Origin of the Bench / Evolution of my Practice
Meditation was a huge part of my life, but because of a knee problem and lack of flexibility I could no longer sit comfortably on the floor. Sitting on a chair worked, but I didn't want to be limited to a chair forever—and once I figured out how to achieve an erect, aligned spine despite my personal limitations, I realized that in comparison, a chair wasn't all that comfortable, either!
Once I had a bench that really worked for me, I found that it was possible to sit longer, and explore the "meditation space" much more deeply. Along with the bench, it is the results of those explorations and the practices that led to them that I want to share with the world—not because it is something *I* have done, but because they can help anyone to improve their life and connect with a higher power.
I meditated for years. Back when I was practicing martial arts regularly, sitting on the floor wasn't too hard--once I developed the flexibility required to do it comfortably. (At times, I saw beginners simultaneously leaning back and hunching forward, struggling to stay upright. I felt for them!)
That practice was mostly about focusing on a candle, but the entire experience was heart-opening. It was really Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of love and devotion) in disguise. That's what GOOD martial arts training really is. It starts with self-respect and grows into "devotional respect".
I trained and taught my martial arts practice over a period of eight years during the 1990's, meditating daily throughout that time.
A while after leaving that practice, in 2000, I began "Ipsalu Tantra"--an energy-based practice. Like many tantra practices, Ipsalu isn't adverse to sex, but it doesn't focus on it, either. It mostly focuses on energy-activation practices (think kundalini), and the "emotional healing" that allows energy to safely flow.
Tantric "energy activation" practices made it possible for me to really FEEL the internal energy my martial arts master was always talking about. She herself was nothing less than a force of nature--as gentle as a soft rain, or as powerful as a storm. Never reactive, but always in full command of her "energy state".
Her example motivated me and inspired me, but it was my tantric practice that began to open the energy-channels within.
Much later, around 2015, I would discover Raja Yoga, as taught at the Ananda Center in Palo Alto, inspired by none other than Yogananda, author of the inspiring "Autobiography of a Yogi".
Around the same time, I discovered my yoga guru. He taught pranayama and Kriya Yoga practices in greater depth and detail than I had ever before seen.
- Karma Yoga is about external actions that affect others.
- Hatha Yoga is about external actions like exercise and asana that affect the body.
- Kriya Yoga is about pranayama and internal energy-activation techniques that affect our inner self and forge our connection with the divine (aka "SELF" or what I call, "universe energy"—because that's why my martial arts master called it, and I think it's pretty accurate!)
My martial arts practice had opened my heart. The tantric practices had focused on pushing energy up from the root. The Raja Yoga practices worked from the other end, DRAWING energy up in the direction of the crown.
The three-fold combination of head, heart, and root was powerful, and compelling. I began to focus on meditation, and do it regularly. But I had a hard time! Long out of the martial arts, my flexibility no longer let me sit comfortably on the floor. (Not to mention a knee problem that made it all the more difficult.)
I found the solution on my futon! The futon mattress had pulled back at one corner. That arrangement turned out to perfect for one leg (my good leg, fortunately). I began to sit longer and go deeper.
In addition to better meditations, I found ways to use the bench to improve the flexibility of my good hip and leg. As I progressed, it became even more comfortable to sit with one leg up, and one down on the floor.
It was more comfortable, because my improved position allowed me to achieve the ideal, erect spine with one vertebrae stacked on another. That position eliminated back and neck pain. And since it required little or no muscular effort to maintain that position, muscle fatigue was no longer an issue.
But that was all with my good leg! I wanted a way to improve my sitting position with my other leg, as well, so I could one day become truly comfortable sitting cross-legged on the floor.
I looked around for a bench that was deep enough and wide enough to sit cross-legged. I found nothing. So I resolved to build my own.
My first version was basically an upside down box, with one side missing so I could tuck my feet under the open lip. It wasn't very portable, but it worked wonderfully! In fact, I'm still using it to this day.
But I wanted something that was a bit more portable--and ideally, something I could get someone else to build.
I eventually found a futon Ottoman. It was much too wide, but it was deep enough to sit cross-legged, and exactly the right height (the height of my futon!).
I bought it, cut three feet out of the middle, and joined the remaining halves back together to make the second prototype. That, too, worked beautifully. And it folded up like a giant coffee tray, which was another reason I bought it.
I found someone in India to build them, too. For not very much! Not much at all. Then I imported them. Egad. In the small quantities I could afford to buy, import fees TRIPLED the cost!
I could have lived with the cost increase, though. The real problem was that it took FIVE MONTHS to get them in. With any kind of decent marketing effort, I'd sell them out in a matter of weeks.
Egad. That was no way to run a business. How many folks would put up money, knowing they had to wait 5 months before they see anything?
So I spent a year coming up with a design I could build myself. And that's what I do now. It's not an operation that will scale (yet), but it's one I can manage—for the moment, at least.
Despite the problems, though, I am motivated to share the bench, for the very good reason that it allowed me to really explore the meditation-asana-and-exercise space.
Figure-8 Energy Breath
You see, what I call Energy Flow Meditation is intensely rewarding. It connects you to a source of infinite positivity--a magnificent energy that is at once both internal and universally external.
And it turns out that there are MANY ways to get there. Putting together techniques from various practices I had studied, I came up with what I call the Figure-8 Energy Breath—a breath-based practice that incorporates internal energy-activation techniques.
The Figure8 Energy Breath is a powerful prelude to deep meditation. At the same time, it turns both yoga asanas (stretching poses) and isometric exercises (strengthening actions) into meditative practices.
That breath can be used to augment many asanas and exercises, but perhaps its greatest value lies in the ability to create the specific combination of strength and flexibility required to sit comfortably for long periods.
By this time, I was beginning to conceptualize yoga as a meditative activity (as opposed to gymnastic exercise). I was figuring out that the main purpose of Hatha Yoga was to prepare the body for sitting in meditation.
That was the starting point for the Bench Yoga book, available at Amazon. (Retailers can also order it at Ingram.)
Yoga, Energy, and Energy-Flow Meditation
If the goal of Hatha Yoga is to prepare the body for sitting in meditation, then the point of sitting in meditation is to achieve union--the very meaning of the word "yoga" (from the root word, "yoke").
The goal of yoga is the union of the individuated "little self" with the power and majesty of the larger "Self". I find it hard to imagine what a "universal Self" might be, though. And like many, I've found it hard to understand how I might be connected to anything as grand as the "universe", other than the fact that I'm part of it.
I found an answer in my Subtle Energy Yoga practice.
These days, my meditations generally begin with very subtle energy activations. Some days, I might do a more vigorous practice that people could see if they were watching me, but mostly I do very small things to get the energy flowing.
Then I mindfully observe that energy as it flows through my body.
As I do, I become aware of myself as an energy being. I feel the energy that moves muscles, expands the lungs, and pumps the heart. I become aware of energy flowing in the brain and in my nervous system.
Cutting-Edge Science, and Connection
At the same time, I am aware that the latest, cutting-edge science has revealed that we live in an electric universe. (There are many reasons for believing it to be true, not the least of which is that fact that it is a theoretical model that explains just about everything from the sub-atomic scale to the galactic.)
My YouTube U playlist contains dozens of videos that began my education on this topic. One fine day, I'll get them organized in a sequence. Another book will then summarize the videos and present them as a sequence of lectures and demonstrations that elucidate the convincing evidence for the Electric Universe model.
The important point, here, is that when I am aware of myself as an energy being, and am simultaneously aware of the energy that pervades the universe, I become acutely aware of myself as a droplet in a vast ocean of energy.
In other words, I am at one-and-the-same-time individuated, and yet part of the whole. But rather than an intellectual belief, it is an energetic experience. And that experience, as the sages of old have long taught, is nothing less than ecstatically blissful!
An Ancient Tradition
The next book to be published focuses on meditation. The one after that focuses on energy-activation techniques. Then there are books to come on energy-flow exercise, nutrition, fasting, and other lifestyle-adjustments that impact internal energy levels. And there will be a book that amasses the impressive collection of evidence for the Electric Universe model.
So there is a lot to do. But, while writing and researching the Bench Yoga book, I would discover that the use of a "meditation bench" was actually an ancient tradition in India!
My theory is that folks in India became so comfortable sitting on the floor that the tradition was all but lost! So in a very real way, I think I have re-discovered (and am hopefully re-invigorating) an ancient tradition!
But Wait! There's More!
Believe it or not, this was the "short" version of the story that led to the development of the Yoga Meditation Bench and the evolution of my Subtle Energy Yoga practice.