Jean Erlbaum’s Sit With Less Pain is subtitled “Gentle Yoga for Meditators and Everyone Else.”
As most meditators know, finding a comfortable way to sit in meditation for long periods of time can be challenging. We can end up futzing around with our equipment, trying out different chairs, benches, and cushions, and constantly adjusting the height and tilt of our seat, and still find that we end up with sore shoulders, or a sore neck, or an aching back. Often the problem is that we’re expecting a body that lacks flexibility to be still for long periods.
Sit With Less Pain addresses that problem, offering us exercises to bring more flexibility to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of various parts of the body. It’s the only book I know of that does this specifically with an eye to meditating. Unlike most other yoga manuals you’ll see, this one doesn’t consist of a series of (for me and many others) impossible asanas. Although there are some recognizable asanas, I’d describe this more as a book of yoga-inspired stretching exercises.
The descriptions are clear, and the book is amply illustrated with shaded line drawings. I was pleased to see that the figures in the illustrations resemble normal people rather than the ultra-thin, young, hyper-flexible, and invariably beautiful “yoga babes” that you’ll come across in yoga magazines. The illustrations show people of various ages, both sexes, a variety of races, and with normal (i.e. unathletic) body types.
The book is rather hefty, at 180 or so pages. And the author points out that readers might want to record themselves reciting the instructions, given the difficulty of consulting a manual while twisting one’s body in various ways. But how many people are going to go to those lengths? [Edit: I’d missed that companion CDs are available at www.sitwithlesspain.com] I can’t help thinking that a more slender book focusing on a smaller number of exercises would be useful.
There’s a relatively short section at the start, showing various ways to sit in meditation. A trouble-shooting guide for various kinds of discomfort related to specific ways of sitting might have been an asset here. There are also some breathing exercises and relaxation exercises included, although since the book is aimed at people who need to deal with pain that’s arising in their existing meditation practice I’m not sure these sections are strictly necessary.
Still, Sit With Less Pain is a very useful book, which could potentially benefit many meditators who aren’t confident about attending formal yoga classes, yet who need help dealing with the inevitable aches and pains that arise during meditation, and its imperfections are largely those inherent in the attempt to describe physical exercises in book form.