The position of your body during meditation strongly impacts the flow of your energy and state of mind and emotions. On any given day, you can experience drowsiness or alertness depending on the position of your body.
The guiding principle for how we position ourselves is that the position contributes to both relaxation and alertness. For this reason, meditating while lying down is not recommended unless injury or illness demands it. When we lie down, our relaxation increases while our alertness fades—sometimes to the point of sleeping. While this is fine when our goal is simple relaxation, meditation motivated by the desire to discover and eliminate the causes of our suffering requires an alert, sharp mind.
That said, we would rather you meditate lying down or while soaking in a bathtub than not at all! Setting your mind on anything virtuous, in any position at all, will have a positive effect.
Ideally, if your body can handle it, sit on a meditation cushion on the floor. If that’s not comfortable for you, it’s perfectly fine to meditate in a chair. In either case, follow the recommendations below, based on the traditional 7-point posture of the Buddha Vairochana, with insights, variations and tips from experience and the 15th century quintessential text on yoga asana, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
A straight spine is the single most important aspect of meditation posture. It allows a smooth flow of energy in the central energetic channel that runs near your spine and so contributes to an open, calm, and clear mind.
Hunching the back leads to dullness and affects your emotions negatively.
Arching the back in an attempt to sit up straight will also work against you, causing strain rather than relaxation.
TIP: Experiment with different heights and types of cushions to find the one that allows you to keep a relaxed, straight spine. For most people, the higher the cushion, the easier it is to keep a straight spine.
Sitting on a cushion
Images depict Buddhas in full lotus, with each foot stacked high on the opposite thigh. But this position is out of reach for most people, and for those who can do it, it’s often only comfortable for short periods. Further, it poses danger to the knees. Some people recommend half-lotus in lieu of full lotus and it’s worth a try, but we and many others have found that position to be rather imbalanced due to the asymmetry.
We recommend the pose championed in the classic text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, by the master yogi and meditator, Master Swatmarama: Master’s Pose.
In this pose, both knees are on the floor and the feet rest one in front of the other. To stay balanced, you can alternate which foot rests in front from day to day. (Note: in the full master’s pose, the yogi actually places one heel under the perineum—but that is not necessary.)
Sitting on a cushion, your legs should tilt downwards. Your knees should not be floating in the air but rather supporting you in a tripod-like formation with your seat.
If you have problems with your knees, try putting cushions under them for support.
Sitting in a chair
Your legs should feel relaxed and grounded. Place both feet on the floor instead of crossing them. Use a cushion, block or book to find the most comfortable height for your feet. Some people like to use a strap to keep the legs from flaying out.
In the traditional Buddhist position, the arms drape loosely and the right palm rests on the left, with the two thumbs just touching. But there are plenty of great variations. Experiment and find what feels most comfortable for you. Each will have a slightly different feeling. For example, placing the palms down on the thighs feels more grounding than placing the palms up on the thighs, which feels more receptive. Even these slight differences in body position have an effect on the mind.
It’s perfectly fine to switch your hand positioning to fit your mood or even the temperature.
TIP: If using the traditional position of one palm resting on the other, place a pillow under your hands to see if that’s more comfortable for you.
Roll your shoulders back and down, then relax them. Position your head so that your chin is parallel to the ground or very slightly tipped down.
Meditating with your chin up can lead to an over-active mind. Similarly, meditating with your chin too low can lead to a dull mind. Therefore, when you are feeling dull, you can raise your chin up slightly, and when you are feeling over-active, you can lower your chin slightly.
Close your mouth. Your lips should touch, but not your teeth. Meaning, your mouth is lightly closed but your jaw is not clenched shut. Rest your tongue on your upper palate near the back of your front teeth.
Meditation is an internal process in which we withdraw from the stimulation of our senses. So close your eyes or, if you prefer, keep them very slightly open to let in light but focused downwards, on nothing.
Once you are settled into a comfortable, balanced position, scan your body from head to toe, relaxing everything. Be sure not to forget the muscles around your mouth, which tend to hold tension. Feel your weight pressing into your cushion, and appreciate how completely relaxed you are. Let yourself feel pleasure in this simple experience.
Slow down your breathing, emphasizing long exhales.
Focusing either at the tip of your nose or your lower abdomen, breath in and out 10 times, then in and out 10 more times, counting backwards. If you lose your focus, start over again.
Once you have settled your body and mind with this short breathing preliminary, move onto your main meditation object.