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The Tinkered Mind

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MEDITATION DRAFT SESSION 4: A SITTING PRACTICE

December 12th, 2022

 

On Monday Tinkered Thinking releases a draft of a lesson from the forthcoming meditation app, currently called The Tinkered Mind (If you can think of a better name, please reach out. I'm not crazy about the current one, but I'll be damned if I let an imperfect name keep me from developing a good idea.) The rationale here is simply to stave off project stagnation by taking a wish to work with words on a daily basis (Tinkered Thinking Posts) and combine it with adjacent projects. This also gives regular readers a chance to get a preview of what I'm cooking up and to get feedback before the app launches, which is a tactic that has proved extremely useful with other projects unrelated to Tinkered Thinking. 

One further introductory note: The goal of this meditation app is predominantly aimed at helping individuals build a robust daily habit by breaking that habit down and tackling it's consitituent parts one at a time and aiding the process with a new and innovative way of tracking progress, the likes of which has not been seen in other meditation apps or habit tracking apps.

Again, if you have any feedback, please reach out via Twitter  

Session 4: A Sitting Practice

 

Today is about posture and how to sit while meditating. But to begin with, let’s take a moment for our habit in terms breathing. Take a comfortable seat, and once you’re ready begin breathing with deep exhales. Again, the idea is to have a relatively quick inhale and a slow, longer exhale. I’ll count out a few 4 count inhales followed by exhales with a count of 8

 

 

Inhale till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Then..

 

Inhale again till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Continue this for a couple more breaths, and feel free to allow the exhales to be as long as you want. And once you are ready let your breathing transition to coherence breathing where inhales and exhales are the same length.

 

Meditation is very much about being able to sit quietly alone, and as Blaise Pascal once said, all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. He might not be completely right, but he certainly has a good point worth testing. With enough practice meditating a lot of problems do seem to melt away, not all of them of course, but when the mind’s attention is well trained, many problems prove to simply not be worth the attention.

 

Today we explore another habit that makes up the small collection of behaviors that result in a meditation habit. We’ve explored breathing, and each day we now take time to dedicate to the practice, and today is all about the mechanics of sitting and the reasons behind them.

 

You’ve likely seen images of the buddha or other meditators sitting cross legged, often on a small cushion. The buddha, for example, is purported to have sat on a tree root with his legs crossed.

 

Now, unless you are medically bedridden, do try to make every effort to practice sitting in the way that we’ll describe here. This sitting posture we’re going to go over might be uncomfortable or feel a bit odd at first, and that’s understandable, that can be expected. But, keep in mind how adaptable the human body is. Give muscles, tendons and joints a little time in a new position and they figure out how to be right at home, and forewarning, you will need a sturdy cushion of some sort for future lessons. If you have one that you can use during this session now, feel free to pause and get it.

 

The whole point of the a meditation posture is to make breathing with the diaphragm easier and more comfortable. Consider this counter-example: we all have a very difficult time breathing when bent over as though trying to pick up something off the floor while standing. In that awkward position the abdomen and chest are cramped and there’s no space for things to expand in order for air to fill the space when we breath. We want the exact opposite when we sit to meditate: to comfortably orient the body so that breathing can be as effortless as possible. This also means breathing in a way that doesn’t require the chest to lift.

 

Try it right now: take one breath by expanding the chest upward and out, letting the shoulders rise….

 

And then try a second breath without moving the chest at all, and instead pushing the belly out.

 

The second method is what we’re after and in order to do this comfortably, we need to make as much room as possible for the diaphragm to pull down from the bottom of the ribcage and into the center of the abdomen. Notice that this is quite easy while standing. There’s nothing in the way of the abdomen to expand in any direction. But how do we do this while sitting? This is where a traditional meditation posture becomes so useful: it creates enough space for the abdomen to expand so that we can breath effortlessly. So how exactly do we do that?

 

Keep in mind there are visuals for everything I’m about to describe if you go to the posture section in the app, so if any of these descriptions are confusing, that section should clear up any failure on my part to adequately describe what’s going on with this business of sitting.

 

Imagine for a moment what it’s like to kneel - or in fact, do it right now: kneel as though in prayer, either by sitting on your heels with your shins and the tops of the feet flat against the floor, or with the bottoms of your feet facing the space behind you, and your toes curled forward.

 

In this sort of posture - with a straight upright back - the profile angle created by your torso and your thighs is greater than 90 degrees - and that’s the key takeaway here. Your thighs and your knees are pointing downward toward the ground, away from your abdomen, and this allows your abdomen and the area of the stomach and diaphragm to have plenty of room to expand outward and down through the front of the pelvic area while breathing. Try it, while kneeling, breath by pushing the belly out. Notice there’s more room for the belly to expand between the belly button and the pelvic floor.

 

Compare this to sitting in a chair, where the angle between your thighs and your torso is more acute - about 90 degrees if you’re sitting upright and not slouching, and this actually cramps the space needed for an expanding abdomen. Slouching cramps this space even more, forcing our breathing to be accomplished more by lifting the chest which is what we want to keep away from. It’s a bit similar to the feeling you get when it’s hard to breath because you’ve over eaten. The reason is the same. Your abdomen is cramped for space, and can’t accommodate the diaphragm trying to pull down into it.

 

The difference between kneeling as though in prayer and the meditation posture is that the knees, while still pointing roughly downwards, away from the body are spread out and the feet and ankles are Brought forward in front of the body and crossed. Opening the legs this way creates even more room in the lower abdomen. But of course if we shift from kneeling to this meditation posture, we’d no longer have our own feet to sit on, and we’d fall backwards, hence the need for a cushion to sit on.

 

Keep in mind this profile angle between your torso and thighs as you try to get comfortable on a cushion. You might need a couple of pillows. Keep your legs crossed on the ground in front of the pillows, and realize also this can take a little while to get the hang of. If you feel like you’re sliding forward off the pillow toward your ankles… well then you’re not quite there, but you’re making progress. So fool around with it. After some time, be it a couple days or even a couple weeks, you’ll get it and it’ll feel perfectly natural and very comfortable. Most important is to keep your back straight, right up through your neck, so your abdomen has as much space as possible. This posture, as opposed to just sitting flat on the ground also ensures that the legs don’t fall asleep. If your legs are falling asleep than a likely cause is that the fusion you’re using isn’t giving you enough vertical support and you need a taller cushion.

 

Now, the type of cushion used can make the task of figuring out this meditation posture much easier and quicker. Down pillows used for sleeping will crush down to virtually nothing if sat on, and stacking a few can make the entire enterprise a bit wobbly - especially for a beginner. Cushions filled with a more solid material like a small bean bag or ones filled with buckwheat work very well and these can be found online quite easily by searching for “buckwheat meditation cushion.”

 

So to quickly review the practicality of the meditation posture, the idea is to elevate the body with a cushion while keeping the legs crossed in front of the cushion. This opens the area of the abdomen by keeping the thighs angled down and out, away from the body. With a straight back and hands resting lightly on the thighs, breathing with the diaphragm will be very comfortable and easy. There should be no need for the chest to rise while breathing, and our practice won’t be hindered by any limbs that fall asleep.

 

Of course you are welcome and encouraged to listen to these sessions multiple times, so feel free to review these instructions for sitting and take a moment after this session to check out the visuals in the posture section of the app if you haven’t already. But at the start here, don’t worry if it’s uncomfortable or if you “don’t get it” the most important part is that you have started and you keep tinkering with the posture. I promise given a few days, or maybe even a couple weeks, the body will start to figure it out. There’s no need to overthink it too much.

 

Now, as this session wraps up, let’s transition from coherence breathing back to deep exhales.

 

Inhale till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Then..

 

Inhale again till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

 

Continue like this for a few more moments while the session ends and think about how these simple breathing techniques are something you can carry with you through out the day - practices you can use whenever you need a sense of clarity and calm. 


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