Stillness and Strength: Preparing the Body for Meditation

Kripalu School of Yoga

Meditation is ­­­­an accessible practice with numerous benefits, including quieting the body, calming the breath, and soothing the mind. For many people, however, quieting the body can be a major challenge—tight hips, cranky shoulders, and rounded backs can get in the way on the path toward cultivating equanimity.

Luckily, yoga provides wonderful tools to prepare the body for meditation; in fact, yoga was originally developed exactly for that purpose. Here are a few simple practices that can help you create a steady, comfortable seat.

All About that Back

The back needs to be strong in order to support an upright seated position, and Cobra pose is an especially effective back strengthener. For this variation of Cobra, you'll need a folded blanket or two, depending on how high you want to lift your torso off the floor.

  • Start by lying face down on your mat with the blanket(s) under your hips and the forehead on the mat.
  • Make sure that your pubic bone is on the mat and the legs are hip-width apart.
  • Place the hands next to the rib cage, slightly behind the shoulders, with the arms drawn in parallel to each other.
  • Press the legs, hips, and pubic bone down.
  • Inhale as you lengthen and lift out and up through the torso; exhale as you slowly lower down.
  • Continue this for several rounds.

Not Your Average Crunch

Sit-ups on a ball are a great way to tone the abdominals, which need to work in conjunction with the back to keep you upright.

  • From a seated position with your knees bent and feet on the floor, lie back with a soft, squishy, inflatable ball—such as a Coregous® or Gertie ball—or a rolled-up blanket behind your rib cage, around the bottom tips of your shoulder blades.
  • Rest your head on the floor, with your fingers interlaced behind the head.
  • On an inhale, expand your belly and ribs fully.
  • Exhale through your nose and squeeze in to engage your abdominals and lift your torso off the ground in a sit-up.
  • At the top of the sit-up and at the end of the exhale, switch to expelling even more breath through pursed lips.
  • Stay suspended in the sit-up for a few moments, then slowly release as you inhale. You can take a recovery breath in between or continue on.
  • Repeat the sit-ups for several rounds.

Plank It Up

Mega Plank with a twist targets the abdominals, back, shoulders, and neck.

  • Start in a forearm Plank with your feet a bit wider than hip-width.
  • On an exhale, drop both heels over to the right, keeping your rib cage and shoulders squared and your forearms pressing into the mat.
  • Inhale, and slowly shift your heels back to center.
  • Repeat on the other side.

For more of a challenge, bring your feet together. As you lower the heels, the feet will be stacked on top of each other.

Fishing for Stability

Tension in the chest and upper back can affect the neck and shoulders during seated meditation, so Supported Fish pose can help alleviate the ache that builds up in the neck and between the shoulder blades.

  • From a seated position with your knees bent and feet on the floor, lie back over a pillow, cushion, or folded blanket positioned between the middle and lower ribs. The head and shoulders should be on the floor behind your prop.
  • Place a rolled-up blanket or towel underneath the neck.
  • From here, stretch your arms out to the sides, about shoulder height, and roll the arms so that the inner elbows and palms face skyward.
  • Keep the knees bent to help support the lower back, or you can extend the legs out.
  • Let your whole body surrender as you relax and breathe for several minutes in this posture.

Be Hip to Your Hips

For many meditation practitioners, tight hips can be a major hindrance. Figure Four is a great way to open the back of the hips.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and the feet on the floor.
  • Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, just below the knee.
  • Let your right knee open away from the body until you feel a stretch in the hips.
  • You can stay here or, if you want to go deeper, bring the left leg toward the body, reaching both hands behind the left thigh, interlacing your fingers, and using your arms to guide the left leg in as your right leg continues to open and move away from you. 
  • Stay in the stretch anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute before switching sides.

The Wind Beneath Your Wings

Wind-Relieving pose on a block opens the front body, and it’s a great stretch to do before meditation to create space in the front of the hips, thighs, and belly. It can also be done after meditation as a complement to sitting. You’ll need a yoga block or a hefty book, such as a dictionary, to place underneath your sacrum.

  • Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
  • Bring your feet back so that they’re placed a few inches in front of your buttocks.
  • Lift your hips high enough to slide your block or book underneath your sacrum; then lower your hips to rest on your prop.
  • Keep your right knee bent as you lengthen the left leg out on the floor in front of you; the heel of your left leg will be resting on the floor while the foot points straight up toward the ceiling.
  • Let your arms come to rest by your sides.
  • Stay here for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes.
  • To switch, bring your left foot to the floor and then extend your right leg out.
  • If you’d like a little more sensation, place the block higher or add another book underneath you.

This series of postures and movements will provide you with a well-rounded routine to create a resilient body—a steady container to absorb the benefits of meditation.

Ready to get started? Check out instructions for metta meditation, a playful meditation exercise, and the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen.

Find out about upcoming programs with Michelle Dalbec at Kripalu.

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Michelle Dalbec, E-RYT 1000, YACEP, is a lead faculty member for Kripalu, lead teacher trainer for the Kripalu School of Yoga, a Kripalu R&R Retreat presenter, and a Kripalu RISE™ facilitator.

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