If you have been to a yoga class, you have may have heard the following instruction, “find a comfortable seat.” This can be confusing and problematic, if you are not comfortable sitting in a cross legged position on the ground, as a newer practitioner or someone suffering from knee, hip or lower back issues. Sitting on the ground with your knees in your armpits, is not going to be conducive for stretching, breathing or meditating, especially if it is the first pose of the class.
Let’s look at Sukhasana this Sanskrit word translates as “easy, comfortable pose”. The classic pose would be arranged with one ankle crossed in front of the other with the feet flexed, sit bones rooted on the floor, the spine long and the head stacked over the middle of the pelvis.Your sit bones (ischial tuberosity) are the pointy boney bits below your bum that you rest on when sitting.
Forget about what you think this pose “should” look like and let’s get down to making it feel right for your body. If your knees are higher than your hips, you should try a modification because it indicates stress in the hip flexor. To alleviate the stress neatly stack 1,2 or 3 blankets under your sit bones until your hips are higher than your knees. This will alleviate stress on the knees, hips and lower back. If you knee problems are severe, straighten one leg. The important thing is that you have options, so you can stay easefully in a sitting position longer. If you are dealing with knee or back problems that make it hard to get to the floor, then you can simply sit in a chair and find a tall spine.
Once you find the most comfortable seat for you, sit for a few minutes and simply observe your breath. This is an excellent, simple relaxation practice. Ideally, you can allocate a time each day to sit, watch your breath, journal a few lines about how you feel before and after. See what happens.
Ideally, as written in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, every pose you experience in yoga will feel like a steady comfortable seat, “Sukha sthira asanam” Ch. 2.46-2.48
I have been trying to juggle an existence between hustling to get myself feeling established in my new home city, and trying to chill out by enjoying the beautiful diversity of trees, Santa Ynez Mountains towering above as the clouds clear, the Pacific ocean not too far away, and delicious meals with new friends. The days pass by and the balance feels so precarious to maintain, and sometimes absolutely elusive.
I haven’t made a big move in many years and it slipped from my mind that it is stressful to leave the comfort of known family and friends, established work relationships, and even familiar geography. As I am trying to hold space for the feelings that such a large life transition can entail, little obstacles appear under foot almost daily. Small perceived injustices grow in size, and shape in my consciousness. Every inconvenience can feel like the universe possibly has a personal vendetta against my current vulnerability, winding my emotional spring tighter.
In exasperation, I picked up Nischala Joy Devi’s book The Secret Power of Yoga and opened it to a random page with the hope of finding some comfort or illumination. This is what I found: “When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings cultivate an opposite elevated attitude. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” (Yoga Sutra II.33). I felt simultaneous gratitude (illumination sure enough), frustration (how would this be possible?), relief (this was a suggestion to try), confusion (again, how would this be possible) and finally curiosity (i can just try it).
I suddenly realized I was making things harder for myself specifically by sharing in conversations with loved ones about minor discomforts. It is hard to not blame someone when things are going exactly the way we might like. It boiled down to gossip on occasion. I was concentrating through thought and conversation on what was not working, and inevitably, if only in my mind transgressions grew worse.
In the last week, every time I felt like someone was negatively affecting my life, I would simply hold a little space (however tiny it is), to question if this Sutra could apply. And so far, new perspectives that are changing the way I can approach and literally feel about uncomfortable situations, are opening up to me spaciously and graciously. It is work, and I am still struggling, but a little more easefully and joyfully so.