When you prepare to meditate, how do you position your body? It’s a common question faced by beginning mediators and is also one of the most common reasons why so many people give up on or never start this powerful practice.
Posture is important in meditation, however it is not the be-all and end-all of the practice and conflicting advice, along with the fear of having to adopt uncomfortable or even painful positions, can put people off meditation.
So, with this in mind, what is the right position?
The good news: the right position is the one that is best for you.
Many meditation guides and teachers will recommend a seated posture, most often cross-legged or a variant of the lotus pose in yoga. If you can comfortably maintain a lotus then I encourage you to go for it, but if – like me – the position is painful for you then by no means do you have to use it. My favourite position is cross-legged, my hips raised on my cushion (more about cushions next week), and my hands either resting on my lap on in Gyan mudra.
If you would like to sit but are unable to sit cross-legged or find it very uncomfortable, there are a number of other seated positions you can try.
Some people find kneeling very comfortable, and you can sit your buttocks right back on your heels or, to prevent your feet from going to sleep, you may like to part your knees slightly and rest your buttocks back on the floor. Many women find this position quite comfortable for meditation, so if traditional seated positions aren’t your thing, you may like to try this one out and see how you go.
If you don’t want to sit or kneel on the floor, or can’t, then sitting in a chair is a good way to go. Dr. Ian Gawler, the author of Peace of Mind and one of Australia’s foremost mindfulness and meditation experts, recommends that you use a chair with a high back that allows you to sit with your spine straight and your feet on the floor. If the chair has arms you can rest your arms here, but if it doesn’t you can place them on your knees or cup them in your lap.
Finally, if you do not want to sit or cannot do so, you can lie on your back. To ensure your body is supported, it is best to lie on a hard surface, rather than a bed or a couch, and use either a blanket or an exercise mat between you and the floor. Your legs should be slightly apart with your feet turned out, but if this puts too much strain on your ligaments then placing a bolster or cushion under the knees can help. You can either rest your arms by your side, fingers up and lightly curled, or some people like to place their hands gently on their belly, so they can feel the rise and fall of the diaphragm as they breathe.
It is perfectly normal to experiment with different positions as you begin to meditate, and you may even find that some positions work better for certain types of meditations than others. It is also normal to vary the position depending on your status at the time of the meditation: if you are ill or tired, you may decide to lie down to meditate, rather than sitting up. It all depends on what feels right for you and your body.
Article by J. Byers
You know what it is, you know why you should do it, but you suddenly realise you aren’t sure how to do this meditation thing. You might turn to Google, but search for ‘how to meditate’ and you’ll get over 290,000,000 results in less than a second – enough to overwhelm anybody. You might decide to learn it the old fashioned way and pop into a bookstore to pick up a volume that will teach you everything you need to know, but which one should you buy?! The self-help section could be a meditation section all on its own and which type of meditation do you want to learn anyway: health, insight, visualisation, moving, relaxation… The list can seem exhaustive.
So where to start?
One of the best things about meditation is that it’s impossible to do it the wrong way and, given there are so many different styles, there’s always something for everyone. I find the best place to start with meditation is with your breath: take a moment now to pause and notice your breathing. Do you breathe through your nose, your mouth or both? Does your belly rise and fall or is the movement confined to your chest? Are you breathing quickly or slowly? How does it feel to breathe? Noticing the breath is the first step to mindfulness and a fantastic stepping stone to meditation. The breath will always be there, so we never have to worry about forgetting it or leaving it behind, which means we can take a moment to focus on our breathe wherever we are: home, work, school, on public transport, waiting in line, while we’re cooking, the possibilities are endless.
It can take a while to become comfortable noticing the breath and that’s perfectly normal. Some may even find it a little disconcerting to begin with, as becoming aware of the breath can sometimes lead to reflections on mortality, but the key to dealing with these kind of intrusive thoughts when you’re breathing mindfully is to acknowledge they’re there and bring your attention back to the breath. While the human mind can focus on many things at once, if you make a concentrated effort to focus on one thing and one thing only, it will obey you.
Once you’ve had some time to practice focusing on your breath, you can find a quiet, comfortable spot and prepare to meditate. Make sure you let your partner and children know what you’re doing, so you’re not disturbed, and keep any pets out of the area you’ve chosen. It’s also best to try and find a relatively clean space, as the external environment affects our internal environment and I have found in my own practice that a clear meditation area often results in a deeper and more focused session. When you’ve found a space where you’re not going to be disturbed, you can start to find a comfortable position. The most common position to meditate in is sitting cross-legged, however you can meditate any way that feels comfortable for you. The only criteria is that your head and neck should be in a neutral position and your spine should be relaxed.
And now you’re ready. You might like to place your hands on your belly the first few times you try this, and feel it rise and fall with your breath. This can be very grounding and gives you a second point to focus on, along with the breath. How long you stay here is entirely up to you; most teachers and coaches will recommend ten minutes, but, if you are brand new to meditation, this can seem daunting. When I started I would sit for just two minutes, and when that became too short I moved up to five, then ten, then twenty, and now regularly meditate for thirty minutes a day. Even starting with just two minutes, you will begin to notice some benefits, both immediately following and long term. US based psychologist and meditation coach Tara Brach says ‘everyday, no matter what’ and beginning your practice with just two minutes a day is a good way to cultivate this attitude and begin a lasting practice.
Article by J. Byers