The Mighty Logo

How Learning the 'Art of Sitting' Helps Me Cope With Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

You gain many under-appreciated skills when you live the life of chronic illness. 

My top skills include the ability to pronounce medical terms better than some doctors, setting up the DVR and turning on Netflix blindfolded and, most importantly, the Art of Sitting. 

Yes, I’m serious.

Months in and months out, I’ve spent a long time being forced to keep my butt glued to my bed or recliner. The times I wasn’t in the bed or recliner I was in the wheelchair.

I often fought this reality of mine. My mind and heart wanted a life my body could not provide. The more I fought this truth, the more I would negatively impact my health and end up right back where I began — sitting.

After many years, I’ve learned to make peace with my disabled life because I had no other choice. And sometimes, that’s a wonderful gift in itself. While I spent days wishing I could jump up and dance a little mambo, I began to appreciate the art in my life instead. Yes, the art of sitting.

What if we could find happiness wherever we sit? Even in the doctor’s office, the hospital and our bedroom? Is joy external? Or could we truly be irrevocably happy just staring at a wall?

I’m going to make the bold statement and say, “Yes, we can.”

(Side note: Depression and anxiety can often be the cause of an imbalance in our brain chemistry or hormones. When you have a mental illness, you can’t simply “think yourself happy.” Though I strongly believe that with the following steps you can help your body and mind move in the right direction.)

The Art of Sitting is taking away all distractions. It is taking time to soak in a moment with an open heart and mind. No judgment. The Art of Sitting is mindful meditation. With regular meditation, research has shown we can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and even help reach happiness.

Our chronically ill bodies can often chain us to a bed or room without our consent. It is hard to settle in and see the beauty in a moment when you are forced to be there longing for the freedom. Being locked inside your head can hurt, as you sit with the demons in the recesses of your mind, so trapped you can’t find intention or open your heart. It takes a strong mind to face those demons and let the emotions out. But the only way to overcome any negative emotion is through it. I will go over how to face and release your pain, fears and anger in another article. For now, know it is important to let yourself cry or scream when you need to. When you are honest with your feelings, you will be ready to open your heart completely to a moment.

Being stuck somewhere can actually be very freeing – you are liberated. There’s nothing you can do, so settle in and enjoy the moment.

This art is an intimate, open interaction between you and that moment. 

Be nowhere but this room. One place, not distracted and the world lights up. Begin to take things less seriously and simply…be. With enough practice and repetition, this art feels the same as being in love.

Mind opens, spirit soars and your soul breathes a sigh of relief. In one spot, suddenly I am the world. My energy is part of the whole system, larger than me.

Now, let’s make some art.

Sit somewhere without distractions and let’s give it a try.

Sit or lay in a comfortable position.

Clear your mind and still your emotions.

Close your eyes.

Take long, deep breaths. Deep, into your belly, breaths. Inhale through your nose for five seconds and exhale out of your mouth for five seconds. 

Every time your mind gets distracted, gently go back to focusing on your breathing. Do not be irritated with yourself for not staying focused. It is perfectly natural to get distracted and it is OK. Just continue to bring your focus back to your breathing.

Now, continue your breaths but slowly mentally focus on each part of your body. Start at the top of your head and as you slowly scan down your body, let that part of your body relax and melt away tension. What is your favorite color? I want you to imagine a paint in that color being poured on your head. It will slowly coat you from head to toe. And as it slowly coats your body, your muscles and mind will let go of tension and any emotion.

You are simply here right now.

Continue your breathing.

Gently take note of every sound around you. Do not judge it. Just take a second hearing every sound around you. Including the sound of your breaths slowly filling your lungs to capacity and then the strong exhale leaving your lips.

Focus on your breathing only again.

Now gently turn your attention to the feeling of gravity hugging your body and gently holding you to the earth.

Focus only on your breathing again.

Continue this until you feel ready.

When you are ready, open your eyes for a couple seconds. Continue your breathing.

Close your eyes for a couple seconds. Continue your breathing.

Open your eyes for about half a minute. Continue your breathing.

Close your eyes for about half a minute. Continue your breathing.

Now, open your eyes again and keep them open. And, you guessed it –continue your breathing.

Without moving your body, take in everything around you. Focus on your breathing, but take in the world around you right now without any judgment.

Take in everything as it simply is.

Here is my latest moment using The Art of Sitting:

I sit in this chair and it envelops me like a hug. It’s like gravity and this chair decided to show me the world loves me with this gentle hug.

My body has grown weary and the vibrations in my left foot tell me it is time for me to rest for at least a moment. I resist being confined to this spot until a small movement catches my eye. The shadows are dancing on my wall. Though I can’t see the tree outside, I know that gentle swaying on my wall is the tree branches and the happy twinkling is the leaves fluttering in the wind. Among the shadows on the wall, I can see every memory and every moment I have experienced. I involuntarily inhale deep and long, my mind relinquishing control and settling into this moment. I let my muscles relax one at a time from the tip of my head and slowly down my body…like warm water slowly washing down and through me. 

I begin to hear the clicking from the ice machine, the soft hum of the refrigerator, the gentle tick of the clock on the wall. I feel the cool air on my skin, the pressure of the chair beneath me, the tingling in my heart and belly. I can feel my body alive. My nerves don’t always work properly, but nonetheless, I can feel my body humming like the refrigerator. My nerves fire when they shouldn’t, I feel like I have the flu more often than not and my immune system can’t get enough of me in the worst of way.

But right here, in this moment, I realize I am alive. And from my recliner chair I watch life play out before me in the most exquisite ballet. 

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: January 20, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home