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Siddhasana™ Meditation Seat & The History of Posture

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A Hundred Years of Bad Posture

Once upon a time, from formal portraits of the wealthy from ancient ages to photographs of American pioneers and families from the 1800s, people generally carried themselves with excellent posture. A straight back. Head above the shoulders rather than in front of the chest.

"Straight-backed" had the connotation of honesty, uprightness in business and personal interactions, and possibly of careful observance in matters of religion.

Around the 1920's, however, posed photographs show people of fashion and circumstance now in no longer straight but dramatically slouched postures, and the fashion and culture of the day gave prestige and social value to the flapper girl with the long cigarette holder and the slouching, swaying posture, with the head tilted to the side. Society changed, and bad posture became fashionable. It was a battle. but the battle was lost.

The history of this change is described in a fascinating article, available at JSTOR.org, an academic resource website:

The Rise and Fall of American Posture, David Yosifon and Peter N. Stearns, The American Historical Review, Vol. 103, No. 4 (Oct., 1998), pp. 1057-1095
Today one can still find 55 year old men whose 80 year old fathers told them as children, Straighten up! every night at dinner, but those men have been slouchers since childhood.

Through social change and spread of innovations of social habits, just like the spread of language changes across the social and geographic strata of society, slouching posture spread throughout society.

Nowadays, parents have stopped even asking their kids to "Sit up straight!" Few vestiges of the old emphasis and strict observance of erect posture remain in society: the army, some religious groups. That's about it. People don't really know what it was about.

So the argument was indeed lost. People don't tell their children to sit up straight any more. So why ever did they?

Bad Reasons for Good Posture

Tom Veatch says he used to think that the old focus on upright posture was because of an excessive need for social control and a superficial emphasis on how a person looks. Parents might tell their children to wipe their mouth and straighten up both for the same reason, for what you look like to others.

And indeed one can see in others immediately how their posture looks. Empathy means experiencing for ourselves what we see the other experiencing, and this ability of ours enables us not just to feel the smile on others' faces but also to see the inner effects of their good posture. If you see someone tall and open in their posture, you can immediately and directly empathize with what it must feel like to be in that posture.

So that was a temptation to parents and sergeants and religious authorities, to tell people how to be in their posture, because it looks better to have better posture. But that is a bad reason; we shouldn't do it for others, but for ourselves.

The new argument, our argument, is that good posture is not just about looking good for others. It is a matter of inner experience, inner emotional and cognitive energy level, and indeed of one's access to bliss. Perhaps a tall straight posture was once particularly acknowledged to be a good thing by those emotionally intelligent or religious folks who put value on inner experience, because there was something to it! And we think there is still something to it.

It's called Good for a Reason

The famous Alexander Technique of F. M. Alexander brought to the world the insight that our posture carries not just a way of holding the body but also a related way of feeling emotionally, and often negative consequences even to the point of incapacitation. Alexander himself would get laryngitis when he took on the posture and voice of the acting roles he played, and that personal experience started his whole life project.

Thus a whole tradition and lineage of Alexander Technique teachers are working, around the world, to improve people's posture, and thereby improve their functioning and their experience of life.

Posture relates to your functioning and efficiency, your emotional life, how it feels to be who you are. It's not just the mechanics of some bones that can bend different ways.

We're with them. In fact, we believe that posture can produce bliss. Here's why:

Can Posture can produce Bliss?

Tom Veatch recently wrote the following paragraphs in a letter to his meditation teacher when he offered her the first two production units of the Siddhasana™ Meditation Seat. They were a gift of gratitude for her meditation posture instructions which inspired the search that led to the Siddhasana™ Meditation Seat. Tom wrote:
I have suffered from, thought about, and tried to improve posture for myself and others over many years. As a tall boy, I used to slouch badly in my schoolchair, and I always had terrible posture, associating relaxation with slouching. I came to the practice of meditation, the academic study of kinesiology, and the profession of massage therapy all in the spring of 1981, during my sophomore year at Stanford, and ever since then the yogic, the mechanical, and the therapeutic aspects of posture have taken turns in my mind. In all these years, I discovered an amazing posture trick, which I'd like to describe to you, because it is also this chair's effect.

So I explain my posture trick like this. If I do two things, then three things happen. First, I stand up perfectly, perfectly straight, with all my effort, as though hanging from a cable attached to my skull. Second, then I lean back, just a tiny bit, maybe four degrees, perhaps especially in the neck.

Suddenly three things happen. First, I suddenly don't care about anything. (Kids often laugh aloud at this one, pehaps because they are more trapped in their suffering, but adults smile too.) Second, you know that when you close your eyes, it's as if things turn black. In this, it's as if things turn white. It's not that things actually turn white, but it's just as if they do. (People stare, perhaps stare away, perhaps they politely nod. It's a mystery, they seem willing to agree.) And third, there is a small but positive sense of euphoria.

They try it, maybe they've already tried it while I was talking. I might prod the small of their back forward, or their shoulder back to straighten up more, or hold their neck and back of their head, lifting and letting the back of the head float back a little.

     Some people do get it. One older gentleman said, I want to do that on my deathbed! Indeed. One can get this effect lying down, too, absolutely.

So the effect is pretty reliable for me, and many others get it, if they really try it, so I do try to share it with people often. One might wonder, What explains it? I think of it like this. The spine can be thought of as a stack of disks, and the usual top-to-the-front curvature of a slouching spine stacks them so the pressure is more on the fronts of each of those disks. In this posture trick, on the other hand, the disks are stacked more flatly on top of each other since we are very erect, and then the pressure is just lifted off their fronts with the slight leaning back. So there is a sense of opening and lightness, perhaps a slight falling sensation.

In certain editions of Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi there is a picture of Shri Yukteshwar's ashram, with a large crowd all around sitting cross-legged, and everyone with back hunched, looking up at the camera, except for two people in the middle sitting very tall, perfectly erect. When I saw this photo, I thought, Wow! Obviously! These two know about my posture trick! And indeed they were Yogananda himself and his Guru Yukteshwar.

How does this relate to the Siddhasana™ Meditation Seat? The posture trick also happens for many people while sitting on it. People that sit on them say things like "My focus has increased".

We believe this is something that can change the entire world. And that everyone should try it.

The first Siddhasana™ Meditation Seat ever offered for sale was sold in June, 2013. Tom's mother got a bargain, paying about half of our cost of materials. From such humble beginnings, let us aim for the stars.

Copyright (C) 2012-2020, Thomas C Veatch. All Rights Reserved.