One of our persistent themes is that meditation has many forms and traditions. One may meditate sitting, standing, kneeling, lying down, walking, dancing or standing on your head. Meditation is not dependent upon a particular position of the body, but one’s posture is nevertheless important. In meditation we quiet the mind and increase awareness. This is aided by balanced alignment of the body.
Whether one is engaged in a moving meditation like Tai Chi or a stationary meditation, the body should be positioned, so that balance is maintained. Wobbling does not aid concentration. One should also be reasonably comfortable. If the position causes distracting pain it will not be helpful. At the same time, a moderate degree of muscle tension may aid in staying awake. Falling asleep is a drawback of meditation while lying down. One can become so relaxed that it is easy to drift away.
Wear comfortable clothes that don’t constrict. If your belt or clothing is too tight, loosen it.
Normally, the spine is straight. The head should balance on the neck, so that the ears are on a plane with the shoulders. The nose is lined up with the navel. To find the best head position, you might imagine that a string tied to the top of your head pulls you gently skyward. This should bring the back of your head up and pull your chin in. This erect posture tells your mind to pay attention.
Some meditate with the eyes open looking up at a holy image. This may help the nervous system move into a receptive state, as it mirrors the gaze of a child looking up at a parent. Other practitioners recommend a downward gaze with the eyes focused a comfortable distance away, neither trying to see specific things nor trying not to focus.
Normally, the mouth is kept closed and you breathe through your nose. The tip of the tongue may be placed just above the front teeth. The important thing is to have a relaxed jaw and to be comfortable.
Most often, people meditate while sitting. If you find sitting in a chair most comfortable, try one that has a flat seat. Sit forward on the seat, so that your buttocks are on the seat, but the backs of your thighs are not. Your feet should rest comfortably on the floor. It is best if the tops of your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. If you are sitting too low, try adjusting the chair or sitting on a cushion. Your hands can be placed on your thighs or folded in your lap.
If you prefer sitting on the floor, sit on a substantial cushion that will keep your buttocks several inches off the ground. Sit with the cushion under the base of your spine, so that your abdomen tilts naturally forward a little. Sitting this way will prevent loss of circulation in your legs. Cross your legs. In the full-lotus position, your feet are placed on the opposite thighs. In the half-lotus, one foot is placed on the opposite thigh, and the other foot rests on the ground next to its opposite thigh. Either of these positions should be well balanced and stable. Meditation is not an endurance contest, so if you can’t make these positions work for you, try a more comfortable position in a chair or try a kneeling bench.
Many hand positions, or mudras, are used in meditation. You can merely place your hands on your thighs or knees, or fold them in your lap. A classic hand position is the cosmic mudra where you place both your hands in your lap palms up. One hand is nested in the other and your thumb tips touch lightly.
Once you have found your comfortable upright position take a few deep breaths, sway a little to each side and front and back, so that you find your balance point. Settle into a steady, immobile sitting position.
Different meditation forms have somewhat different goals. Practitioners of Christian meditation, Zen, and Tantra may each think differently about their practice. The details of their practice vary, but each uses meditative skill to live in greater awareness and to step beyond the limits of mundane existence. You can experiment with different meditation forms, or you can focus your energies on one that seems right for you. In either case, persistent practice will lead to success.
Examples of meditations sitting, standing, kneeling, lying down, walking, dancing or standing on your head:
© 1998-2002 Tom Barrett