Common steps and sub-activities
Introduction and description
The body uses any number of autonomic systems and nervous systems to keep us upright. The ear provides balancing information, the nerves send us information from the muscles, the eyes process information to determine the horizon line and our overall position within space. This is hard work for our autonomic and our nervous system, so one of the easiest and most effective ways of helping reduce threats and reducing input to the Will is by simply lying down. This technique works well with the technique of Relaxation.
Most systems incorporate this technique in some form or other. For example, for Australian Aborigines, the most important thing was to lie down if one was likely to induce a profound spiritual experience – a deep trance state - first and foremost because if you didn’t and went into a really deep trance, you would probably fall down, lose the trance and hurt yourself!
Aboriginal Men of High Degree – A P Elkin
Yaralde tribesmen on the need for lying down
If you get up, you will not see these scenes, but when you lie down again, you will see them, unless you get too frightened. If you do, you will break the web or thread on which the scenes are hung.
Although whenever you see pictures of those meditating, they always seem to be sitting in an upright position with their legs crossed, I personally do not think this a helpful position for spiritual experience.
Eastern mystics had no choice but to sit upright and are well used and flexible enough to be able to sit in this way without any difficulties.
But the western body, is neither so wiry nor as flexible – lying down on a soft bed is infinitely more successful.
Sitting cross-legged (or upon one's knees) for extended periods when one is not sufficiently practised, can result in pain and a range of complaints called [wonderfully] "meditator's knee".
In the yoga system, it appears to be the common belief that the fitness regime is called the asanas. But Asana is actually the word for a sitting body position, not an exercise.
In the Yoga sutras, Patanjali suggests that asana is "to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed" for extended, or timeless periods. Thus the practises were geared at the time to train the body to be able to sit in these positions and to be completely still in this position. By doing this one was then in a position where one could effectively still the senses. As we now have comfy chairs and alternative means of maintaining a position that minimises sensory impact, we have no need to sit in these postures. In Pantajali’s day, there were no comfy chairs to sit on or mattresses with springs, so you had to teach yourself to sit on the ground and ignore the discomfort.
I think it may also be helpful to know that many good books written by eastern teachers of yoga do not require you to adopt any such posture. To quote:
“Indian meditators sit cross legged on the floor because that is the normal way of sitting in India. Like us they also face the possibility of falling asleep so they sit a little more erect in meditation. Some westerners, not understanding this, adopt the Indian posture as though it were essential to meditation. They struggle for months to overcome the discomfort of the unaccustomed position and having mastered it often regard this feat of self control as an example of successful meditation. It is not. It is control of the body, not of the self”.
In a number of yoga books, you are taught endless techniques requiring distortions of the body and needing a level of fitness which puts off even the most ardent spiritual seeker. For some, they may get you fit, they may keep you supple, they may boost the body’s immune system and tone you up, but they might not be practical.
For a 60 year old with acute rheumatism or gammy legs or a bad back, they do not help at all, even with keeping you fit. They hurt too much and the sensory stimulation so produced hinders any chance of you even seeing an imp.
A bed is in my view a far better method – but it must be very soft. The princess must not notice the pea!
Finally, in Celia Green’s survey of out of body experiences, she found that lying down produced the highest number of experiences………….
Out of the Body Experiences – Celia Green
An analysis of the posture of the subject's physical body in 176 single cases gave the following result:
Standing still 2.3%
Cases of tense or active sitting, such as riding a motorcycle at speed, have been classified as indeterminate for purpose of this analysis.
It will be seen that by far the greatest proportion of cases occur when the subject is lying down – i.e. in the position of least muscle tone. The predominance of lying over other positions is still maintained when cases in which the subject was unconscious, and therefore almost certain to be lying down, are excluded.
I could be flippant and simply say do it! But I think some extra pointers may be helpful.
One of the most effective ways of combining a bit of sensory deprivation from the sense of touch and that of the nervous sensations as well as the autonomic systems is to lie down on a bed.
Beds – the right ones anyway – are an ideal tool to help in reducing nervous sensations as well as helping you to use equipment that reduces the input from the other 5 senses.
Choose a soft bed that moulds itself to your form. My stays in hospital have shown that they have the right idea, a very soft foam mattress gives in all the places it needs to give, but also supports in all the places it needs to support you. Because the beds there are designed to minimise the pain, they are designed around the idea of sensory deprivation. Find a bed like that [avoid hospitals].
The objective is to minimise sensations so you must be warm and minimise all the senses of touch. Your body should feel like it is floating on air.
I’ve tried water beds, they looked promising but don’t seem to work.
Light soft duvets for a covering [no heavy covers], blankets are too heavy. Feather Down [feathers seem a bit too heavy so down is better] and polyester both work.
The only advantage I could find for the seated posture is that it does keep you awake – if you fall asleep, you fall over! So if you think you run the risk of falling asleep, use a wedge shaped support behind your back and cover it with very very soft pillows to prop you up, just enough to keep you upright without you falling asleep.
The alternative option – though not as good - is the comfy chair. Recliners, however, ofthe right softness and levels of support, seem almost as good as beds.
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