Yesterday, I sat for three hours.
Today, I’ve already been sitting for two. But no, I haven’t been meditating. I’ve just been sitting for hours at my computer—working, reading, and occasionally throwing a toy at the cat, but sitting nonetheless. Granted I’ve been moving my brain (and my fingers), but the rest of my body has mostly been sedentary.
We don’t really know when meditation first came about, but some of the earliest written records date back to 1500 BCE. Needless to say, the practice of sitting to rest and quiet the mind began well before the advent TVs, computers, and desk jobs became a part of our lives.
There are a number of studies whose results reveal the negative health effects of sitting for long periods of time. A recent study by Reebok in partnership with Census Wide concluded that “the average human will spend just 0.69 percent of their life exercising” in contrast to the 29.75 percent spent sitting down. (Obviously Reebok had their own marketing reasons for the study, but the statistics nevertheless stand.)
If the average person sits for at least 8-10 hours a day, should we be sitting after sitting? And can we find stillness in the mind when physical energy in the body has been stagnant for hours?
Some undoubtedly can find that stillness. I certainly can’t.
When I first was introduced to meditation, I was told it was a practice I should start my day with. I remember thinking, “Perfect, I’m one of those annoying morning people! This will be easy for me.” However, I’m not the kind of morning person who takes their time enjoying the first few minutes in bed. I’m the kind who jumps up with a million thoughts ready for that cup of coffee. With all this pent up energy inside of me when I get out of bed, meditating has actually been hardest for me in the morning. And, in addition to my morning energy, I have an old neck injury that has me waking up with chronic tension on my right side.
But when I decide to sit on the cushion later in the day after working at my computer for hours, I find it just as difficult, as my neck, wrist, and shoulder tension intensify most when I’m glued to the screen.
In general, sitting still has never been easy for me, as I’ve always been filled with frenetic energy and excitement. One of the main reasons I respond well to Vinyasa yoga is that I usually need to expend excess energy in order to connect with a sense of stillness. It has 100 percent of the time been my experience that post-yoga meditation has made the seated practice most accessible for me.
The trouble is, I don’t always have time for an hour of asana before meditating.
Recently, I started trying something new. I started doing light stretches and movements before meditation. Five minutes of cow and cat pose, half sun salutations, or slow shoulder rolls and gentle twists have helped me to sit in stillness. I’ve even done the dishes and swept my room just to bring some movement into my body before sitting. Moving before meditating helps me in the mornings and in the evenings. And it really doesn’t have to be much. A few calming stretches and simple movements aid in breaking up that excess tension that has accumulated from sitting all day.
A few months ago, I did a meditation training with Alan Finger at Ishta Yoga. He offered that if when practicing meditation the mind and body just cannot settle, move into downward dog for a few moments and then come back into sitting. I’m aware that breaking with a seated meditation is not encouraged in all traditions, and there is an absolute benefit to sitting with uncomfortable physical sensations.
But especially for those of us who are new to meditation, I honestly feel this offering can be helpful: rather than sitting before sitting, moving before meditating might be the key for the modern meditation practice.
It certainly has been for me.
Author: Jodi Epstein
Image: With permission from Emily Faber
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Molly Murphy