Posture For Practicing Meditation

Often at the beginning of a meditation or instructions you are invited to “take a comfortable seat.” What constitutes a comfortable seat? And do you really need to sit? Why not lie down, walk or stand on your head?

All excellent questions, and signs that you’re really digging into your meditation practice. Bravo for that! If you’ve done this even a handful times before, you’ve probably already noticed that “a comfortable seat” is easier said than found. Even if you think you’re comfortable to begin with, it doesn’t take long for parts to begin tingling, itching or even hurting. What to do then? To itch or not to itch? To move or not to move? And can you hurt yourself by not moving when your foot falls asleep?

The most basic of these questions is “Must I sit upright?” The answer is no, but it’s useful examine why some teachers prefer you to sit upright without a chair or other support, though, because it contains clues regarding how to cultivate relaxed, open awareness.

Traditionally meditation techniques have been undertaken sitting on the ground with the legs crossed in some fashion and without support for the back. Apart from the context of less technological societies with monks sitting in forests or caves, why prefer this posture over others?

If the body is somewhat flexible and the joints are capable of a nearly full range of motion, sitting with the “sitting bones” pointing to the ground, as you do when sitting cross legged, neutralizes the pelvis and creates the most stable base for the spine. With the spine fully supported, you have to expend minimal effort to remain sitting upright and can fully open the body with the breath and settle into your focus and concentration without the distraction of effort. If you’re wondering where the sitting bones are, they are the bony protuberances at the bottom of  your pelvis. Your hamstrings attach to them, and by sliding the palm of your hand under your tush from behind while seated, you can easily feel them.

The fact that your hamstrings attach to them is significant, because if you have tight or shortened hamstrings they will pull your sitting bones forward, tucking your tailbone. This will encourage rounding in your low back and your shoulders to cave forward, and you will feel constricted and may even find your mood suffering the longer you sit like this. This is why many people practice yoga before seated meditation, because it allows them to sit with more ease and comfort. Sometimes as little as two or three sessions will result in feeling more open while sitting.

If you find this happening to your posture when you sit, try sitting on the edge of one or more folded blankets. Sometimes elevating your sitting bones even by a few inches allows for tremendous stability and comfort.

Perhaps none of these sitting positions is appropriate for you. Can you then not meditate? Of course you can! The idea of a comfortable seat is create ease in body so you can cultivate ease of the mind. So if sitting upright in a chair is more appropriate for your body on a given day or always, then by all means do so. You can still begin by pressing your sitting bones into the seat, and feeling your heart lift from the strength of your connection to the surface supporting you.

When sitting on a chair you can choose to sit away from the back, allowing the spine to stand freely, or to rest against the surface behind you. The traditional reason for not supporting the spine is to promote alignment and awakeness. It is common during certain stages of meditation for sleepiness to become an obstacle. When sitting without support, you are less likely to fall fully asleep and more likely to remain present. However, if this lack of support is itself an obstacle, then seek the support that creates comfort in your seat.

Meditating while lying down can be particularly rejuvenating and restful and may be the ideal way to entice yourself to practice in the morning just after waking. The pitfall here is indeed the tendency to fall asleep. By focusing on your breath or other sensation you can anchor your awareness in wakefulness.

Regardless of how you find ease and comfort, find a position which allows you to relax with a curious, playful mind and to breathe fully and joyfully and your guided meditation will thrive.


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