How to maintain an optimal (natural!) spinal curve to breathe better, stand taller, and sit longer—on and off your meditation cushion.
High school gym class is a vague memory. I do remember my classmates and I often being asked to stand close to a wall, turn around, and then try to flatten our lower backs against it. We all stood around the gym, dutifully pushing our lower backs against the hard surface, while our teacher counted to 20 and then repeated. We were never told the benefits, but the subtext was that this exercise helped our backs.
The spine is not a straight line though. I learned this many years later when I studied anatomy in depth. This is true especially when you stand, because the vertebral column bears weight more efficiently and more healthily when you allow it to maintain its normal curves. Consider the spine’s shape, relative to the back of the torso: The cervical spine (neck) curves in, the thoracic spine (mid- and upper-back) rounds out, and the lumbar spine (lower back) curves in again. The base of the spine, the sacrum, is a series of fixed bony segments that also curve in.
See also What You Need to Know About Your Thoracic Spine
We need to let go of the belief that flattening the lower back in a gravity-loaded position protects the spine. In fact, it does the opposite. When you flatten your back, or tuck your tailbone, when you stand, you:
• Tend to inhibit the normal action of your abdominal muscles.
• Distort the curves of your cervical and lumbar regions.
• Compress your vertebral discs in an unhealthy way.
• Compromise the stability-creating disconnection between your sacrum
• Displace your abdominal organs by moving them back and down.
• Interfere with your breathing.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Distorted breathing is one of the simplest effects to experience in this pose. Try this: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Now tuck your tailbone. Sometimes teachers suggest “dropping your tailbone” or “letting your sacrum move down.” These statements are what I call “sneaky tucking” because they sound innocent but actually are just other ways to say “tuck your tailbone.”
Now, in Tadasana with your tailbone tucked, try to take a deep breath. It’s hard to breathe well this way. That’s because you have moved away from neutral (a normal curve) in the lumbar spine and into flexion. Flexing the lumbar spine interferes with the excursion of the diaphragm—the key muscle of breathing—because the diaphragm is attached to the lumbar spine at the L1 vertebrae, or top of your lumber spine.
Now, instead of tucking, move your top thighs back so 2/3 of your weight is on the back 1/3 of your feet. Slightly internally rotate your thighs, and invite your pubic bone to move down toward your feet. This is the opposite of tucking and encourages the natural shape of your spine. Do you feel taller? Does your head seem to float above your body? Do you feel your shoulder blades dropping down? Do you notice that the shoulder blades are in a vertical line?
See also 5 Steps to Master Tadasana
Take a Seat
You can also bring the principles of Tadasana into the sitting position you use for meditation. I have long practiced and taught that to sit comfortably, you must begin by creating a 120-degree angle between your trunk and femurs (thigh bones). This means you need to sit elevated on the corner (not the edge) of a cushion or small stack of blankets, letting the thighs drop more easily below the rim of the pelvis. If the angle is less than 120 degrees, the pelvis could easily tip back, disturbing the spinal column. If that happens, the lumbar spine is in flexion, and your posture won’t be as stable or comfortable.
See also Essential Foot and Leg Anatomy Every Yogi Needs to Know
Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Now try this: Sit on the corner of several stacked blankets and make sure you are high enough for your thighs to release down. Be sure to elevate your pelvis—not your thighs. If you elevate your thighs and your pelvis, there is little difference between this position and sitting on the floor without blankets.
Now find a comfortable crossed-leg position. Sit slightly forward of your sitting bones. This engages your iliopsoas, which is contracting to pull your lumbar spine forward into a normal lumbar curve. originates from the bodies of the 12th thoracic vertebra and all five lumbar vertebrae. It joins with the iliacus to insert on the lesser trochanter of the medial femur. When you walk, the iliopsoas initiates the action of bringing the thigh forward; in other words, it initiates hip flexion in walking. The iliopsoas therefore has a lot of endurance because we use it so much every day; we can walk for hours. It’s the best muscle to keep you upright in a meditation seat.
If you instead sit behind your sitting bones, you will slump, and very quickly your paraspinal muscles, which run vertically along either side of your spine, will work too hard trying to hold you up against gravity, fatiguing quickly. The paraspinal muscles are more efficient at extensions (backbends) like Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).
See also Anatomy 101: Why anatomy training is essential for yoga teachers
Next, take your attention to your pubic bone, and roll it toward the floor. The iliopsoas is the muscle you use to do this too. This action is the opposite of tucking. The downward roll immediately brings your pelvis into a neutral position and thus your spine into its normal curves. Be sure to make this distinction: Roll the pubic bone down between the legs; do not push the spine or pelvis forward. Pushing the spine or pelvis forward uses back muscles instead of the iliopsoas.
Finally, place your hands on your top thighs so the little fingers rest on the thighs, the palms facing your abdomen and close to it. Keep the elbows a little distance from the sides of your body. Drop your shoulders. Imagine that your pubic bone and breastbone are moving apart. If sitting crossed-legged is uncomfortable, try sitting on a yoga block in Virasana (Hero Pose) instead. Let your thighs find their own natural distance; you don’t have to hold them together. Notice how you are creating a triangle with your thighs and your pelvis. This is your base of support. Roll the pubic bone down to draw the spinal column inward and upward, establishing the normal curves.
To meditate, very slightly drop your chin and take your attention to a spot you can imagine is at the very center of your brain. Either close your eyes or let them stay half open, gazing about 18 inches ahead on the floor. Take a few soft breaths, and let your mental focus and bodily sensation lie gently on the breath. Does the position create the meditative state or does the meditative state create the position? I think both happen at once.
See also The Best Clothing for Meditation: 17 Soft, Loose, and Super-Comfy Picks at Every Price
The pelvis is the pot out of which the spine grows. When the pelvis is balanced, the spine is free and long with its normal curves. Think of this position of meditation as one that allows you to come home to yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. True balance is the expression of your natural wisdom. Let your spine express its natural wisdom in standing and sitting by always honoring your natural curves.
Perfect Posture is a Myth—Here’s Why
Defining the ideal posture for each pose is not possible.
As an overall concept, posture is not easy to define. It can refer to the alignment of the body’s parts, the average orientation of body parts over time, a particular position of the body, or the angular relations of the body parts. One definition considers “good posture” to be the place where there is a compromise between minimizing stress on the joints while also minimizing the work done by the muscles. What is missing in all these definitions is the reality of time and motion.
We rarely hold the body still for very long, so posture needs to include a dynamic dimension. However, in our yoga practice, we often maintain one posture for a minute or more before releasing and moving into another static position. For each pose there is a prescribed position, but defining the ideal posture for each pose is not possible. There is no static ideal that fits every body.
See also Practice These Yoga Exercises to Keep Your Knees Healthy
The Tadasana Posture
Consider someone standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) as seen from the back. Notice the symmetry of the left and right sides; this is the supposedly ideal posture, which would include a neutral, erect spine, equal lengths for the left and right legs and for the left and right arms, and equal heights for each hip and each shoulder. The line of gravity, which is the line where there is an equal amount of weight on either side, falls from the center of the back of the head, along the spine and between the legs and feet, dividing the body into two equal, symmetric halves. In a frontal view, the line of gravity runs from between the eyes, the middle of the nose and chin, through the xiphoid process, the belly button and between the two feet. No one is perfectly symmetric, and many people have a side-to-side curve to their spine, a condition called scoliosis.
While standing in Mountain Pose would appear to present the “perfect posture,” when the posture is rigid, as in a military “at attention” posture, 30 percent more muscular energy is expended than when we are standing erect but relaxed.
From this we can question the value of mimicking in our yoga practice a strict, martial position of the body. In any case, individual variations in weight distribution throughout the body will require variations away from this idealized standard Mountain Pose posture; if the hips are heavier, if the breasts are larger, if the belly is bigger, if the head has a constant thrust forward, if the knees have painful arthritis, if the center of the ankles is forward of the heels, or for any of many other variations, the rest of the body will have to move away from the idealized line of gravity to maintain balance. The line of gravity has to shift to accommodate the reality of the body. All this is made even more complicated if the body is moving—and everyone sways a little or a lot when they stand, so the line of gravity is constantly moving and our nervous system and muscles are constantly adapting.
Common sense tells us that perfect posture will lead to healthier bodies, less pain, and ease of movement. Certainly if your posture is extremely different than the idealized version, pathology and problems can arise, but in general there is no proven link between the degree to which your posture fits the ideal posture and musculoskeletal disorders. This is worth saying another way: There is no such thing as perfect posture! Seek a posture that works, not one that is aesthetically pleasing.
To be sure, while there is no one posture that works for every body, or for one body all the time, there are many postures that can cause problems! In cases where a “bad” posture negatively affects function, it is often because the posture was statically held for many hours day after day, usually in a work-related environment. Changing habitual posture is very difficult, requiring a lot of training and time. If the cause of poor posture is muscular, it may be correctable with training. If the cause is skeletal, changes are very rare; yoga and other manual and physical therapies will not change the shapes of our bones. This is not to imply that no one can benefit from improving their posture—it simply acknowledges that to do so is difficult and rarely reduces pain.
Rather than compare our posture to an aesthetic ideal, it is better to work toward a functional posture, which varies moment to moment and movement by movement. Posture, like alignment, should be in the service of movement, not the other way around. We don’t move to get into the perfect posture; the posture or alignment we seek should be the one that allows us to move with minimal effort.
I have attempted to define good posture. Now let me define poor posture: any habitual pattern of holding the body that places it under constant and unnecessary stress. (Unnecessary stress is any stress that over time becomes unhealthy.) In other words, any position that is awkward and uncomfortable is probably poor posture. Change it. But don’t seek an ideal posture, because if held for a long time, any posture becomes unhealthy.
See also Anatomy 201: Why Balancing Your Pelvis Is Key to Good Posture
The myth of “the static ideal”
The “ideal” Mountain Pose alignment is sought by many yoga students and prescribed by many yoga teachers—and it is a phantasm. Mountain Pose is a brief but static posture, one we pass through on the way to another posture, not a pose to be held for several minutes on end. In armed forces training, soldiers are drilled to stand on guard in this position for many hours, not because this is a healthy posture to maintain, but to build discipline, endurance, and subservience. Those are not the goals of most 21st-century yogis.
The body is designed to move. Motion is the lotion of life! To pretend that there is one, and only one, correct posture that should or could be maintained for long periods is simply wrong. Paul Grilley termed this “the myth of the static ideal.” Imagine having to walk around all day maintaining a firm, erect Mountain Pose posture: the chest always lifted, the arms glued to your side, shoulders drawn down and back, your gaze constantly horizontal, your head immobilized. This would be neither comfortable nor efficient. The head is designed to move, the arms to swing, the spine to flex. The body is dynamic, changing—and our postures should also be dynamic.
There is no predetermined, ideal form for Mountain Pose or any other yoga asana. There may be postures that definitely do not work for you; poor posture may have consequences. But what is poor posture for you may not be a problem for someone else. There may be a posture that will work best for you, given your unique biology and biography, and given the time of day, what else you have been doing that day, what your intentions are, and how long you need to remain in the position. But whatever this ideal posture is, it will not be your optimal position for very long. We need to move. Even when we sleep, we move around.
There is a flaw in many ergonomic designs that focus solely on comfort, and in the idea that we must have “proper posture” to remain healthy: these designs and ideas ignore the reality that people need to move. For example, searching for a chair design that is comfortable for every body and for all time is a fool’s quest; human shapes are far too varied for one chair design to suit everyone. Even more problematic is that most chairs are designed to restrict movement, especially movement we consider improper. Slouching is verboten, and chairs can be designed to discourage it. We can be very comfortable in a nice, expensive, ergonomic chair for five minutes, maybe 10, but after 20 minutes in even the world’s best chair, we will be aching to move. If that expensive chair does not allow movement, suffering ensues.
Fidgeting is Fine
In meditation classes, moving is called fidgeting. Fidgeting is frowned upon in schools, in the workplace, and in yoga studios. This attitude ignores the body’s need to move. This does not mean that sitting still for a period cannot be valuable; from a mindfulness, mediation, or discipline-building perspective, there may well be good intentions that require stillness, but these intentions will not include optimizing physical comfort. It is perfectly okay to challenge yourself to stay in an uncomfortable posture for five minutes or even longer in order to develop awareness and presence (as long as the discomfort doesn’t devolve into pain), but don’t claim that the chosen position is the ideal posture. The posture is simply a tool to achieve your intention. Indeed, the style of yoga known as yin yoga requires that the postures be maintained for many minutes. The practice deliberately takes the student outside her comfort zone, but the postures are not idealized as being perfect—they are simply tools to generate a healthy stress in the body’s tissues.
An ideal sitting position is not one with the spine ramrod straight, nor is it related to a precise amount of lumbar curve, or the height of the seat above the floor, or the position of the feet on the floor. The ideal sitting position is dynamic. For a while, we may sit up tall with the lumbar in slight extension, feet flat on the floor, but after five minutes, the ideal position may be to slouch for a little while, allowing some flexion to the spine, and then change again, perhaps to sitting cross-legged. (Slouching for hours at a time may not be healthy for most people, but slouching for a few minutes may be very healthy, depending upon the previous stresses on the spine.) Whether you’re standing, sitting or in any other orientation, your ideal posture is always changing.
See also Anatomy of the Spine: What You Need to Know About Your Spinal Curves
This article is excerpted from Your Spine, Your Yoga—Developing Stability and Mobility for your Spine by Bernie Clark.
4 Common Postural Patterns That Cause Yoga Injuries
Plus, how to fix each to stay safe when you practice.
Recent research suggests that yoga injuries are on the rise, but even the most devoted students among us practice for a mere fraction of the day. What we do the rest of the time—our posture and movement habits—has a far greater impact on our joints, muscles and fascia than our yoga practice.
So, while yoga might get the blame, sometimes a yoga pose is simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back, highlighting long-standing biomechanical imbalances created in our lives off the yoga mat.
Here are four common postural patterns to look out for, the poses or practices where they might set us up for increased injury risk, and some tips on how to re-create balance in the affected area.
See also Inside My Injury: A Yoga Teacher’s Journey from Pain to Depression to Healing
Postural Pattern No. 1: Upper Cross Syndrome and biceps tendonitis.
Ever felt a nagging ache at the front of the head of your shoulder after a few too many sun salutations? This could be related to a common postural habit known as upper cross syndrome.
Many of our daily activities, including driving and typing, involve our arms working in front of our body. This pattern tends to shorten and tighten our anterior shoulder and chest muscles (including pectoralis major and minor plus anterior deltoid) while weakening our posterior shoulder and mid back muscles (including the rhomboids, middle trapezius and infraspinatus). This imbalance pulls the head of the humerus forward in its socket.
When we take this altered position into weight-bearing poses, especially when our elbows are bent and gravity adds to the forward pull on the shoulders, we tend to lay on the biceps tendon (the tendon of the long head of biceps brachii) over the front of our shoulder joint. With repetition, the extra load on the tendon could create irritation and inflammation, leading to a niggling pain on the front of our shoulder.
Due to its repetition in yoga classes, Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) is the most obvious pose to be aware of. Bent elbow arm balances can also be an issue, including Crow Pose (Bakasana), Eight-Angle Pose (Astravakrasana) and Grasshopper or Dragonfly Pose (Maksikanagasana). Even Side Plank (Vasisthasana) can irritate the biceps tendon if we allow the head of our weight-bearing shoulder to displace forward toward our chest.
See also Yoga Anatomy: What You Need to Know About the Shoulder Girdle
How to reduce shoulder injury risk:
• Soften chronic tension in your chest and anterior shoulders by incorporating both active and passive stretches for these muscles, such as humble warrior arms, reverse prayer position, or lying supine with arms out in a T-shape or cactus position (perhaps even with a rolled blanket or mat under your spine to create extra lift for your chest).
• Awaken your posterior shoulder muscles by utilizing arm positions that require active shoulder retraction or external rotation, such locust pose with T arm or cactus arm variations.
• Develop a more central weight-bearing position for the head of your shoulder in Chaturanga Dandasana by broadening your collarbones and turning your sternum forward. This position will be much easier to maintain if you stay higher in the pose, keeping your shoulders above elbow height. You might also consider skipping Chaturanga at times to build more variety into your yoga practice.
Postural Pattern No. 2: Lower Cross Syndrome and hamstring tendonitis
Another common yoga injury is pain in the proximal tendon of the hamstrings, where they attach to the sit bones at the base of the pelvis. This appears as a nagging, pulling pain just below the sit bones that often feels worse after stretching or sitting for long periods.
Most of us spend hours of each day sitting, and our soft tissues adjust to this habit. One such adjustment is the common muscular pattern called lower cross syndrome, where the hip flexors on the front of the pelvis and thighs (including the iliopsoas and rectus femoris) tend to become tight and the hip extensors on the back of the pelvis and thighs (including gluteus maximus and the hamstrings) tend to weaken, tilting the pelvis forward.
In yoga we often exacerbate this pattern by stretching our hamstrings far more often than we strengthen them. Over-stretching these weak muscles has the potential to irritate their tendinous attachment to the sit bones. The position of these tendons underneath the base of the pelvis also means that they are compressed every time we sit, potentially reducing their blood flow and making them slower to heal.
Every time we flex our hips, especially with straight legs, we lengthen the hamstrings. This makes the list of yoga poses to be aware a long one, including standing forward bends, seated forward bends, Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana), Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana), Splits (Hanumanasana), Standing Splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana), Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana), Supine Hand to Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana), Downward Facing Dog, and others.
See also Get to Know Your Hamstrings: Why Both Strength & Length Are Essential
How to reduce your hamstring injury risk:
• Focus any hamstring stretches on the belly of the muscle. If you feel a stretch tugging on your sit bones when you stretch, move away from that sensation immediately by bending your knees or backing out of your full range of motion.
• Work on strengthening your hamstrings as often as you stretch them. Incorporate Locust Pose (Salabhasana) and Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) variations into your practice more often. You could also try stepping your feet a few inches further away from your torso in bridge pose to highlight hamstring contraction instead of glute contraction. Finally, keeping your hips square to the mat when you lift a leg behind you in Downward Facing Dog and the kneeling Balance Bird Dog Pose will highlight hamstring (and gluteus maximus) contraction.
Postural Pattern No. 3: posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar disc injuries
If you’ve ever had a lumbar disc rupture or protrusion—or been one of the 80% of adults that have experienced any kind of low back pain—you’ll remember how vividly aware you became of the movements and positions that put pressure on your spine, and how many of those appeared in the average class.
Our column of vertebra is connected by two moveable facet joints at the back of the spine and are sandwiched together by intervertebral discs at the front of the spine. When we lean back or take the spine into extension (a backbend), we load the facet joints; when we lean forward or flex the spine (into a forward curl) we load to the discs. If we fold more deeply forward, add weight by reaching with our arms, add sheering force by twisting the spine, or alter our pelvic position by sitting, we significantly increase the load on our discs.
Not all of us experience Lower Cross Syndrome; for some, slouching in our seat creates the opposite postural pattern, sending our pelvis into posterior tilt. The altered pelvic position has flow-on effects, one of which is to flatten the natural curve in our lumbar spine, bringing it out of extension into slight flexion. This means that in what we perceive as our neutral posture we are already adding extra load on our intervertebral discs, before we even start to fold forward, add weight, or alter pelvic position.
In healthy discs, adding load isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if our discs are damaged or degenerating, the extra force we exert in a yoga practice could be the last straw that leads to disc injury, causing the jelly like protein filling of our disc to leak out, potentially irritating neighboring nerves as well as reducing spine function in that area.
Any poses or movements that load the spinal discs are worth paying extra attention to. This includes seated forward folds like Paschimottanasana and Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana), Seated Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana), as well as yoga transitions to and from standing like those in sun salutations between Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), and between a Low Lunge and Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I).
See also What You Need to Know About Your Thoracic Spine
How to reduce your disc injury risk:
The overall theme of reducing risk injury is to use your yoga practice to develop keener awareness of your posture. Once you know what a truly neutral lumbar spine and pelvis feel like, you can make a deliberate decision as to whether to add load to the discs by flexing the spine, rather than allowing your posture to make the decision for you.
• Using mirrors, photos, help from a friend, or the tactile feedback of the floor, wall, or a dowel stick behind your spine, practice creating neutral lumbar spine and pelvis in various orientations to gravity. Start supine (as in Savasana), progress to standing upright (Tadasana), then explore other standing poses like Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) or Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III).
• Pay particular attention to what is required to create a neutral spine and pelvis in seated poses; that might include propping your sit bones on the edge of a blanket to lift them away from the floor and guide the pelvis out of posterior tilt into a neutral position.
• Learn to maintain a neutral lumbar spine in movements that load the discs as well. The transitions between standing and folding forward, and vice versa, place particular load on the lumbar; using your core muscles and legs to share the workload is hugely supportive for the spinal discs – a helpful habit to take off the mat as well.
Postural Pattern No. 4: “tech neck” and neck injuries
Smart phones and other devices have become a dominant part of our lives, but the hours spent looking down at a screen can have unintended side-effects. Forward head carriage, also called text neck or tech neck, is a common pattern these days, thought to be driven by the habit of looking down at phones and other devices for hours of every day.
See also Yoga We Know You Need: 4 Smartphone Counterposes
Tech neck is a common scenario where the weight of our head tilts forward from its natural weight-bearing position. Like all the postural habits discussed here, it can alter the biomechanical patterns around the spine, in this case placing additional load on the discs in our cervical spine. This could be an issue in any yoga pose but the stakes increase dramatically when we add body weight to the equation, as we do in certain inversions including Headstand (Sirsasana) and Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana).
It’s challenging enough to create a neutral spine when we turn the world upside-down for headstand; the challenge increases hugely if our perception of neutral is skewed to begin with. Taking forward head carriage into Headstand means carrying our bodyweight in a way our body—including our vulnerable discs—isn’t designed to do.
Shoulderstand is another controversial pose, taking the forward head position of text neck and adding bodyweight to it; given how common tech neck is in yoga students, some argue that the therapeutic benefits of this pose may no longer be worth the risk of it reinforcing existing dysfunction.
How to reduce neck injury risk:
As in posterior pelvic tilt, the core of neck injury prevention is re-education: learning anew what a neutral head and neck position look and feel like so that we can choose when and how we load the structures of our neck, rather than allowing unconscious habits to do that for us.
• Practice finding and maintaining neutral head and neck in various orientations to gravity, from supine using the feedback of the floor, to upright with a wall behind the back of the head, then progressing to unsupported positions like Tadasana, Triangle (Trikonasana), Downward Facing Dog and Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana).
• If you do wish to practice Headstand, invest time and effort in building improved muscular stability in your shoulders so that (while neutral head and neck position is still crucial) you are able to efficiently carry the bulk of the load in your arms instead of your head.
• If you enjoy practicing Shoulderstand, experiment with stacking blankets under your shoulders to reduce the degree of neck flexion required to create a straight line in the remainder of your body, or stay flexed in your hips so that you are able to support more of your bodyweight through your arms and hands and carry less in your head and neck.
Any physical activity has its risks and yoga is no exception. However, the recent rise in reported yoga injuries may be less a reflection of the practice, and more related to the habits we take into it. One of the great benefits of yoga practice is the opportunity it creates for reflection; rather than giving up on our practice because of the risks it could entail, we can choose to use it to become more aware of our posture, and more mindful in the way it influences us.
See also Yoga to Improve Posture: Self-Assess Your Spine + Learn How to Protect It
Can You Buy Your Way to Enlightenment?
We examined the science behind five high-tech meditation aids to find out if they’re worth the hype.
I don’t want to mess with your meditation practice. Not today, not ever. And if you haven’t joined the countless who have discovered meditation’s gifts, now may be the time to start—because we know that it’s doing something good for us. Those who have a regular practice (myself included) tend to feel happier, calmer, and less likely to lose it when the cold winds blow (which inevitably, they do). And ultimately, that’s all that the Buddha ever wanted for humanity—a little loving kindness, a little more compassion, a little less torturing ourselves (and each other) with our criticism and judgy nonsense.
But before you start investing in classes, spendy cushions, or trendy in-home meditation space, Steven Leonard, a mind-body personal trainer who runs a meditation workshop at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health with Dartmouth College neuroscientist Andrew Heusser, says you might want to begin with defining your intention. “There are countless reasons why people might meditate, so someone developing a practice should ask themselves: What are my goals? What am I looking to cultivate? Relaxation? Focus? Spirituality? Am I looking for the nature of reality?”
See also Get Your Sit Together: 7 Best Meditation Cushions to Support Your Practice
Once you understand your goals, tracking your practice may help you focus more quickly, and there is a wealth of high-tech meditation aids available—think phone apps and EEG-sensing headbands to $35,000 isolation pods—all promising to launch your journey into higher consciousness and well-being. In fact, the meditation industry itself is estimated at $1.1 billion in the United States alone. (Not exactly what the Buddha had intended.) You can now spend mucho bucks on gadgets that claim to clear out the junk in your brain in a fraction of the time it takes to attain enlightenment through more traditional practices (several lifetimes for some). But do any of these devices actually deliver?
To find out, we turned to the science.
So we’re going into this technology-assisted meditation thing with a world of hope and a healthy dose of, if not outright, skepticism—and an understanding that the science may not be there yet to justify the expense (or download). The important thing to remember, as meditation teacher Steven Leonard noted earlier, is that when it comes to meditation, intention is the whole ballgame. The why will help inform the how.
See also Inside the ASMR Meditation People Are Calling a Brain Orgasm
His point is that if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find the right tool. “People are multidimensional beings: physiological, emotional, spiritual,” he says. Which is why having a meditation practice, however you do it, may lead you to the ocean of possibilities that exist in the world. “The clearer a person is about why they’re meditating, the clearer they can be about their own success with it.”
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