Meditation posture instructions
Posture and useful equipment for meditation
Here are some instructions for a few meditation postures that I have used at different times in my life. At the end I also list a few useful bits of equipment to aid your meditation practice. Getting the correct posture is a crucial first step when engaging in a meditation practice. As your practice develops meditation should eventually become a way of living in every moment, and not only when you are sitting on a cushion. But, that is a topic for another time. This article is specifically about sitting meditation sessions. If you try meditating in an inappropriate posture you will spend most of the session dealing with discomfort, which will prevent you from going into deep states of consciousness. By “appropriate posture” I mean what is most suitable for your own body type and condition. Everybody has his or her own unique flexibility, mobility, joint health, muscular strength, and general body shape. The aim is to be comfortable, and achieving this can vary from person to person. Some people may be able to sit comfortably in the full lotus posture, while others may be most comfortable sitting in a chair. I have tried several postures over the years, and it took me a while to find the one that best suited my body (the Burmese posture which I will describe later) One posture that I don’t advocate to anyone is the run of the mill cross-legged pose. This posture is fine when having a chat in the park with friends, but for meditation it is no good as the weight is shifted backwards rather than forwards, and the knees don’t touch the ground – all of which adds up to an unstable posture to use for long periods. The key points are that you have an erect back, and that your bum is higher than your knees, and this can be achieved in several ways. All of these postures listed below work, and I recommend you experiment with several. Some are better than others, but all of them will give good results.
Sitting on a chair
If you are sitting on a chair you can raise your bum higher than your knees by sitting on a firm cushion. It’s important to use a firm cushion because otherwise you will be continuously using your core muscles to remain stable (just like when you sit on a gym ball) which is great if you are trying to tone your muscles, but not if you are trying to relax. Your feet should be flat on the ground, and out a little ahead of your knees in order to support your lower back. Your back should be straight and not touching the back of the chair, otherwise you will tend to slouch and your lower back will hate you. You can place you hands either palm up or palm down on your knees, or fold one palm into the other between your thighs.
For kneeling you will need a firm cushion between your thighs that will raise your bum higher than your knees. I like to use a traditional Zen Zafu filled with buckwheat. A cushion from your sofa will be a disaster for your lower back – don’t do it! If you are tall you can turn the cushion on its side to make it higher. It is best to sit on the edge of the cushion, so that a forward facing slope is created. If you have ever sat cross-legged, or knelt, on a down hill slope you will notice that it is easier and more comfortable than doing it on a flat or uphill surface. This is the reason to have your knees lower than your bum, as it shifts your weight slightly forward creating a stable posture. Your spine should be erect, but remember that they have a natural curve and it’s fine, trying to force an artificially straight back will cause discomfort. When it comes to your head, I recommend putting it in a neutral position that feels comfortable. I find my head wants to be at a slightly different angle every time I meditate – it depends on what I have been doing that day and what position I slept in etc. You can use the same hand positions as when sitting in a chair.
The Burmese Posture
This is my preferred posture. Sit on the edge of a firm cushion that raises your bum higher than your knees, and fold one leg directly in front of the other in front of you. I swap which leg is in front every time I meditate so that I don’t create imbalances in my body through always doing it one way. Your knees must be touching the ground forming a stable tripod (bum and both knees). If your knees are not touching the ground then you need a taller cushion, or turn your cushion on it’s side. You can use the same hand positions are described earlier.
The half and full lotus posture
I have tried the half lotus posture and found it very uncomfortable. It is a popular posture but I have little experience of it, so won’t describe it. The only thing I would say is that if you intend to use this posture make sure that you swap which leg is on top every time you meditate. The full lotus posture is out of my range of flexibility, so I have never used it to meditate. I think this is a more balanced posture than the half lotus, and would provide a solid base.
Lying down (the corpse posture)
Some people have such bad back pain that they are restricted to meditating while lying down on their backs. This can be a very good posture for meditation and relaxation, but the tricky thing is staying awake! We are strongly conditioned to sleep (or day dream) when lying down, so it takes more effort to retain concentration but is not impossible.
Useful equipment to help your meditation practice
There are a couple of things that really make a difference. I have a little stash of stuff that I keep next to my meditation cushion, and will list them here:
1. Earplugs – it’s not always possible to meditate in a perfectly quiet environment. There are two different approaches to mediation when it comes to noise. In the first method one opens oneself up to all the noises that are around you. The second is rather like sensory deprivation, where you eliminate sensory input as much as possible and this is when earplugs are of great benefit. Both of these approaches have their merits, and I personally practice both types.
2. A meditation mat – these are thin and firm mats that are often filled with material such as coconut husk fibres. If you don’t use a mat, aside from it being uncomfortable on your knees, you will lose body heat out of your legs and knees. This can be a problem in colder climates, and winter.
3. Blankets – I keep a box of blankets next to my cushion as it gets cold in the English winter, and it is important to maintain a neutral body temperature (not hot or cold but in the middle)
4. A timer – you don’t want to keep checking your watch to see how long you’ve been going, or even worse try and guess how long you’ve been going. Set a timer to go off at the end of your session. I recommend you use something which a relaxing sound, otherwise you will be rudely roused from you state of absorption which can be quite jarring to the nervous system. I use my iphone timer, selecting a noise such as the harp. There are several good meditation timer apps that have nice bell and gong sounds.