“If a man is interested in weaving, he shouldn’t keep a monkey for a pet.”
So says the Indian proverb.
That advice has me imagining monkeys speedily undoing the threads on looms with their little monkey fingers the very minute their owners turn their backs. While The Yoga Sutra and their commentaries are often inscrutable to me, I think I get what Satchidananda means here; there seem to have been countless times when I’ve prepared my “loom” by setting a resolution, and then went right out and got myself a monkey; a distraction.
ADOPT A LOYAL PET
But not all pets are distracting and mischievous. Might there even be some that help us weave the tapestries of our resolutions, rather than tearing them to shreds? I wonder if sometimes, when we fail in our resolution-keeping, it’s because we self-handicap ourselves with monkeys rather than adopting loyal pets—the people, activities, and approaches—that might keep us inspired and help us to further our goals. No one said we had to go it alone.
Perhaps when we close our eyes and sit in a comfortable seat for meditation, we could not only invite fewer monkeys in, closing the door on the thoughts that disrupt us, but also invite in the pet of the breath. The pet of the candle flame. The pet of a mantra. And for a few minutes, things may grow quiet enough that we can see a new pattern emerging in the warp and weft of the mind’s loom.
Traditionally, yoga is a preparation for long periods of sitting and the lotus position would have been a comfortable pose to remain in whilst meditatingfor very many hours.
But most of us humans have subjected our bodies to the rigours of sitting in a chair since childhood, so we no longer spend long periods of time in a squat or in a cross legged position, which is how humans would have more ‘naturally’ relaxed when not standing.
And the trouble with chairs is that they have chronically tensed our hips. We’re addicted to chairs. Many folks drive to work in a chair, sit in chairs at work (if you work in the office), come home and sit on the sofa. Our chair addiction is pretty out of control.
You may say, well, they are comfortable. And yes, we have trained our bodies to find comfort in this position. But do you ever wonder why children at first wriggle when put in a high-chair? Our bodies are made to wriggle, to move, to change positions.
Our hips are made to be open and flexible. Squatting and sitting cross-legged retains that flexibility and also encourage a straighter spine. Chairs tend to encourage rounded shoulders, rounded lower back, weak core, stiff hips. No wonder statistics say that one in ten suffer from lower back pain and that studies say that back pain is the leading cause of disability.
Surely, as well as most of our chronic lack of movement, being stuck to a chair for most of our waking hours is a massive cause of that back pain.
Of course, after all the hours sat at chairs, in our usual slack core, tense hip pose, it won’t be a good idea to hop straight into poses that require flexibility or much mobility of the knee-joint. But if, every day, we start to sit in chairs less, we start to squat and sit cross legged more, we move and mobilise our knee joints as well as our hips, and hamstrings, we might find that our backache is reduced.
So this week, perhaps pay extra attention to how you sit, not only on the mat, but off it. Are you comfortable? Are your shoulders down, your core subtly engaged, your chest open, your hips feeling free? And what can you do to change that?
And what of props
? Those with tight hips find sitting still for ages hard and a recipe for pins and needles .. if this sounds like you we would recommend a prop. This can be sitting against a wall
sometimes for a long meditation.. or a wedged type block
… or a bolster
or even just a cushion
.. Many folks find trying these things can give access to sitting on the floor for longer. And don’t forget a soft blanket under any boney ankles out there!