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Finger, Back and Leg positions while sitting meditation
To present all variants in sitting would be counter-productive to instructing in the principles of sitting techniques.
Instead, examples will be presented, hopefully resulting in sufficient understanding of when and how to utilize not only these specific examples, but all variants in sitting - and improve other Asana practices as well. Discussed will be examples of:
1. Variants in back positions
2. Variants in finger positions
3. Variants in leg positions
We hope you will explore the millions of positions and combinations of positions to discover the full potential of your mind, body and heart.
INTRODUCTION TO CONCEPT
For example of how posture affects body: variations in posture can easily affect the ease or rate of blood flow, or, variations in neck posture especially can affect air flow, which affects the oxygen level of the blood - or it can even affect the strength of various organs, or tissues, etc. which have other effects on the body. For example of how posture affects mind: these physical changes can result in different mental states of emotion, awareness, attention, control, cognition, etc. For example of how posture affects heart: these postures require greater or lesser willpower, can direct attention, ritualize the puranas and vedas through re-enactment or recital, etc. The connections between body, mind and heart are affected by the conditions in body, mind and heart that each posture results in.
But these conditions affect not only internal but external identities as well: as a form of communication, these positions can be used to facilitate silent Kirtan and Sankirtan. What does your posture communicate to yourself - and others? Let your body become your vehicle, your Vahana.
In sitting, the most typical position is to straighten the back: aligning the base of the skull in a vertical line above the center of the hip cavity. However, there are variants to this: sometimes, the spine is inclined backward, forward, to one side or the other, rested against a wall or other prop, or even inversed so that the head is below the hips. Sometimes, the position is rotated, so that while laying on the back, the legs are elevated. The most common variant is made in the position of the neck: inclining it forward or backward alters air flow and constricts or eases breathing - as well as blood flow to the brain.
One reason that the position is rotated or inversed is to improve attention to the body: these positions are much more difficult to hold, and therefore require greater attention - and physical strength. One reason that the position is propped or inclined is to reduce the demands of attention and physical strength, permitting intensive concentration of mind. If you attempt meditation in these several variants, the advantages and disadvantages for particular mental exertions become apparent. The Buddha Gotama, who was an expert in sitting, would sometimes prop himself against a tree, the wall of a building or room, or against other props. He would also sometimes sit erect, sometimes lay down. Sometimes on one side or the other, sometimes on his full back. Sometimes twisted over one shoulder, or the other. Gotama practiced many back positions.
Just as you would learn to drink water easiest by raising your mouth above your stomach, you can learn to modify your back position to ease or strain your natural autonomic functions of emotion, attention, concentration, awareness, thought, consciousness and other functions as well. Ultimately, practicing and perfecting many back positions provides this very essential sitting training: learning when to rest the back, when to exert it, and how allows understanding of how to utilize other parts of the body, mind and heart to result in desired and necessary conditions. This training in back postures, permits understanding that there is an application to the training: learning why each back position is used is the purpose of learning the back postures.
But there is another reason to learn many back postures: some people, due to back injury, illness or deformity are unable to sit erect; some, by injury, deformity or illness cannot balance while studying other Asanas. This should not stop the practice of sitting or Asanas: whether using a prop like a chair, or a wall, or any of the leaning positions, it is possible to discover the effect of the injury and deformity on the mind, heart and body - and by this awareness overcome the distress of the injury or deformity.
Hand positions are another point of practice which is complex. Human beings use their hands not only as the principle instrument for interacting with their world, but for communication, social bonding, and self-care. The same fingers which are used to count are the same ones used to pick up food, grasp the fingers of a loved one, signal hatred, signal welcome and friendship, operate a machine - or clean the anus. Similarly, fingers have many uses in sitting.
The Buddha Gotama, who perfected sitting, utilized many finger positions.
Communication is made not only with fellow students, but with the self. Especially in the practice of sitting, which is typically a solitary practice.
Hands held comfortably on the knees, or upon the ground, palms downward, communicates strength and fearlessness. As does the open palm, extended forward, as if waving friendly greetings to the world.
Touching the two palms together, as if after a clap, is anticipatory, and conducive to awareness. Hands may face the same direction (up, down, forward, back), or different directions. Becoming aware of other beings, of the self, of the interactions between beings, is the beginning of Metta Bhavana, of goodwill, compassion and loving friendship. This position naturally evolves into outstretched hands, palms upward, a gesture of giving and receiving - whether rested on the legs or held aloft.
Sometimes, fingers do not touch the fingers of another hand. Touching other fingers of the same hand, these "seals" or "murdas" improve concentration and effort. There are very many variations in which fingers touch and do not touch each other: there exist approximately one million potential combinations, including variations in whether the fingers are bent or held straight, but not counting directionality. These therefore communicate a particular lesson, and are sometimes used to assist in instruction, recall, and study. The "OK" sign (index touching thumb, remaining fingers extended), is typically indicative of argument or logic, as it not only symbolizes the exactitude of a point, the exactitude of holding something delicately, but also is a natural human expression when attempting to explain something. The "hole" formed indicates a feminine aspect: in this same way, the index finger extended and the remaining fingers curled present a masculine aspect of the same gesture. Cradling the thumb, or the thumb cradling the other fingers in the masculine aspect present further variants, of restraint or guidance (respectively).
Sometimes, each hand will form a different posture, but sometimes they present the same posture. Sometimes, these same or different postures interact: the closed fist indicates grasping, and force - placing your fist against your fist in front of your gut encourages and communicates considerable striving against the self. Releasing these fists a little, into a feminine open position, thumb supported above the middle and ring fingers, symbolizes the wheel of dharma set into motion when the Buddha Gotama presented his first teaching.
Hands can be crossed over the heart, as if embracing or hugging an unseen friend - or the self. The self-embrace is peaceful and soothing - just as the self-embrace of the foot, or the other hand, or the head, etc. Such self-touch has many of the same benefits as the social embraces of others in friendship: humans are social animals, and require touch - even as infants - for proper mental functioning. The way that men and women touch is instinctually different, but may be learned: thus, embracing postures may have feminine or masculine aspects - each which may be used for distinct purposes, or in combination.
Hands forming a triangle in front of the lower gut, as if signifying a vagina, is an open gesture; if the thumbs form the lateral line of the triangle at the top, there is an effort made to concentrate in holding this unnatural pose that is beneficial for samadhi practice - but if the thumbs, crossed and cradled by the fingers, are rested instead, the self-holding self-soothing self-cradling gesture becomes somewhat more emotionally calming. The feminine aspect is paired with a masculine variant, hands forming a line in front of the lower gut, as if signifying a penis. And there are variants which combine both masculine and feminine aspects: threading or lacing the fingers together, with thumbs crossed facing outward or the index fingers facing outward is a union of male and female, an expression of enlightenment and achievement of Riddhi, contentment and satisfaction, and implication of Siddhi, wisdom. But there are also variants which are neither male nor female: threading the fingers and cradling the thumbs and/or index fingers is has this same symbolism, but also connotes an internalization, a compassion, a self-care, a unionization. It is more restful, and peaceful.
In a more overt expression of union, a particular finger may be fully held by another. As a baby would suck their own thumb, or a child would hold the thumb of their parent to avoid becoming separated, these expressions contain not only symbolic but intrinsic communication.
Like with the back posture, choosing which variation to use depends on the purpose of the meditation: reaching out to touch the earth, as the Buddha did at the moment of his victory against Mara, is an act of Bhakti Yoga - if the story of the victory is studied by this re-enactment. As is the re-enactment of the Buddha's lessons to people, to the gods, to the demons, the animals, the plants, and all other beings. As is the Buddha's last minutes on earth.
In the practice of Jnana Yoga, it is possible to understand the source of your own distress, and by adjusting posture, bring mind to bear down upon mind, and combining the force of body and mind, bring about the conditions required for ending that distress.
By now, the principles should be clear enough to understand that the leg positions are also designed for purpose. The Buddha Gotama is associated with the Lotus: crossed legs. Full lotus, half lotus, inverted lotus, rotated lotus, broken lotus - each has their place. Stretch out a single leg, be ready to stand and act. Sit knotted and unable to stand up except with difficulty, stubborn in the pursuit of your freedom from distress. Embrace any of the other poses the Buddha Gotama practiced, kneeling like a friend, sitting on a throne like an universal conqueror, etc. Use the positions of your legs to improve your meditation, and you will be practicing the leg positioning correctly.