There are several positions that you can take for meditation. The important thing is to choose one that feels comfortable for you. Over time, if you’re generally choosing a sitting posture, your flexibility may increase and you can try other postures that you might have found to be uncomfortable when you first started. All the positions are equally good. Sitting on the floor is not better than sitting in a chair. Do whatever works best for you!
The list on the following pages will familiarize you with some of the phrases common to meditation, but pretzel-like contortions are not important. As long as you’re maintaining a position that is stable and comfortable, you’re on the right track.
Sitting on the Floor
When sitting on the floor you should feel grounded and stable. You may find it helpful to have a mat or carpet to sit on. It’s very important to have the buttocks higher than the knees. Try sitting on a cushion, to elevate your buttocks and allow your pelvis to tilt forward, creating a more comfortable curve in your lower back. Sit on the edge of the cushion, rather than in the middle of it, to encourage this forward pelvic tilt. Elevating the pelvis allows for greater stability as there are multiple points of contact between your legs and the floor.
If your knees are not both, or equally touching the floor, try using a cushion to support the knee that doesn’t touch. This will take pressure off of your knees and legs and allow you to sit more comfortably.
Try to practice the sitting posture whenever you can. If you’re sitting on a chair, or on a sofa, remember to assume the sitting position that you use when you’re doing your meditation. The more often you sit in this position the more your ease and flexibility will increase, and you’ll find the position to be more comfortable and less distracting during your meditation.
The Butterfly Exercise
There are also hip exercises that you can do to increase your flexibility. The Butterfly exercise involves sitting on the floor with the knees bent sideways and the soles of the feet touching each other. Interlace your fingers and wrap your hands around your toes. Rhythmically lower and raise your knees, but don’t bounce them, or force them. Remember that the motion should be gentle without overstretching or causing any pain.
- Cross-legged posture The sides of both feet touch the floor and the legs are comfortably crossed.
- Half-lotus Sit cross-legged. The left foot is on the floor under the right leg and the right foot is on top of the left thigh.
- Full-lotus Sit cross-legged with each foot placed with the sole upward on the thigh of the opposite leg.
- Bench There is a special meditation bench that supports the weight of your body and allows your feet to be curled underneath.
- Sitting on a chair When sitting on a chair, try to sit more at the edge of it. Both feet should be flat on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor comfortably you can fold a blanket for your feet to rest upon. Your back should be upright and not touching the back of the chair.
If, for some reason, you have physical limitations such that the only comfortable posture for you is lying down, this can be done as well. However, this posture is not recommended for those who are physically able because of the tendency to fall asleep. In this posture, make sure to be comfortable but extra aware of the need to stay alert.
Standing up to meditate can be very helpful when fatigue is becoming a problem in a sitting posture.
What you may find is that, by simply assuming the meditation posture, the posture itself starts to bring about a calming effect on your body. At first you may experiment with different postures to find the one that’s right for you, but I recommend that, after a while, you settle on the one that you find the most comfortable.
What should the rest of your body be doing?
- Spine Your spine should be straight and upright, but not rigid and tense.
- Head-chin Your head and chin should be held straight and facing forward or directed slightly downward. As your muscles get tired, it’s common for your head to tilt forward. Sometimes drawing the head back slightly will keep the spine in the right alignment.
- Eyes It’s usually best to close your eyes, unless you’re doing a visual meditation, as you’ll be less distracted. However, some people recommend that your eyes be slightly open with your gaze directed downward. Again, it’s all about what works for you personally. Be comfortable and if you wear glasses you should remove them.
- Tongue Your tongue may lie relaxed, on the floor of your mouth. Another option is that the tip of your tongue may touch the roof of your mouth just behind the upper teeth.
- Mouth Your mouth should ideally be closed to help keep you breathing through your nose. If you find this difficult, like when you have a cold, then breathe through your mouth.Sit with a small smile. This will help relax your body and give some lightness to your practice.
- Hands Your hands may rest in your lap with the right hand on top of the left hand. Your palms should be facing upward and your hands should be slightly cupped. The tip of your thumbs should touch, but your hands should be fully relaxed.You may also fold your arms at your belly button. The right palm should be sitting over the left palm and the thumbs can be touching. Keeping the arms in this position creates some body tension that may be a reminder to keep your spine straight.An alternative is for each hand to rest on your thighs just above your knees with your palms facing downward. The tip of your thumb and index finger should touch on each hand.
- Arms Relax your arms so that they are held lightly against the sides of your body.
- Shoulders Your shoulders should be relaxed, which means down and slightly back. Shrug your shoulders a few times before you begin to see if they are tensed upward or fully relaxed.
- Chest Most people have a tendency, over time, to collapse forward. Elevating or throwing the chest outward helps to keep you upright.
- Body It may be very helpful to maintain a feeling of stillness in the body. There should be no movement in the meditation posture. This physical stillness helps to create mental stillness.
Your body will have some comments to make about your new meditation practice. It might not like sitting still for that long. Some days will be better than others. Weak muscle groups will announce themselves and try to get you to move around or to even stop meditating entirely. Make yourself as comfortable as you can and if you have to move, then move! That’s ok. However, if you move, do so slowly and with careful attention to what you’re doing. With every meditation that you do, your body and mind will grow more accustomed to it and you’ll feel less distracted and more and more comfortable. It only gets better!
Your Meditation Environment
- Lights The lights should be off or dimmed and the curtains closed if you’re meditating in daylight and finding it to be distractingly bright.
- Shawl or blanket As you meditate, your body’s metabolic rate falls and with it, your body temperature. You may start to feel colder. Having a shawl or light blanket with you that you can put over your shoulders if you get cold may be helpful. If you find that you get cold often when you meditate, it may be better to wear a sweater, or shawl from the start.
- Clothes Wear loose comfortable clothes that don’t interfere with diaphragmatic breathing.
- Phone, TV, Radio, IPod Turn them off. This is your time, don’t share it.
Do try to make your meditation environment pleasant, peaceful and calming. It’s your sanctuary while you’re meditating, so try to anticipate any distractions and eliminate them as best you can before you begin. There will always, of course, be some distractions, and you’ll learn to just be aware of them and then return your focus to your meditation. Don’t hesitate to tell those that you live with that you’re meditating (or doing your breathing exercises etc.) so that they can help to give you the time and peace that you need.