Maasai, Meditation and Korean porters

In 1988 while carrying out research for a paper on Meditation and Health which I was writing as part of a course in Psychology I decided to take on a course in meditation called Vipassana. Research had alredy been made into Yoga, Zen and Transcendental Meditation but I knew nothing about this new form.

A big attraction for me was the fact that when I asked about the cost of the course I was told that there was “no charge”. At the end of the course we were told that we had been able to attend at no cost to ourselves because someone before us had made a donation and we might like to do the same.
It may sound a crazy way of financing but it worked - and so well that within 10 years of their starting up Vipassana centres had sprung up in over half a dozen countries around the world.

The main emphasis of the Vipassana technique is to train you to fully focus your awareness on all sensations occurring in the body. As your mind wanders you have to bring it back again to focussing on the sensations. In essence it is a mental discipline which sharpens and improves your proprioceptive sense as well as providing other benefits.

The course involved sitting in silence for up to 15 hours each day, apart from meal breaks and occasional walks along the bush tracks which surrounded the centre. As can be imagined one of the main reactions to sitting on cushions on the floor for lengthy periods was aches and pains throughout the body with quite the worst being pains in the back.

Various devices such as plump cushions, stools etc. were tried and finally a small wooden stool with half round legs was tried and within a few minutes of sitting on it my back pain disappeared. I discovered later that this little stool was an exact copy of the camp stool used by the Maasai tribesmen over the centuries of their wanderings. Its exact origins, of course, are now lost in the mists of time.

As I now sat with much greater ease I thought about the reasons why this might be helping. First off I was above an exact balance or fulcrum point that continually moved slightly back and forth. The second thing was that my thighs were of necessity angled at around 105º to my body. The only slight drawback was that my knees started to become sore from resting on the floor. This observation reminded me of school-days and kneeling up in chapel. We were fortunate in that our kneelers were actually padded and you could lean back with your bum against the edge of the pew.

My mind being more free to wander again (naughty, naughty! - I was supposed to be concentrating solely on sensations in my body) I began to recall my days in the infantry during the Korean campaign. We carried some pretty bloody heavy loads up and down those steep hills. There was spare clothing, boots, bedroll, ammunitions and weapon - in all it was probably between 40 - 50 kgs yet we did not experience back pain since our load was spread evenly around our body - ammunition in our forward packs to balance the heavy load on our backs and all the time we kept moving. Balance and movement were the key features which allowed us to carry such loads without back pain.

Korean porters carriede even heavier loads of fuel and ammunition up the steep slopes on an ‘A’ frame of their design. I noticed particularly that at all times their backs were straight but leaning slightly forward and their knees flexed so that all the weight was carried over their hips and knee joints.

In my next blog I will outline the initial results which transpired from my ruminations.

One Response to “Maasai, Meditation and Korean porters”

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