Settling The Body In
have visited in my wanderings shrines and other places of pilgrimage.
But I have not seen another shrine blissful like my own body."
Saraha, Buddhist Texts
"When walking, just walk. When sitting, Just sit! Above all, don’t
Master Lin Chi
In our busy
lives, our minds are often churned up by the stress of the day and our
bodies accumulate the tension that goes with a churned up mind. When we
meditate, we step away from the mental actions that keep us stirred up
and off balance. Enabling our bodies to settle down is a first step
towards settling the mind. You can’t reach a deep state of quietude in
meditation if your body is tense, unbalanced, or fidgety. So here are
some suggestions for settling the body in meditation.
uncomfortable will not enhance your meditation, so meditate in a
comfortable position. Most people sit in meditation, but it can be done
lying down as well. Lying supine, that’s facing the heavens, is a fine
meditation position. Lie on a soft enough surface with your head on a
small cushion if you wish. Your spine should be straight. Your feet can
be slightly separated. Your arms lie a few inches away from your body
with your palms facing up.
Meditation while sitting is more likely to keep you awake. Some people
sit in a chair. If that is your choice, you may want to sit toward the
front of the seat of the chair so that the base of your spine is
supported and you can sit fully upright, much in the same way you would
if sitting on a cushion on the floor. Slouching in the chair is not
likely to be helpful.
If you sit on the floor, choose a comfortable cushion to sit on. The
cushion should support the base of your spine, so that you can sit
How you cross your legs, depends on your flexibility. The full lotus
position requires considerable flexibility, since each foot is placed
upon the opposite thigh. Less strenuous is the half lotus position
where one foot is placed on the opposite thigh or at the crease between
the thigh and calf. The heal of the other foot is then close to the
groin. The Burmese position is easier, since both feet, ankles and
calves are rested upon the floor.
Your hands can rest upon your thighs close to your knees. If they are
too close to your knees, you may notice a tendency to slump forward, so
experiment where you should place them. Various other hand positions
are used also. The usual Buddhist mudra or hand position is with the
right hand palm up resting in the left hand, which is also palm up. The
thumbs gently touch each other’s tips. The hands are then held near the
If you find a tendency to slump forward, just elevate your sternum a
couple of inches. That will open your chest and put your spine in an
upright position. Your head should be well balanced. Your chin can be
tucked in just a bit to further elongate your spine.
Your jaw should be relaxed. Placing the tip of your tongue on the roof
of your mouth just behind your front teeth helps with this. One way to
think of this is that the positions of the tongue, the hands, the legs
and the openness of the spine create pathways for your vital energy to
flow through. When you find the right position in meditation your
energy unblocks and harmonizes. As a result, one can feel wide-awake,
but totally calm.
Closing your eyes may make you less awake, so you may want to keep them
open at least part way. In some meditation practices the eyes are open,
but with a vacant gaze. Often a hooded gaze is recommended. This means
the eyelids are partway closed. You may want to briefly close your eyes
and then bring them halfway open. Your gaze is then directed to a spot
about 45 degrees down in front of you.
Once you have gotten into position. Take three deep breaths. Then allow
your breath to settle into a natural rhythm. Don’t force it. Just let
it happen on its own.
Pay attention to your body position and sit with dignity. Sit like a
mountain, solid and unwavering.
Scan your body for tension and where you find it, allow it to relax.
Make the entire field of body sensations your point of attention. Just
pay attention to what is happening in your body. As sensations arise,
note them, but try not to cling to them or push them away. See if you
can rest in a place of acceptance and equanimity toward what is
happening in your body.
When you feel relaxed, realize that you can relax even more and allow
that relaxation to happen.
As you spend time attending to your sensations, your body can become
very quiet and you may find that so is your mind.
© 2004 Tom Barrett