Make Yourself Comfortable!
On the edge of a sword, over the ridge of an iceberg, with no steps, no ladders, climbing cliffs with no hands.
Wumen’s verse from Case 32 of The Gateless Gate makes an important point about self-doubt that is applicable to meditation practice. Depending on who you listen to, you may think you are supposed to twist yourself into a pretzel to meditate, keep your spine absolutely straight, or elevate your “sit bones” on a fancy meditation cushion. The truth is, you can sit however you want to when you meditate. A seasoned yogi may be perfectly comfortable sitting in the Lotus position, but the average person is probably not. Every religious discipline seems to have its own ideas on the subject, but if you get too caught up in the “proper way” to sit during meditation, you’re missing the point of the practice! You should be “doing it” more than thinking about whether you are “doing it right”.
Pick a Posture
According to Ines Freedman, in an article written for Insight Meditation Center, it’s actually okay to meditate while standing, sitting, lying down or walking. Sitting is the most popular posture since we tend to automatically relax our bodies when we sit. The problem with lying down, is that you run the risk of becoming too relaxed, and falling asleep. That said, for some people with back problems, sitting for any length of time is often uncomfortable or even painful. For people who fall into this category, it’s perfectly acceptable to lie down on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor to take pressure off the lower back. Place a thin pillow under your head. She also offers a tip to keep from falling asleep while meditating in a prone position: Keep your feet flat on the floor as mentioned, and keep your knees apart. If you fall asleep, your knees will either bump each other or fall away, and wake you up.
Buddhists traditionally sit to meditate, but also advocate walking meditations, which emphasize slow, deliberate steps, and mindful awareness of the act of walking. One notable proponent is Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, the author of Peace is Every Step.
Although it’s perfectly acceptable to meditate while standing, most people tend to get restless when standing still for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s certainly workable for short meditations, though.
The Controversy Surrounding How to Sit
As mentioned, there’s still considerable debate among purists from different traditions about the “correct” sitting posture for meditation, but most people agree that finding a sitting position that feels right and comfortable for the individual is the most beneficial way to ensure an easy way to slip into your daily meditation practice. Sitting in a chair is fine so long as you can keep your feet flat on the floor and maintain reasonably good posture (i.e., spine straight, shoulders relaxed). If you sit on the floor, it’s easier to maintain good posture if you sit on a cushion to raise your hips up a bit, and tilt your pelvis forward. If there’s no cushion handy, you can simply sit on a folded blanket to achieve the same result.
Gear Your Meditation Position to Your Needs
According to Wee Peng Ho, of The Conscious Life, the question of how to sit comfortably for meditation when you have chronic pain issues is a common one. In response, he offers several effective alternative positions to try, including
· The Astronaut — Lie on your back on a yoga mat or a blanket, bend your knees, and rest the lower portion of your legs on a chair.
· Corpse Pose — Although you can fall asleep in corpse position more easily than in a seated position, it’s still worth giving the corpse position a try since it’s gentle on the back and can also be a good alternative for anyone who has trouble maintaining an upright position for more than a few minutes. To keep the back comfortable, put a folded towel or a small pillow under your knees, and keep your feet about shoulder-width apart. Place a pillow under your head for neck support.
· The Sitting Mountain — For this position, use a chair with arms and place your feet flat on the floor (or a low footstool if the chair isn’t adjustable). Place a lumbar pillow behind the small of your back and keep your head and neck lifted, and your spine straight. If you need to, you can place a small cushion under your buttocks to keep your pelvis lifted, which takes pressure off of the spine. Relax your shoulders, and rest your arms and hands on the arms of the chair.
You can sit however you want when you meditate. The most important thing is finding a comfortable position, because if you’re trying to force yourself into an uncomfortable or unnatural position, you’re not going to be meditating — you’ll be too preoccupied with your discomfort! You’ll be defeated before you even start, and the experience could sour you on continuing your practice, which would truly be a shame.