The general rule for meditation posture is to have a straight back. We can have this in a chair, cross-legged on the floor, on a meditation stool, or lying down. I could talk about energy channels, prana and kundalini in relation to keeping a straight spine, but physiology is probably a better place to start. I’m not denying that there are subtle energies that should be considered, and I’ll talk about that in the future, but we can find other forms of tangible evidence that a healthy back is a straight back (straight as in the normal curve of the back in its upright position).
Think of a young child, a recent sitter, sitting on a blanket surrounded by toys – legs splayed and small fists patting on things. A child sits with a nice straight back, not slumped. If you feel the muscles along a baby’s smooth back, the muscles are supple and not tense. They know how to use just enough muscle strength to sit up and stay balanced, but they are not straining. That’s how we want to be.
When leading meditation we often suggest that people imagine they have a string attached to the top of their head, like a marionette puppet. The string pulls upwards and the limbs of our body hang loosely around us. This imagination tool can help us to make mini-adjustments to our posture once we’re seated.
We want a position where our feet won’t fall asleep, and our hands can rest easily without dangling or falling. For people who have not been sitting on the floor for most of their life, a chair is probably a good start. Sit either on the front end of the chair, with your back away from the chair back, hips slightly forward and feet flat on the floor. Or, sit against the back of the chair, possibly with a small lower back pillow, again feet flat on the floor. Use a foot stool or pillow if your legs do not comfortably touch the floor. Crossing the legs may seem comfortable for the short run, but with time our circulation gets cut off and we have to move. Moving is not bad, but when we get into deeper states of meditation we want to forget about the body.
Our hands can be placed comfortably on our laps. We often recommend the palms up and the right hand resting on the left. Placing our hands palms down on our knees is fine too.
Sitting on a pillow with crossed legs seems nice philosophically but unless we find this position very comfortable, we should steer clear, at least at first. Don’t believe me. Try different things and see for yourself where you feel back strain or your feet fall asleep. Then change positions and tweak things until you find something that’s comfortable.
We want some support for our lower back. This can come from a pillow under our bum to help tip our hips forward, or from a pillow at the base of our chair or the wall to support the lower back. Not being that flexible, I sometimes put pillows under my legs if sitting cross-legged on a pillow against a wall. I generally use a small lower back pillow.
Lying down is a fine position for meditation but there is an acute danger of falling asleep, which while nice, is not the practice we’re going for. We want our body to be as relaxed as it would be before drifting off to sleep, and our awareness completely present and alert. If you can meditate lying down without falling asleep, than this might be a good posture for you. It should be noted that lying down can create space issues for group meditations.
To see what meditation stools and cushions look like, check out these links I found while randomly Googling meditation stools and cushions:
These supplies come in a range of costs so you can save money by making your own. Or you can meditate in a chair 🙂
Try a few positions and when you find something reasonable, stick with it for a while. Don’t be too stoic at first, meaning don’t try to muscle through a very uncomfortable position, because this could turn you off to meditation altogether. Find something you can manage and then, after a while, perhaps try other positions that will take some will power to adapt your body to over time. That’s never a requirement, just something you may want to consider for yourself.
I wish you success in finding a meditation posture that suits you and will be your respite for a life-time of meditation.