Buttafly for meditation
Transform your posture
How many of us struggle to sit comfortably for Yoga and meditation?
With the Buttafly, no longer do you need to slouch or perch uncomfortably on the edge of a regular block. The Buttafly offers the perfect support for effortless cross-legged sitting with good posture to help you get the most out of your practice.
Designed by TillyLou James, Physiotherapist and Yoga teacher to complement the shape of the body, the Buttafly aims to support the pelvis so that the sitting bones take our weight just as nature intended.
The indent at the back avoids all pressure upon the base of the spine so that the whole length of the backbone feels light and free. And the gently sloping upper surface means that the pelvis automatically comes into a neutral position making it easy for you to sit up well with good posture and creating room for a free and easy breath. There is specially designed space for the feet too!
Step-by-step guide to sitting on the Buttafly
2. Bend one knee, sliding your foot along the mat; wrap both hands around the shin to gently bring the heel as close as you can towards yor bottom. This locks and protects the knee
3. Slide one hand down to wrap around the ankle and the other to support the outside of the knee as you turn at the hip, bringing the leg into the cross legged position
4. Repeat with the other leg to come into a beautifully aligned sitting pose
5. Breathe into the belly and SMILE!
The Art of Sitting
All the research tells us that Yoga, pranayama and meditation can significantly improve our well being, reducing stress and enhancing our physical and emotional health. And while many of us enjoy the more physical practices of Yoga, the simple act of sitting quietly with awareness can in itself reap immeasurable benefits.
That moment when we come into stillness on our mat (or a chair… but more about that later) is a perfect time for us to fully “land” in our seat and engage with a greater sense of what it means for us to be right here, right now.
This period of sitting is a key part of the ritual of Yoga, an opportunity for us connect with our commitment to the practice and begin the process of “checking in” with ourselves. Of course to begin with we may find that we are rather preoccupied by the world around us or an overactive mind wandering off on a course of its own but with regular practice we can master these distractions and welcome this time as a wonderful chance to calm our nerves and feel better about ourselves and the world around us.
An important tool to help draw our attention inwards and to develop our understanding of the connection between the physical and emotional is to focus on our posture. The reverence given to this word may make one wonder if perhaps it has a capital “P”, for as soon as it is spoken the majority sit up sharply, overly straightening their back and straining to sit to attention, military style.
However if we can interrupt this automatic response and observe our posture without first changing it, we can learn a great deal about where we hold tension, where feels contracted and tight, where feels open and spacious. And as we remain present with this curiosity we invite a gentle unfolding as we let go of unnecessary tension, maybe widening and lengthening a little and succumbing to a yawn as the nervous system shifts from a bias of stress to relaxation. This is a fundamental part of the greater process of Yoga whereby these subtle adjustments bring about a letting go and surrender to the unknown.
Steady and Comfortable
To support the stillness required for such self‐inquiry, we need to establish a position that in the words of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is both sthira and sukha meaning steady and comfortable. A good posture exhibiting the curves of the spine in their natural alignment (sitting up straight is a misnomer!) so that the head is balanced over the pelvis will ease the way for us to get the most out of our sitting experience. Our lungs will be able to expand fully supporting the breath, the circulation of blood will flow unimpeded, the cerebro‐spinal fluid can pulse freely, bathing and nourishing the brain and spinal cord, and our prana can flow with ease through the sushumna nadi, the central river of energy coursing through our core. A basic understanding of anatomy can help us to understand the intricacies of good posture.
In simple the terms the spine has 3 curves designed to spread the load of the opposing vertical forces affecting the body – the downward effect of gravity and the upward ground reaction force which is created every time our foot strikes the floor: – backward facing curve called a lordosis in the neck (cervical) region – forward facing curve known as a kyphosis in the middle back (thoracic) area – backward-facing curve again in the low back (lumbar) area.
At the bottom of the large and irregularly shaped pelvic bones are two prominences known as the sit bones – think of them like compact rockers. They are designed for sitting on!
At the base of the spine is the sacrum – a large triangular bone that is also jointed with the left and right pelvic bones at the large sacroiliac joints. The sacrum then supports the spine and the pelvic bones support the sacrum -‐ the sacrum is the link between the spine and pelvis. The shape of the sacrum and the way in which it articulates with the pelvic bones means that in the neutral position it is angled forwards. The upper surface also slopes forwards contributing to the lumbar curve.
There is very little movement at the sacroiliac joints (many argue none) and any alteration in the position of the pelvic bones will result in a change in the angle of the sacrum and the shape of the lumbar curve. The pelvis is sometimes referred to as the pelvic bowl, and imagining this bowl as filled with water can help to get our heads around the next bit. If the pelvis is rotated anteriorly (tilted forwards) spilling water over the front edge, the angle of the sacrum and the lumbar lordosis increases; conversely when the pelvis is rotated posteriorly (tilted backwards) spilling water over the back edge, the sacrum becomes more vertically and the lumbar lordosis flattens out. Pelvic tilting (rocking) in this way is the same movement we performed when practicing cat and dog tilt in four‐point kneeling.
Do You Live on the Edge?
Many Yogis use a regular Yoga block for sitting on and position themselves on the front edge, often without knowing exactly why and yet aware that it helps them to sit up properly. Actually what they are doing is finding the front portion of the sit‐bones – see Exercise 1. The problem is then that the front edge of the block digs into their buttocks making it not sufficiently comfortable to sit for longer periods. Sitting on a prop with a gently sloping surface such the Buttafly with its gently angled top will solve this problem.
Perch on a dining chair the seat of which is high enough so that your knees are below the level of your hips. Rest your feet flat on the floor, directly under the knees and place your hands under the corresponding sit bones. Now perform a pelvic rock so that the sit bones sliding backwards and forwards on your hands; notice the change in the angle of the hip joints; notice the change in the curvature of the lumbar spine; let your head and neck be free and observe the movement there too. If you really get into it you will notice that even the eyes move up and down! Now, come to a standstill just forward of the mid-‐point of the rockers in a “neutral pelvis”. You will know when you have got it right because the natural curves of the spine will have found their way automatically and the head will be balanced over the pelvis.
Now to the floor…
There should not have been too much difficulty performing the pelvic rock in Exercise 1 if you were sitting correctly on the seat, however once we get down on the floor everything becomes a little trickier. Many of us, especially those who have grown up in the West are relatively stiff in the hips so that when we sit on the floor the hips do not have sufficient range to move meaning that the pelvis has to accommodate instead. The body will always take the easy path unless directed otherwise – it is generally easier to let the spine slump than flex tight hips.
Relaxing the shoulders away from the ears is a common cue in Yoga classes. Hunched shoulders are part of the “posturing” of combatants – very easily recognised in cats on a face off. A protective stance designed to protect the vital neck area and again associated with an activated nervous system. One way to remind us to relax the shoulders is to relax the hands. Turn them palm uppermost and rest on your thighs or one atop the other at the lower belly. Support them on a blanket if your arms are relatively short to your body.
In Yoga studios everywhere it is common to see “hip-‐opening” classes advertised. But this expression does not truly reflect what is going on at the hips nor enhance our understanding of what this means for our bodies. In reality the common problem is that the hips are tight going into a flexed position so that there is not the range available for an easy Balasana where the buttocks reach the heels or a full squat. When we come to sit on the floor this lack flexion means that we are thrown onto the back portion of the sit bones, throwing the pelvis into a posterior rotation with a consequent loss of lumbar lordosis. Bingo! We are back to the C-‐shaped slouch. The additional requirement of rotation required for cross-‐legged sitting makes the situation more difficult to achieve. A rule of thumb often cited as a guide for how to sit well cross legged on the floor is that the knees should be below the level hips however, this is a generalisation and there are many for whom this does not hold true. Undoubtedly, the higher the knees the greater the flexibility required at the hips for the pelvis not to be dragged into a posterior pelvic tilt and of course the higher the knees, the more muscular action required to maintain a neutral pelvis to counter resistance from the hips.
Head and neck
Just as the pelvis is designed to be stable, the head and neck are designed to be free. The head balances on the top of the spine at a pivot point called the atlanto-occipital joint and moves in response to a sensory stimulus – in particular from the eyes and ears; the body then organises itself around the movement of the head. When we sit in a slouch, in the first place the head and neck will follow the rest of the spine and we end up looking down at the floor. However our in‐built protective mechanism will want to keep orientated principally by the use of sight – and so we maintaining the slouch we will have to over extend at the neck to look up stressing joints and straining muscles. To prove a point, slouch over, lift the head so that you can gaze in front of you, now without moving your head and neck, straighten your back ‐ you will see that you are now looking up at the ceiling! The implications for the neck to be continually extended like this go way beyond likely fatigue and possible neck strain. The body’s response to stress is to hunch the shoulders and tighten the muscles on the back of the neck so that sitting in this way replicates a natural stress response. In addition when the eyes are looking up the nervous system is activated, alert and ready for action and not at all conducive to a health ‐ promoting Yoga practice. Releasing the chin down, keeping the back of the neck long and the eyes gently lowered to the floor whether open or closed is crucial to cultivating a sense of safety that is necessary for inner focus and surrender. Also when the upper spine is shortened in a hunched posture the upper ribs have less room to move. The lower ribs are also restricted as is the diaphragm, compromising the lung expansion in all directions. Be aware too that short, shallow breaths are another feature of stress in the body.
Take the work out of it
The work, work, work ethic is an ingrained part of Western culture but when it comes to sitting, the easier you make it for the body to sit comfortably, the better. When the body is comfortable, the nervous system relaxes and this has a profound effect on the tissues at a cellular level, allowing them to reorganize themselves, releasing tension and re‐establishing optimal alignment throughout the body with little or no perceived effort from yourself. Sitting on a support almost higher than you might first expect can help this process to happen so that with in no time at all you can then sit on a lower support comfortably and with good posture. Use all the props you need to facilitate a well‐aligned posture that supports a perfectly balanced head, a free flowing breath and a calm and peaceful nervous system. Bliss!
© TillyLou James is an experienced musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, British Wheel of Yoga accredited Yoga Teacher and designer of the Buttafly.