
Why sit in Lotus Position?
Why sit in a chair?
Why fold my legs at all, never mind my ankles?
Why not stand?
Perhaps I am no longer meant to sit.
This morning a young Mantis demonstrated her version of Añjali Mudrā, standing, palms facing one another and placed in front of the heart chakra.
It is lovely to greet the sun when it rises standing in this posture, and to say goodbye to it when it sets again in the evening. It is, in fact, a stopping point in a Yoga series called the Sun Salutation. But that is another post.
But for now, say Hello to my Praying Mantis friend, who has not moved even slightly in 4 hours. A much better meditator than I am she is.
At the moment. But I’ll get there again.