An Ancient Tradition
Sculpture of Shiva & Parvati on Kailash Giri, near Visakhapatnam.
Sitting with one leg resting on a bench and the other foot on the floor turns out to be an all-but-lost ancient tradition in India—one that survives in sculptures, paintings, and the small bajot (stool) used in traditional ceremonies. And it's comfortable.
--excerpted from Bench Yoga available at Amazon--
I discovered the value of such a bench while sitting on the edge of my futon to meditate. Knee injuries hampered my ability to sit on the floor, but I didn’t want to be confined to a chair for the rest of my life. The futon gave me a comfortable way to sit that also allowed me to progress.
But the futon I was using, with its serendipitously pulled-back cushion, was only really ideal for one leg! After a year, that leg had become quite flexible. But my weaker leg was lagging behind. So I began to look for a bench with the dimensions I needed. Not finding one, I resolved to build it!
Along the way, I did an image-search, starting with images of Shiva sitting on a bench. The search revealed many saints and gods from India sitting on a bench (or throne), with one leg up, and one foot down. It’s a natural position!
The picture at the top of this article is of a huge sculpture in Kailasagiri, a hilltop park in Visakhapatnam, India.
This sculpture is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:
As is this one:
Here’s a figurine of Lakshmi:
This one is in the British museum...
This picture shows Sri Visnu Dakshinamurthy, from the National Museum of India, where “dakshina means buddhi (knowledge) through which Shiva (who is Brahman) can be known”.
This drawing shows Shiva sitting on a kneeling cow…
Here, Shiva is on a tree stump, foot on the head of the tiger skin:
Here, guru Vasishta is in discussion with Brahma:
And just for a change of pace, here’s one of Narasimha, Vishnu’s man/lion avatar, sitting with one foot down and one knee raised:
With so many ancient depictions of people sitting in that matter, it seems clear that it used to be a common practice. But virtually no one sits that way these days. I am forced to conclude that people used to sit in that manner, but then got so comfortable sitting on the floor that the tradition was eventually forgotten!
Not entirely forgotten. Here is a picture of Gandhi sitting at a spinning wheel!
--end of excerpt--
Finally, just for good measure, here are some more images that didn't make it into the book:
Dakshinamurthy, at the Thiruneelakudi Temple, Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu, in a position I call "Quarter Lotus" (like Half Lotus, but with one foot on the floor).
Painted Shiva on Tiger Skin
Shiva and Parvati
Prajapati Sculpture, courtesy of WikipediaCommons
(not sure if that is a deity, an era, or a location)
The idea of a sitting bench is clearly not new! Nor is the idea of using it to sit with one leg up and one foot down. It's an ancient tradition, with a lot of practicality behind it. (Once you try it, you'll find out how comfortable it is!)