It's curious that Christian writers through the centuries have said so little about posture in prayer. Aside from the Hesychasts and their so-called "navel-gazing" practice, which seems similar to a zen posture, there's just not much of a big deal made about it. I can't think of a single reference to this topic in Sts. Teresa or John of the Cross, who are two of our mystical doctors of the Church. St. Paul and even Jesus are silent on this matter as well.
The emphasis in Christian prayer is on intent of consciousness, surrender, dialogue -- relationship! This includes, of course, such movements as intercession, thanksgiving, praise, repentance, adoration, praise, and contemplative rest.
There are a few noteworthy exceptions to this general silence about posture and prayer, however. As I work with Dominican Sisters, I have noted posters with Dominic's "Nine Ways of Prayer."
- see http://www.racinedominicans.org/prayer.cfm
The Catholic Mass also includes times for sitting, standing, kneeling, bowing, genuflecting, etc. (A Protestant friend in college who came to Mass with me stated jokingly afterward that he felt like he'd had his workout for the day.)
Neither the Mass nor Dominic's teaching seem particularly oriented toward facilitating any kind of meditative opening, however, especially on comparison with the Hesychasts.
C. S. Lewis emphasized kneeling, but noted that sitting alertly is better than a drowsy kneeling position. In Screwtape Letters, the demon notes:
He is onto something, and favors kneeling as the ideal expression of humility and supplication.
There are a few references in Scripture:
I can vouch for this. Lifting up the hands in praise does create a flow of energy upward, and seems to balance left and right sides of the brain.
William Johnston, a Jesuit, became familiar with Zen during his years in Japan. In Christian Zen he shares an exchange he had with Thomas Merton (who was also interested in Zen) about the practice and other matters. Merton replied:
Kind of sassy, don't you think? Johnston wasn't impressed:
As Merton had died when Christian Zen was written, that was the end of the exchange.
My own sense is that Johnston is right, here. When I attended a Zen retreat in 1987, I did notice the difference posture made. I couldn't sit in the lotus, nor even the half-lotus for very long, but I did use a short, slanted stool that assisted in keeping the spine straight. With the chin slightly lowered, distractions seem to all but cease, and one is left in a state of simple awareness -- what I know call non-reflecting consciousness. Bend the spine or raise the head a bit, and there will be more static, unless contemplative graces are given, and one is drawn into loving absorption. But I have remembered that experience and made use of it many times through the years, as it helps to integrate energy and turn off useless thinking.
So, I think the Hesychasts are really onto something important, especially if one is ready for apophatic meditative experience. Minimally, we all could benefit from noting how posture influences the attentional quality of our prayer.
If I may be so bold here. I believe the reason John of the Cross, and Teresa
of Avila, etc.. meantioned nothing on posturing, and other traditional rituals , is when
the soul gets to a certain stage of "dying to self", and is Becoming close to being
ressurrected in this Beatific Love, life at that moment becomes a ceaseless Prayer.
If matters little what postions you put your body in, or the flow of energy, or if
you are in church, or practicing any religious ritual tradition. At this point, the
body (instrument) is becoming enveloped by God. That's why we catholics must
become aware and hopefully not make the mistake of worshiping our tradition. Otherwise we
are making the same blunder that Christ came along to correct.
As far as the Buddhist, and the Hindu posture and positions for this flow of
energy throughout the body, these can be very beneficial, but again, once you get
embraced by this tremendous Divine Love, that too becomes of little importance.
In my humble opinion
Thanks for sharing, Mark. I agree with your points, and would add that in the unitive stage of transformation, the body has become the servant of the soul, which is increasingly governed by the Spirit. So the body, too, is a servant of the Spirit, and is moved to act accordingly in matters concerning diet, exercise, sexuality, sleep, and postures in prayer. There are times, it seems, when this sensitivity is acute, and others when we seem to have more leeway. I rather prefer the latter, but know we cannot do without the former as well.
Phil, I like that,"the body becomes a "servant of the soul". I must admit, I am not in full compliance, nor am I capturing fully the signifiance of what you stated. I work
at it daily. I can be a little sloppy, but I know exactly what you mean. I have faith that I
will turn that corner.
My father was a Pentecostal pastor and evangelist, and growing up my family split its time between a country called Sri Lanka, and America. Sri Lanka's main faith is Buddhism, but Hinduism, Islam, and of course Christianity are practiced. Anyway, Christianity's lack of any formal posture other than kneeling helped to reinforce ( to me at least ) the power of the Holy Spirit to meet us at the point of our need.
FYI my kundalini experience has helped me concentrate in church and in my personal devotional time.
The only thing i know from the books of Sr. Emmerich ((Visions of ) The life of Jesus),
is, that Jesus asked his three apostles Andrew, John and Petrus on the mountain of Revelation to pray with their hand palms pointing upwards.
Ah, yes, something else:
sometimes it seemed important to pray barefeet.
For instance , again according to the visions from Sr Emmerich, Jesus went the whole way from Betanien to his babtising at the jordan barefeed, and if i remember right , also on the mountain of revelation. Holy ground, like in the case of Moses ???? What i knownow , from the book that KundaliniTherapist mentioned, that the quabalistic jews believe that the lowest chakra is below their feet .
This is my first blog on this site.
The first of many I hope.
I am also looking forward to reading your opinions!
I am a presentor within the contemplative outreach community and facilitate many prayer groups and retreats.
Posture has always been cause for discussion within the community. The minimum that is requested is to find a comfortable position. I believe this to be the ideal attitude. What is important is to be attempt to remain alert during prayer times. What is important is the intention with which we pray. It is the interior disposition that needs to be nurtured and honed. If we put too much emphasis on posture this may draw attention away to what we should be doing; namely, turning our attention towards the Lord. This seems to be what Jesus hinted at. Before many of the gatherings he participated in he would most always be seen going off to be alone with His Father. Before the scene of the feeding of the thousands, for example, His first gesture was to render Grace to God. The inner disposition rather than the outer seems to take precedence in Jesus' teachngs. This seems to comply with the first part of what is mentioned in Mt 6: 'Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them.....do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.'
Now I am not implying that one should not sit in a lotus position. For some that is an important component with how they pray. It is a part of their inner diposition. One has to respect the choice of individuals as to the hows. But one should not feel compelled to imitate such a posture if one cannot physically and or comfortably dress into it. Praying, at least in the contemplative sense, is about letting go and being.
Thanks for your sharing your balanced perspective on this matter, Denis, and welcome to the forum.
Being a yogi, perhaps I could share some of my insights about the posture (and prayer).
First of all, I think that everybody has to know that our posture is tremendously important in our everyday life.
Our posture influences heavily the way we feel, and is closely related to our personality. We could say that our personality, our emotions, our states of mind are both expressed and reinforced by our posture and muscular contractions in the body (muscles being locked-long or short, tight etc.).
This is also true for the muscles of the face (smiling, frowning…).
The posture influences our muscular alignment, but also the state of our internal organs.
If the chest is collapsed, then the internal organs are under pressure, the lungs being one of them. If breathing is impaired, then everything else is impaired (body, emotions, thoughts, spirit).
A person can have a myriad of various physical and psychological symptoms just because of the breathing pattern.
There is a widely held belief in yoga that chest breathing (thoracic) is in a way bad and stressful and that abdominal breathing is relaxing. This is of course influenced by our posture. A lot of people for various reasons are tightening their belly and thus promoting chest breathing.
Our posture is also important in terms of our physical health. If we are leaning to the one side while sitting or standing, that means that we are putting asymmetrical pressure on one of our knees or hips and different muscles and organs also.
Doing that for couple of decades produces effects, especially if a person is overweight (the knees being one of the weakest parts of the body). The knee surgery has I think the highest frequency of all surgeries. That is why I would advise against kneeling. The internal attitude is more important. We can kneel internally.
I would also like to say that I agree with the opposite opinion that the posture is not important but our attitude. That is true from another perspective.
Regarding prayer, having in mind the ideas mentioned, it is perhaps wise to have the knowledge to balance our different active and passive energies, a lot of the techniques being discovered by yogis now being confirmed by science, like left nostril, right side of the brain connection, or gazing down that activates parasympathetic nervous system, or flexing the neck (Hesycast prayer), or flexing the spine (forward bends in Hatha yoga), or for example the fact that talking activates SNS.
What it means in prayer, contemplation or meditation is that we can consciously align our practice with the aim of the practice. If we want a calming or contemplative prayer, and if on the other hand we want activating prayer we should assume different postures, way of breathing, expression of the face, muscular contractions.
One of the things besides lowering our eyes or gazing up is also opening or closing our eyes, and also lifting or lowering our eyebrows.
Interestingly enough, Tucker has mentioned a lifting of eyebrows in the meditation on tip of the nose with the golden ball (that is activating). Perhaps Tucker can share the source of that meditation?
Unlike petitional prayer, the contemplative prayer demands several conditions, the posture being one of them (the other being not eating heavy food before prayer, absence of distractions in life, calm surroundings etc.).
Now I am not suggesting that Christians should sit in yogic poses if it bothers them but that the posture should be symmetrical, comfortable, that breathing is at least partially abdominal, that breathing has a low minute ventilation (towards hypoventilation). Also posture should be vertical, the verticality of the human being symbolically representing an orientation towards Heaven, and having a different energy flow compared to other postures.
I hope I was of some help.
Nice contribution to the discussion, yogi. Thanks for sharing, and welcome to the forum.
Your post began with "Being a yogi . . ." Could you share more (if you'd like) about that - like what kind of yoga do you practice or teach?
I practice Hatha yoga with some elements of higher limbs of yoga. I also studied Advaita Vedanta.
I found yoga beneficial in several ways, not only regarding health or relaxation, but in the better ability to achieve higher levels of consciousness, where different celestial receptions can flow.
Not only yogic exercises, but also learning to listen to the body or body-mind allowed me to better discern levels of introversion, subtleness, Silence, and the different practices that promote them (not necessarily yogic).
This is also true for fervent prayer, but there the energies are quite different.
Prayer seems to be the art not that easy to learn.
I am also aware of the different approach towards the body, and I am not that quick to dismiss asceticism like so many contemporary authors.
Sometimes a person can just stand in awe or shame in front of the spiritual giants.
Although I find value in the “middle way” also.
Thanks for the question and the welcome
Hi yogi and welcome! I am also a yogi and a mystic. I have thousands of hours of meditation experience over a sixty three year period. I have spent most of my life in meditation and I have been a mystic since I was five years old. I am a Christian mystic yogi. And I didn't do the Hatha yoga part of the yogi experience. Basically I am a cave yogi. Lord Jesus is my Master and Lord Shiva is my good friend.
Anyway, I just wanted to say hi and welcome.
Two yogis on the forum, now! It's an invasion!
Yogi, when you say, "Prayer seems to be the art not that easy to learn," what are you referring to? Prayer is a topic discussed at length throughout this forum and web site, and we even have some online retreats and workshops offered as well. I'm also in agreement that the process of prayer entails a different kind of attentiveness than mindfulness, but the two need not be in opposition.
Thanks for the warm welcome!
I think I am the only one here who understood the “nose energy” (at least I hope so )
I wish you Love, Faith, Beauty and Peace!
I highly value prayer (and devotion), and I think that prayer is a very complex problem which requires a lifetime of learning and experience (unless there is Grace of course), together with overall spiritual development.
Here are some of the problems regarding the difficulty of prayer:
The problem of spiritual maturity and metaphysical knowledge of a person.
If we read “The Variety of Religious Experience” by William James we can find out that people have very different ideas about God, soul, meaning of religion etc.
Then, there is a question of a type of person, different people needing different practices.
The rational type has a difficult time to understand religion at all.
Perhaps the decline of religions in the last couple of centuries is the direct result of the increase of the rational function.
That is also one of the reasons why people are drawn to Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, both being more rational in nature.
Expressed by Descartes, “ I think therefore I am”. But a person can be highly rational but grounded in lower nature, and in a way not being alive as a metaphysical being. Therefore for a religious person it is “I pray, therefore I am”.
For the rational type it is important to understand that rational function is a tool and not a deity.
For the feeling type it is easy to “understand” prayer because of the listening with the heart, Christianity emphasizing Love, which is an emotion. There are people that can enter into ecstasy by saying a prayer or reading a Psalm.
The practical type is not so much about prayer but about action, his deeds are his prayers.
So many misunderstandings and disputes in religion or philosophy could be resolved by recognizing differences in types, differences of emphasis, and also understanding different perspectives or basis of reference.
Then there are different types of prayer, the traditional prayer, the petitional, the fervent prayer, the contemplative prayer, and others, all of them being related to the problem of different types of people or their destiny. These different types of prayer require different knowledge and skills.
Then there is a question of the motive of the prayer. There are people that think of God as of a golden fish, and on the other end there are people who despise a prayer for personal benefit.
I guess that some of the these questions were discussed, I haven’t yet read the posts on prayer, I would be happy if I added something new to the discussion.
Sorry for the invasion of mystical yogis !
yogi, I really liked your point, "I pray, therefore I am," as we most truly realize who we are when reflected in the mirror of divine presence.
In one sense, prayer entails all of the complexities of human temperament and maturity, as you have noted. In another, it's always just as simple as "turning the mind and heart toward God," which is a classical Christian definition of prayer. When we do so, it seems the Holy Spirit shows up to teach us to pray as we should at that moment. So there is something we must intentionally do, but also something we allow to have expressed through us, as you note in your reference to grace.
Through the years, we have developed a wide variety of resources on prayer, some of which I will link to below for anyone interested:
Prayer in the Christian Tradition
Praying the Daily Gospels: A Guide to Meditation
Contemplative Practice Support
Christian Prayer Methods
Yogi Phil doesn't really mind as long as one remembers that this is a Christian website and that generally speaking yogi stuff is discussed in the Kundalini part of the message board. I was on this message board as a yogi mystic back in the old days before I changed my screen name to tucker and Phil was very patient with me . He is an awesome person and very learned.
The thing about Christian prayer is that it is completely different than all other prayer. Totally different. With non Christian prayer it is just you attempting to communicate with a higher self, higher power, or a higher being. With Christian prayer you have all kinds of folks helping you. And you can pray or ask those folks for assistance or help with all kinds of things also. It is a family, you are not by yourself. God the Father can be scary, especially if Lord Jesus is not present because you want to do this on your own. But other than that generally speaking everybody is very loving and helpful.
Christian prayer is simple, you go to Christ Jesus and from there everything is a piece of cake. Christian folks that have problems with prayer are usually angry at The Father or Christ Jesus for some reason whether they admit it or not. Or they are very willful for some reason. I guess also that there are a lot of folks that don't feel that they are worthy enough or pure enough to go to Christ Jesus or the Father. So they are kind of stopped before they ever get started. Those kind of folks need to hang out with a loving Christian so that they can see that they are loved in spite of their so called short comings.
I met the Father and Christ Jesus with my first prayer at five years old. I made the prayer because my mother told me that if I did God would take away my fear of the dark, she wanted me to sleep without a night light for some reason. I didn't know who God was or who Jesus was or even what religion was. I had never heard about church or God or Jesus. My father was non religious and my mother was so angry at God and Jesus over the death of her mother that she didn't want to have anything to do with Them. She only told me to pray to Them as a joke because she didn't think that They would help. I made the prayer to God in the name of Jesus Christ and I met them both up close and personal. They were real and They existed. So for me personally prayer has never been a problem. Religion has been a problem because people are people sometimes, but prayer has never been a problem.
Anyway yogi, non Christian prayer is as you say. There is no doubt about that. But Christian prayer based on my experience is very uncomplicated unless one makes it complicated for whatever reason. You just take Christ Jesus' hand and you step out there and The Father is the most loving and beautiful Thing that you have ever or will ever come across. Of course if you don't take Christ Jesus' hand when you step out there things can get real scary quick if you are not by nature a loving person.
Love you guys, tucker
Thanks for your kind words and your sharing, Tucker. That was indeed a special blessing that you received as a boy -- to have that real experience of God.
I think the pattern of Christian prayer you describe is well-stated, and it's also very true that one reason many don't pray is because they are angry with God for whatever reason. Truly, it is difficult to turn to God if one does not believe God is good or trustworthy or even interested in our prayers and lives, and when bad or painful things happen to us, it can cause one to wonder. Christian philosophy and theology have grappled with this, as have the scriptures, of course. I think Paul said it best in assuring us that nothing can separate us from the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ -- and he goes on to list a variety of troubles that we undergo, but which do not negate God's love (Rm. 8:31-19). God is with us in our suffering, our joys, and even in our dry times, for we do not always feel God's loving presence.
This is an issue where posture, yoga, tai chi, chi gong, etc. can probably help out. Sometimes we need to wake up our bodies more to become more sensitive to the presence of God in subtle energetic levels of our human nature. There's nothing wrong with that if we can keep a healthy perspective.
Keeping a healthy perspective . No truer words were ever said! I have been angry at God, but I have never been angry at Christ Jesus. Never ever. He is just too beautiful and loving to ever be angry at ! And when you are in the presence of God and Jesus is also present by personal invitation God is so beautiful that it just brings tears to your eyes. So I don't know , "Keeping a health perspective" seems to be a main key to things.
"Sometimes we need to wake up our bodies more to become more sensitive to the presence of God in subtle energetic levels of our human nature." Phil what is it that those words mean?
"Or even interested in our prayers and lives." God has to be interested if one requests that Lord Jesus intercedes on their behalf . No other religion in the world has the gift that Christianity has when it comes to interacting with the Profoundly Powerful Force with a conscious mind that we call God. That Profoundly Powerful Force has to pay attention and be interested when Lord Jesus is invited to step into the picture. From there it is just a matter of whether or not you abuse the privilege that is our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. Things can go real "squirrelly" on you if you do abuse the privilege. And I speak from personal experience .
I love Lord Jesus and God the Father and all of the Heavenly Divine! And I love living things, but I do not like life, it is just way to mean. Love, tucker
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