From what we currently know about the history of yoga, performing asanas as we currently do for health and fitness is a fairly recent development. Way back when (how far back is open to debate, but as far back as 1500-2000 years ago), the “asanas” were essentially sitting postures for meditation, and nothing more. Or so it seems from ancient texts like the Yoga Sutras, which do mention “asana,” but do not mention any of the Hatha Yoga postures for physical culture that we practice nowadays. Perhaps this was because back then there was not as much of a need for poses that would prepare one for sitting meditation, and also maybe the emphasis was more purely on sitting and going within.
Whatever the case may be, most traditionally-based forms of Hatha Yoga do see the physical culture asanas as a preparation for meditation, not as an end in themselves. (On the other hand, meditation alone is also not wise if one is not also keeping one’s body temple pure, clean, fit, and healthy. As one yoga master succinctly put it: “Hatha Yoga without meditation is blind; meditation without Hatha Yoga is lame.”) The problem we have today, especially in the West, is that not only are we relatively unfamiliar with meditation, but we are also not used to sitting still (!), let alone sitting cross-legged on the ground. Many people who take up yoga are initially rather intimidated and discouraged by the prospect of having to keep the body relaxed and still in order to achieve deeper levels of awareness.
The good news is that in actuality, the practice of meditation does not require one to sit on the ground. Indeed, one can sit in a chair, lie down (though not usually recommended as one tends to fall asleep, and there is a value in sitting with the spine erect), use a “back jack,” or a meditation bench. As for the latter, such benches have been for quite awhile now, and have been found to be VERY useful in enabling one to sit comfortably for long periods of time. I have now seen with my own eyes how much new and even veteran meditators are finding the meditation bench to be a godsend for their sitting practice (now a kneeling practice!), especially those with sensitive knees.
I have seen this because my friend and colleague here in Southwest Florida, Eric Eccles, has been making his own meditation benches (the “Namaste Bench”) for yoga practitioners in the area. Eric has taken the traditional meditation bench concept one-step further by ingeniously cutting holes in both sides of the bench so that yoga students can conveniently fit their mats inside; a yoga strap is also affixed to it so that one can carry the bench around on one’s shoulder, and then use the strap for class. So this is all a long way of letting you know that I highly recommend the “Namaste Bench,” and that we will be offering the Namaste Bench at a very discounted price at each of our yoga teacher trainings. For more about the Namaste Bench, including pictures, videos, the story behind it, etc., please click here: The Namaste Bench