Find Comfort in Sitting

Sage Rountree offers modifications for sitting in meditation for athletes with tight hips and quads.
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Sage Rountree offers modifications for sitting in meditation for athletes with tight hips and quads.

Yoga’s physical poses are designed to prepare the body to sit in meditation. We need strong backs and flexible hips to be still for long periods. Many athletes—and many of us who spend a lot of time in chairs—don’t have the flexibility to take a comfortable cross-legged seat for breath exercises and meditation, even with a bunch of props. Tight hips affect the position of the pelvis, and without a neutral pelvis, the spine can’t rest in neutral, either, leading to discomfort in the back.

Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) is one alternative to taking a cross-legged position. In addition, it gives the muscles along the front of the legs—the quadriceps, shins, and ankles—a stretch. Kneeling seems pretty simple: lay your shins on the floor and sit on your heels. But if you have a tighter athletic body, this can be quite uncomfortable. Here are some ways to support the position for greater comfort.

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Blanket for ankle comfort. If you’re feeling a lot of pressure on the toe knuckles or have problems pointing your toes to make the front of the ankle rest flat, take a blanket or two and rest your shins on them as your toes hang off the back. In time, you might be able to remove layers of blanket as your flexibility increases.

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Blanket for knee comfort. If you’re feeling pain in your knees, don’t suffer through it! Take one or more blankets and stack them between your calves and thighs. Depending on your body, you might be happier with the blankets’ edge coming all the way to the back of the knee, or leaving some space between the edge and the back of the knee. As your body changes, you might be able to reduce the layers of blanket you need.

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Block for knee comfort. Another option for elevating the pelvis and reducing the angle of flexion in the knee is to sit on a block. Run a yoga block on its medium height horizontally under your pelvis, and settle your sitting bones on it like you’re riding on a cruiser bike with a broad saddle. Your feet will straddle the block, making this a lighter way to practice Virasana (Hero’s Pose).

Once you’ve found a comfortable kneeling position, tilt your pelvis forward and back a few times, finding a comfortable neutral alignment that’s not tipped forward or back. In this sweet spot, your spine should be free to rise up long through its natural curves, making more room for the breath and one less distraction for seated meditation.