When we think of someone meditating, we may call to mind an image of them cross-legged or even in full lotus position. If you have grown up accustomed to sitting in chairs the chances are, sitting in such a way is either not possible or quickly uncomfortable. A fundamental of meditation is the ability to allow the body to deeply relax. Obviously if the position we are meditating in soon becomes uncomfortable or painful for the body, such relaxation will be harder to develop.
Most of the meditation postures traditionally associated with meditation come from times and cultures that did not widely use chairs if at all. As a consequence, as it still is in many developing countries, people sat on the floor. As a result the pelvis is naturally conditioned to sitting in this way without discomfort. For those of us then who have grown up sitting in chairs, a chair might be the more appropriate place to sit to meditate. The two primary things to consider are the ability to relax deeply, and keeping the spine straight. The reason there is near universal emphasis on keeping the spine straight is to facilitate the flow of subtle energies rising up the spine. This is a subject that requires more attention and we can give to it here, at this time.
A good way to sit in a chair to meditate is to sit a little towards the front of the chair, with the legs parallel, and the soles of both feet on the ground. The hands can be placed wherever best allows the shoulders and upper chest to be fully relaxed and open, for example lightly placing them on the thighs. It is also possible to place a firm cushion to support the back of the pelvis and lower back, or even under the feet.
It is possible, and not uncommon, for an enthusiastic meditator to become obsessed with their posture while meditating. This is more likely in those adopting a more traditional meditation posture. For a beginner then, the posture for the meditation should be manageable and comfortable, offering the least distraction for the mind. If you begin meditation seated in a chair, there are benefits to later adopting a more traditional posture, if health, age and everything else allow. Primarily it conditions the body to associate the posture with meditation, which has the effect of making meditation easier. With time the appropriate muscles are strengthened, and the body opens to allow sitting this way without difficulty.
When choosing a cross-legged position the use of a cushion is highly advisable, if not essential in the beginning. This needs to be a cushion specifically for meditation, a type that is filled with buckwheat or pellets of some kind. This gives it a firmness to support, and allows it to mould to the body shape. The position of the cushion should slightly raise the back of the pelvis tilting the front slightly downwards. This helps the spine to stay straight and erect with the least muscular effort. The height of the cushion will depend on the degree of openness in the pelvis. The less open, the more high. Additional cushions can be used to give support under the knees or anywhere else necessary.
What to do with the hands? As I mentioned in meditating in the chair, the most important thing about the position of the hands, is that it allows the shoulders and upper chest to be fully relaxed and open. In sculptures of the Buddha, and other sacred art we see all number of different ‘mudras’ formed by the hands. It is not necessary to do this, particularly as a beginner to meditation, you might be surprised how obsessed your mind can become with such details. On the other hand if something feels natural and easy, try it and see what you were observe in doing it.
The head ideally should have the feeling of floating on top of the spine, and if that makes no sense to you at all, just let the position be natural, comfortable and balanced. Again work with the principle of relaxing and softening the body while maintaining length and erectness through the spine.
There are those that say that you should not move when meditating. Undoubtedly this develops necessary discipline and concentration. Personally I do not favor rigidity in such matters. it does not serve us to maintain a posture, for example, if our knees are hurting and there is the potential that we are damaging them. What is the point of ruining our meditation and our knees! On the other hand, if we fidget and move around with every distracting sensation, our meditation will never deepen.
For those new to meditation, I feel the practice should be as easy and accessible as possible. Ideally meditation should be enjoyable, when it is perceived as hard work, uncomfortable, and difficult, many people do not keep it up long enough to experience its many benefits. When you begin practicing meditation, you should expect to feel some pain during sitting – much as you would if you took up a new sport. You may even try standing behind your cushion for a while until you feel ready to sit again. It is important to accept your body as it is and to be gentle with yourself. Meditation is a life-long practice. In time your body will become comfortable with sitting whatever posture you choose, and you will look forward to “assuming the position”.
Different poses and their Sanskrit names.
Padmasana – Full Lotus Pose
The full lotus posture is sitting cross-legged with the feet resting sole upwards on the opposite thigh. Keep the body erect with both knees touching the floor. The hands can be placed either with hands or wrists resting on the knees, or the hands placed between the heels, the right hand resting in the left hand. place is an advanced posture, if you are uncertain about your ability to perform its posture that do not try it.
The full lotus posture, has a specific and practical function. When yogis, or other meditators practiced it could often be for very many hours, and outside in nature. In full lotus, the position of the legs creates a very stable base. In this position, even in very deep meditation with no conscious awareness of the body, the body will not fall over. This stable base allows the spine to remain straight and erect. In addition full lotus and other similar cross-legged positions facilitate openness in the base chakra, and some assistance with grounding.
In half lotus Only one foot is positioned on top of the opposite thigh. The other foot is positioned underneath the opposite thigh. If you use the full lotus,half lotus posture or any cross-legged posture, it is important that you alternate which leg is on top to maintain equal balance in the pelvis. You may find that you favor one leg on top indicating there is already more openness in one pelvis over the other((Other variants of half lotus –
The foot on top can rests not on the thigh but on the calf or ankle.
Both feet and legs can be on the ground, with one placed next to the body, and the two heels close together. In sanskrit this posture is called swastikasana. The word ‘Swastika’ means prosperous in Sanskrit, and is said to bring prosperity, success, and good health to the practitioner. It is done in the following manner: Stretch the legs in front of you. Bend the right leg at the knee, and place the right heel against the groin of the left thigh so that the sole will be lying in close contact with the thigh. Now bend the left leg and place it against the right groin. Insert the toes of the left foot between the right calf and thigh muscles. Now both feet can be seen to lie between the calves and thigh muscles.
Sukhasana – Easy Pose (This asana is achieved by simply crossing the legs and keeping the head and spine erect.)
Vajrasana – Diamond or Thunderbolt Pose (This posture is commonly found in Zen Buddhism. Sit upon the heels with knees, ankles and big toes touching the ground. Keep the trunk, neck and head straight. Keep the knees together with the palms of the hands resting upon the knees, or with the right hand resting in the left hand upon the lap. This position can be challenging on the knees to do for very long. You can get special meditation stools for this posture.
Generally speaking lying down is not considered a good position to meditation. The reasoning here is that the strongest association and imprint in your nervous system and subconscious is lying down means sleep.Generally speaking lying down is not considered a good position to meditation. The reasoning here is that the strongest association and imprint in your nervous system and subconscious is lying down means sleep.