“If the beginner yogi sits on the hard floor to meditate he will find his legs going to sleep, owing to pressure on his flesh and arteries. If he sits on a blanket over a spring pad or mattress, on the floor, or over a hard bed, he will not experience discomfort in his legs. A Westerner, used to sitting on chairs with his thighs at a right angle to his torso, will find it more comfortable to meditate on a chair with a woolen blanket and silk cloth under him, extending under his feet which rest on the floor. Those Western yogis, especially youths, who can squat on the floor like Orientals, will find their knees pliable, owing to their ability to fold their legs in an acute angle. Such yogis may meditate in the lotus posture, or in the more simple cross-legged position.
“No one should try to meditate in the lotus posture unless he is at ease in that position. To meditate in a strained posture keeps the mind on the discomfort of the body. Meditation should ordinarily be practiced in a sitting position. Obviously, in a standing posture (unless one is advanced) he may fall down when the mind becomes interiorized. Neither should the yogi meditate lying down, for he might resort to the ‘practiced’ state of slumber.
“The proper bodily posture, one which produces calmness in body and mind, is necessary to help the yogi shift his mind from matter to Spirit.”
— Paramahansa Yogananda, God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita
It's not only important to be able to sit comfortably for meditation; the way we hold the body has a profound effect on the emotions and mental states that we experience. Something as subtle as the angle that you hold your chin at affects how much thinking you do.
The Importance of Meditation Posture
The first thing to learn in meditation is how to sit effectively. There are two important principles that you need to bear in mind in setting up a suitable posture for meditation.
* Your posture has to allow you to relax and to be comfortable.
* Your posture has to allow you to remain alert and aware.
Both of these are vitally important. If you are uncomfortable you will not be able to meditate because of discomfort. If you can't relax then you won't be able to enjoy the meditation practice and, just as importantly, you won't be able to let go of the underlying emotional conflicts that cause your physical tension.
From reading that, you might well think that it would be best to meditate lying down. Bad idea! If you are lying down your mind will be foggy at best, and you may well even fall asleep. From the most efficient energy flow point of view, lying on the floor is also not recommended. The energy flowing the best in the vertical direction, or close to that. If the body is positioned horizontally, expect the higher amount of efforts to reach the similar results.
Forget about meditating lying down. The best way to effectively combine relaxation AND awareness is a sitting posture. You don't have to sit cross-legged, or even sit on the floor.
We'll show you how to set up an effective posture in three positions:
* Sitting in a chair,
* Sitting astride a cushion or on a stool, and
* Sitting cross-legged.
All of these methods work: the important thing is to find one in which you will be comfortable.
Remember: you may think it looks really cool to sit cross-legged, but if you do not have the flexibility it takes to do that then you'll simply suffer! Make it easy on yourself. Choose a posture that is right for you.
Meditation Posture: Elements of Good Posture
There are many different ways to sit for meditation, including using chairs, sitting astride cushions, using a bench, and various ways of sitting cross-legged from the simple tailor position to the full lotus. You need to experiment and look for the best position, which will be comfortable to you and the most natural to your body. Listen to your body. Discomfort will distract you from your meditation and is also your body's way of telling you that something is wrong.
These are the general guidelines for you to consider:
1. Your spine should be upright, following its natural tendency to be slightly hollowed. You should neither be slumped nor have an exaggerated hollow in your lower spine.
2. Your spine should be relaxed.
3. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and slightly rolled back and down.
4. Your hands should be supported, either resting on a cushion or on your lap, so that your arms are relaxed.
5. Your head should be balanced evenly, with your chin slightly tucked in. The back of your neck should be relaxed, long, and open.
6. Your face should be relaxed, with your brow smooth, your eyes relaxed, your jaw relaxed, and your tongue relaxed and just touching the back of your teeth.
Meditation Posture: Sitting in a Chair
Sitting in the chair is considered as the easiest posture for the beginners, and it should be considered as the most recommended for those who has no previous extensive experience with practicing yoga and the stretching physical exercises, helping to try the sitting on the floor positions.
So, let’s review the posture, which can help you to start meditative practice, and which can be practiced anywhere: in your office, home, or on the public transportation (definitely, if you are not a driver).
It is recommended to adjust slightly your chair from the standard, raising its back legs by maybe an inch or so (2.0 to 2.5cm) if that is possible. This allows you to sit upright without having to either hold your back rigidly, or leaning against the back of the chair. Blocks of wood, or even telephone directories, can be used for this.
Rest your hands on your thighs, palms down. Have your feet flat on the floor if you can. If your legs are very long or very short compared to the chair, then this might not be possible. If your feet don't reach the floor, then you can use another phone book to rest your feet on, or adjust the office chair sit height. If your legs are too long, then ideally you should find another chair, or make the height adjustments again if available.
Some office chairs are perfect for meditating! Set the seat so that it is slightly tilted forward, and make sure that the backrest is only making very slight contact with your lower back. Adjust the height so that your feet are flat on the floor.
Follow the simple steps:
1. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the ground. If your feet don’t touch, use a pillow, or folded blanket under your feet.
2. Feel the two sitting bones beneath you (your butt bones).
3. Open through your sitting bones by reaching back to the gluteal flesh (your butt) and pulling it back and out from underneath you. When you do this, you’ll feel the two sitting bones more firmly connected to the chair beneath you, and you’ll feel a wider base of support while sitting.
4. Feel your connection to the chair through the two sitting bones as you lengthen through your spine. Place your hands on each side of your body and lift up, so you create space between the hips and lower ribs.
5. Lengthen through your spine and imagine space between each of your vertebrae to create length in the spine.
6. Gently drop your chin down and in, so your neck is in alignment with your spine, and lengthen through your neck to the top of your head.
7. Make sure your low back is not overly arched, if it is, gently tuck your tailbone and gently draw in on your abdomen.
8. Place your hands on your legs either palm up or palm down. Or you may fold them in your lap.
9. Take a moment and make sure you feel comfortable. Make any adjustments you need to make to get comfortable. Stay relaxed, even as you keep your body nice and upright (this is a real feat).
10. Gently close your eyes and prepare for meditation.
Meditation Posture: Kneeling, Using a Cushion or on a Stool
Although you can use a chair to meditate on, for some people it is not as satisfying as sitting on the floor. Somehow, being on the floor gives a more "grounded" feeling.
Finding good cushions is important. They need to be really firm, and most pillows just compress too much and can't give you enough support. The same goes for most ordinary, household cushions.
The important thing is to get the right height. If you sit too low, you will end up slumping. Slumping interferes with your ability to stay aware, and can lead to discomfort. If you sit too high, then you will have too much of a hollow in your back, which can lead to pinching. When your back is relatively upright, without you having to use any effort to keep it that way, then you've got the height about right.
You can either have another cushion in front of you to rest your hands on, or you can tie something round your waist and rest your hands on that.
Meditation Posture: Sitting Cross-Legged
Not everyone can sit cross-legged. There's no particular need to be in a cross-legged posture to meditate. In fact if you may force yourself into an uncomfortable cross-legged posture then you may do long-term damage to your joints, and you certainly won't be comfortable enough to meditate effectively.
However, if you have the flexibility, then sitting cross-legged is a very stable and grounded posture. There are a number of ways of sitting with crossed legs.
Meditation Posture: Tailor Position
The tailor position is the simplest cross-legged position. It is also probably the most common cross-legged posture.
It is very important for you to have both knees on the ground, to give you adequate support. Having three points of contact (your butt, and both knees) gives you a lot of stability. If you can't quite get both knees on the floor, then you can use some padding (a thin cushion or folded scarf) under your knee to keep you stable. If one, or both, of your knees is more than an inch (2-3cm) off the ground, then use a chair or try sitting astride cushions or a meditation bench or stool. You can always do some yoga to loosen up your hips, and then come back and try a cross-legged posture later.
Again, if your hands don't rest naturally on your lap, keep them supported, perhaps on a cushion or on a blanket. You might want to alternate which foot is in front from time to time. This is a good thing to do because any cross-legged posture is slightly asymmetrical. If you alternate the position of your feet, then you'll even out the imbalances and not "build them in" to your posture.
Meditation Posture: Lotus and Half-lotus
These postures are only suitable for those who are very flexible. If you feel any pain in your knees, or this posture becomes very uncomfortable, then try one of the earlier postures that we looked at.
In the full lotus, the feet rest on the opposite thighs, with the soles pointing upwards (if you have pain in your ankles then stop! and find an easier posture). In the half-lotus, one foot is on the opposite thigh with the sole pointing upwards, while the other rests on the floor, as in the tailor position.
Full lotus is said to be the best position for meditating. The meditator who is able to sit comfortably in full lotus is close to the ground (which, for some reason, seems to be helpful in feeling "grounded"), and is also in a very balanced and symmetrical posture.
Sitting on a chair or kneeling with cushions or on a bench are even more symmetrical postures, but there is less contact with the floor.
Meditation Posture: Shoulders
In order to create good conditions for being aware, you need to have an open chest, with a sense of spaciousness across the front of your chest between your shoulders. You can encourage this sense of spaciousness by taking a few deep breaths and filling your upper chest. As you breathe in, the front of your body with rise. Feel the openness across the front of your upper chest and, at the same time, relax your shoulders, letting them fall and roll back.
If, while sitting, you feel any stretching in your shoulders, it probably means that you need to have you hands supported higher. While meditating, you may have the sensation that your shoulders are rising and falling as you breath in and out. If you tune into the sensation of your shoulders falling on the outbreath, you can encourage your shoulders to relax more deeply.
Meditation Posture: Hands
Your arms weigh a lot. If your hands are not supported, then your shoulders have to carry all of that weight. That means either that your shoulders will tense to bear the weight of your arms, or your shoulder muscles will be overstretched. Either way it is going to be uncomfortable.
Make sure your hands are supported. If you're in a low cross-legged position, then you may be able to rest your hands comfortably in your lap. However, you may want to have your hands supported higher.
This will allow your shoulders to roll back further and be more relaxed.
If you're sitting in a chair, you can usually rest your hands on your thighs, but some people with long backs may need something to support the hands. If you're kneeling, using cushions or a stool, then you may need to have some substantial support for your hands. In this case another meditation cushion, or perhaps a sweater or blanket tied round the waist, can be used.
Meditation Posture: Head
The position of your head is very important. Your head should be balanced, and should almost seem to float effortlessly on top of your spine. You can imagine the crown of your head being drawn upwards, as if the string of a balloon were attached to it. Your chin should be slightly tucked in, and the back of your neck should be long and relaxed. So as you tuck in your chin, feel the muscles on the back of your neck relaxing and lengthening.
If your chin is tucked in too far, so that your head hangs forward, then you'll find either that you tend to feel dull and sleepy, or that you become caught up in circular, and often not very positive, loops of emotions. If your head is tilted too far back, so that your chin is in the air, you'll find that you tend to get very caught up in thinking, and that you become rather "speedy."
But when your chin is nicely tucked in, you're able to be aware of both your thoughts and emotions without getting lost in them.
Meditation Posture: The Eyes
Many people wonder whether the eyes should be open or closed during meditation, and different Buddhist meditation traditions vary in their approach on this point. In the mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana practices, it is recommended having the eyes closed. This allows for greater one-pointedness of mind. The exception to this is when you find you are tired, when the eyes can be opened to provide more stimulation.
The eyes should be lightly closed, with the muscles surrounding the eyes as relaxed and soft as possible. Even though the eyes are closed, you can think of having an "unfocused gaze." This soft, unfocused state is more conducive to relaxation and mental calmness.
There are several additional notes on the sitting position for meditation which might help to start it right:
ü Eat a simple, light meal an hour or two before meditating. It is very difficult to achieve and sustain good meditative positions if the body is too hungry or too full. In his meditative instructions, yoga meditation teacher Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati frequently reminds students that food is for our cells, not for us. It’s not about what we want but rather what our bodies need. To prepare yourself for meditation, eat enough to maintain your strength but not so much that your body positioning and breathing will be compromised. Foods recommended for consumption prior to meditation include vegetables, beans/legumes and brown rice or other whole grains.
ü Wear loose clothing. Loosen your belt if necessary. Material should not gather behind the knees when you cross the legs, inhibiting circulation.
ü If it hurts, don’t do it!
Sources and Additional Information: