A Right Meditation Posture plays a very important role during meditation. The activity of the mind and the body posture are directly related to each other. It is almost impossible to be alert and fully present when your body is not in a proper position. When we choose a Meditation Posture we should always bear in mind that
- The Meditation Posture should always enable us to relax and it should be comfortable.
- The Meditation Posture should enable us to stay alert and awake.
Many people stop meditating because they have learned to meditate in a posture that is only based on alertness and mental presence. The fact is that for most Western people it is hard to sit in the well-known tailor`s posture or the lotus posture without some form of support for a long time. Aches and discomfort soon demand more attention than meditation and make it more and more difficult to remain concentrated. Some people start to doubt whether meditation can be useful for them, they start to think it may be too hard for them and they doubt whether they are the right kind of people to benefit from meditation.
But this is not true and without forgetting that we should stay awake and alert we can also start meditating in a more comfortable position. Only when we get more experienced with meditation and we get used to sitting still for long periods of time has the moment arrived to get on to the more traditional Meditation Postures.
Traditional postures like the tailor`s posture; the lotus posture or the Burmese posture will ultimately enable us to experience our Meditations with even more alertness and consciousness.
- Guidelines for a good posture
- Choosing your Meditation Posture
- What Should we sit on during Meditation?
- What do we do with our body during Meditation?
- How to deal with physical pain?
- Common Meditation Posture Mistakes
Guidelines for a Good Meditation Posture
With a view to our comfort and alertness it is advisable that we observe the following important elements of a good posture.
- Sit up straight.
We try to keep our back, our neck and our head in a straight line. The tip of your nose is right over and in one line with your navel. When we sit up straight that is good for optimum breathing and energy circulation. Besides, a straight posture costs us the least energy. And a straight posture radiates confidence, independence, self esteem and alertness, exactly the qualities that we want to develop through meditation.
- Back, neck and shoulders should be relaxed.
The area of the upper back, the shoulders and the neck is the area where stress and tension easily manifest themselves. This tension often causes a worsening of our posture. On the other hand, when we have a hollow or bulging posture this leads to tension in the areas mentioned. We often hear that as people meditate more and more often the tense areas mentioned get more and more relaxed and it becomes easier for them to sit up straight. If we try to force ourselves to sit up straight through the use of force we often discover that we cannot keep doing this for a long time and soon all sorts of aches make our meditation more difficult.
- We sit still.
When we sit still we can observe our mind. We can also see how our body reacts to activity in our mind and vice versa.
- During meditation our hands rest on our knees or in our lap.
The result is that the arms can relax. The hands can rest in an open position, with the thumb and the forefinger touching. Or we can lay down our hands in any position we like.
- We should keep our head well balanced and straight over our spine.
It should feel like a string being attached to the top of the head that holds up the head. The chin is a little drawn back with the result that the neck and shoulders relax. The tip of the nose forms one line with the navel and is exactly over it and the ears form one line with the shoulders. When you sit up straight with a stretched out neck it feels a bit as if your head has become weightless.
- The face is relaxed.
Let the tongue get heavy and keep the jaw and all details of the face relaxed during the meditation.
- As you wish you can keep your eyes open or closed.
Closed eyes help you to direct your attention inwards. Open eyes direct the attention both inwards and outwards. Many people like a soft but staring focus during their meditations. We advise beginners to meditate with their eyes closed.
Choosing your own Meditation Posture
There are a variety of meditation postures. One can choose from the Tailor`s posture, the Lotus posture and the Burmese posture.
There used to be a time when in the East it was quite normal to sit in the lotus posture Nowadays very few people are used to this posture and many people get backache or pain in their knees when they meditate in this position. If you find it difficult to cross your legs properly you may practice meditation while sitting on a chair or a firm cushion.
Choosing the lotus posture might lead to a diminished flow of blood through your legs, it could injure your strings or sinews and you might be so distracted by the discomfort and the pain that you will find it very hard to meditate. If you suffer from backaches you should start meditating on a chair or you might try to make the cushion or the seat a little sloping.
When we get more experience with meditating or if a good meditation posture comes natural to us it is advisable to meditate in a more traditional meditation posture. Traditional postures like the tailor`s posture; the lotus posture or the Burmese posture will eventually enable us to experience our meditations with even greater alertness and awareness. We sit closer to the ground, more symmetrical and the centre of gravity is lower.
Following are the Traditional Meditation Posturre`s:
- The Tailor`s posture
If you have enough flexibility in your knees, ankles and hips to be able to sit in the tailor`s posture this position is very suitable for meditation. The posture is stable and well earthed. Unfortunately, not everybody can sit in the tailor`s posture. If this posture gives you backache it may be advisable to sit on a meditation cushion, called zafu. If you cannot cross your legs properly you may choose to sit on a chair or a firm cushion. Choosing the tailor`s posture might lead to a diminished flow of blood through your legs, it could injure your strings or sinews and you might be so distracted by the discomfort and the pain that you will find it very hard to meditate.
- The Burmese posture
The Burmese posture is a good alternative for the tailor`s posture. In this posture you put one heel against your body and the other leg in front of it. It depends on the suppleness of your legs whether your knees touch the ground in this posture. Touching the ground with your knees is good for your stability. If your knees do not touch the ground or if your back starts to ache it may be advisable to use a meditation cushion called zafu. From time to time you can shift the position of your legs if you like.
- The Lotus posture
It is said that the complete lotus posture is the best possible position for meditation. In this posture you sit like a rock or mountain firmly earthed to the ground, well balanced, symmetrical and with an attitude that radiates your aura. From a spiritual point of view this posture represents the connection between heaven and earth. From a practical point of view you can just meditate longer with a good posture. This posture is only suitable for people that are very flexible. If you experience a constant pain in your knees you should try one of the other postures to prevent permanent complaints as a result of this posture. The lotus posture can be practised completely or partly. In the complete lotus posture both feet rest on both upper legs in a crosswise position. The foot-soles point upwards. In the half lotus posture one foot lies crosswise on the other upper leg and the other foot lies on the ground just like in the Burmese posture or it lies under the other thigh. In the quarter lotus posture the left foot rests on the calf of the right leg and both knees rest on the mat.
What Should We Sit On During Meditations?
There are various ways in which we can sit while we are meditating. We can meditate on a chair, a cushion, a wooden stool, or just sitting on the ground. According to the ancient theories it is best to just sit on the ground because then you are firmly earthed. We make a connection with both the earth and heaven. We sit like a mountain, firmly nailed to the ground and we radiate balance and presence.
Sometimes it is said that it is good to look in the direction of the magnetic poles of the earth, so towards the north or the south. In our view it is not necessary to sit on the ground or facing the right direction. Do not make things too hard for yourself at first, experiment and experience the differences. On the other hand it is important to bring about a certain pattern in your posture after some time so that your body will recognise this posture as your meditation posture and will associate it with relaxation. This will help you to reach a deep state of meditation faster and with greater ease as soon as you start to meditate.
Unfortunately sitting on the ground without any support causes back problems for many people and this makes it necessary for many of us to sit on a chair or a cushion to meditate.
Meditating on a chair
Many people start with a posture that is too hard for them. It is best to start meditating while sitting on a chair. If you want to meditate in a chair take one with a straight back that is not too high. See to it that your upper legs and your lower legs form an angle of 90 degrees and let both feet rest flat on the ground. If you do not meet these requirements there is a good chance that your body will start to compensate and you will begin to sit crooked or with a hollow back. And this can lead to aches and irritations. If it is possible try not to let your upper body rest against the back of the chair. If we are supported we will have to change our position sooner or later because we are sitting in a position that is not natural. It may help to choose a chair of which the seat slightly slopes down. If you feel you have to lean against something, then that is not such a problem at first. But, the more we can sit straight without any support the better we will develop alertness and awareness.
Meditating on a cushion
Though sitting on a chair is a fine posture it does not feel so satisfactory as sitting on the floor. When we are sitting on the floor we feel better earthed. Many meditators sit on a special meditation cushion, called zafu, because sitting on the ground without a cushion often leads to back aches. The most important thing we should pay attention to when buying a zafu is the height. When the zafu is too high we will often sit with a hollow back and when it is too low we will have a tendency to bend. When you can sit up straight easily the height is all right.
What do we do with our Body when we are Meditating?
In Meditation, proper posture is very important. It involves the right positioning of the different parts of the body. In this section, know what to do with your body while meditating.
-What to do with the eyes
Seeing and observing through our eyes is one of our five senses which influence our meditation. When we look through our eyes we direct our attention outwards. Stress and tension often go together with restless eyes. When there is danger our pupils become wider, when we relax our pupils become smaller. Our eyes have a direct relation with the activity of our thinking. We can meditate with our eyes open or closed. We can also meditate with eyes that are half open. Experiment with the various possibilities and discover your own favourite eye position. Here is an outline of the various characteristics of the different positions of the eyes.
- Closed eyes
When we keep our eyes closed, it helps us to direct our focus more inward and we are not easily distracted by things or situations that we can see in front of our eyes. A disadvantage of closing eyes is that we will more easily start to daydream, to think or to fall asleep.
- Open eyes
Keeping our eyes open will help us to focus more on things that are taking place outside ourselves. This makes it easier to apply the technique and the philosophy of meditation in our normal daily lives. But, a good concentration is a necessary requirement. Both internal and external stimuli can distract you and this makes this position for many people a bit more difficult than the closed eyes position. If you prefer to meditate with your eyes open it may help to sit down in front of a wall or in very peaceful surroundings to minimise the risk of distraction. Keeping your eyes open is also useful in avoiding sleep during meditations.
- Eyes half open
The half open but staring position is a combination of the possibilities mentioned above. As we get more restless we close our eyes a little more and as we get sleepier we open our eyes more. This position is also called looking with a soft focus. Sometimes during your meditation your eyes will automatically open or close and that is fine. Those who wear glasses should do their own experimentation as regards the question whether they like meditating with or without their glasses better. However, meditating with your eyes open without wearing your glasses can cause sleepiness.
-What to do with your head
The position of the head is very important. Visualise as if a string is attached to the top of your head and that this string keeps your head in its position. The head should be well balanced and without any effort it should be suspended on top of your spine. The chin is a little drawn back and this causes the neck and shoulders to relax. If you draw back the chin too much and your head hangs forward this may make you sleepy and bored. If your head hangs too much backwards this makes your thoughts become more active and you become more restless. When you sit up straight with an outstretched neck it feels as if your head becomes more or less weightless. This means that it is important to be well balanced so that you can be aware of your thoughts without getting lost in them.
-What to do with your mouth, your jaw and your tongue
We often close our mouth slightly when we are meditating. This means that in general our mouth is closed without pressing the jaws together. The jaw is an area where tension easily manifests itself. When we relax we often see that the lower jaw more and more begins to droop and the mouth opens a little in the form of a circle. It looks a bit as if you get a lazy, soft look on your face. That is fine and a sign that you are relaxing. It is a good thing to keep your tongue against your palate. This means that it cannot start to roll and it also helps to stop your inner dialogue.
-What Do We Do With Our Hands
The arms are very heavy. When the hands do not rest on something the shoulders have to carry everything. During our meditation our hands rest on our knees or in our lap. As a result of this, the arms can relax. The tradition is to let the hands rest on the thighs or the knees with the tips of the thumbs and the forefingers of either hand touching each other in chin mudra. In the chin mudra position the Chi, Ki or Prana (energy) in the meridians is supposed to be able to stream freely to the fingertips and back through the arms. If you do not like this position then you let your hands rest in an open position on your thighs or knees.
The Dalai Lama and many monks often meditate in the position of meditative equilibrium. In this position you place your hands four finger-widths under your navel, the right hand on top of the left hand and you put your thumbs together in such a way that they form a triangle. The placing of the hands in this way has to do with the area in the body where the inner warmth is produced.
In magazines you often see pictures of hands in a prayer posture. Some people use this position before or after a meditation to express their gratitude for the session or for other things but this is certainly no obligatory part of every form of meditation.
It is good to experiment with various positions of your hands. In the long run it is important to get a fixed pattern in your posture so that your body will recognise this posture as a meditation posture and will associate it with relaxation. This will help you to get into a deep meditative state more easily and faster as soon as you start to meditate.
How to Deal with Physical Pain?
When you are meditating it is generally advisable to resist a first impulse to change your posture as soon as you experience physical pain. We direct our attention to the experience of the ache and try to welcome it as a challenge instead of something unpleasant. This gives us a chance to observe our automatic reactions and the process that we go through when our concentration is disrupted and we get irritated. Observe how the body and the mind react to each other. Learn to accept the aches and learn to stay relaxed in spite of the aches. If you accept the pain, the character and the intensity of the pain will change. If you cannot avoid it, then change your posture. Do this with great awareness. Starters in the field of meditation experience most trouble with aches in the back, the legs and the knees. The right meditation posture may be hard for them to put into practice because they have little experience with meditation. When you are a beginner do not make things too hard for yourself and do not hesitate to start meditating on a chair or a cushion. Realise that when you meditate more often in the course of time most aches will disappear.
Tip: When you regularly experience slight aches in your body while meditating it is advisable to do some stretch exercises before you start meditating.
Common Meditation Posture Mistakes
Mistakes that many people make in their posture:
- A hollow back
When the chair or the cushion is too high you easily begin to sit with a hollow back. So, adjust the height or put a book under your shoes so that you can sit up straight again. See to it that the tip of your nose and your navel form one vertical line.
- A bulging back
When the chair or the cushion is too low you easily begin to sit with a bulging back. So, take another chair or cushion or put a cushion on the chair to make your sitting position higher. See to it that the tip of your nose and your navel form one vertical line.
- Your head hangs too far forward or backward
If you draw back your chin too far and your head hangs forward you may get sleepy and bored. When you let your head hang too far backward your thoughts often become more active and more restless. The tip of your nose and your navel should form one vertical line and your ears should run parallel with your shoulders. Hold your head up straight with a chin that is a little drawn back and radiate alertness, acceptance and confidence.
- You sit bolt upright on the basis of strength
This is not a natural position. In the army, men are taught to walk up straight like real marines. Shoulders backward, chin up high and radiate strength. This way of walking up straight costs a lot of energy and few people can do it for a long time. There is also a natural way of sitting up straight. Sit down with the idea that the top of your head is hanging on a string and that your back is drawn straight from the head and the neck. In this manner we sit straight in a natural way and this posture does not cost us a lot of energy or strength.
- Fighting against the inconvenience of your posture
`What you resist persists.` View the discomforts like the passing by of a car or noise that distracts you when you are meditating. Observe how the body and mind react to each other. Learn to accept the discomforts and learn to stay relaxed while you are experiencing them. If you accept the ache its character and its intensity will change. If the ache is too painful, you can always change your position.
- The hands are not supported
When the hands do not rest on something the shoulders have to carry everything. The result is that the shoulders may start to hang forward, the back may become more bulging and it may get harder to relax. So relax your hands on your laps.
- During the meditation we are no longer aware of the relation between the body and the mind
When the mind is active the body responds. When the body draws our attention there is often something that happens in our mind. For instance, when we are bored the body often starts to sag. When we experience aches we often get easily distracted. In an optimum meditative state, the body and the mind are one. Be aware of the relationship and learn from it.