What position is best for meditation? Shall you be sitting, standing or lying down?

What position is best for meditation? Shall you be sitting, standing or lying down?

Ever tried meditating lying down comfortably on the back, only to find that you fall asleep in five minutes? Or mentally prepared yourself to sit still in a cross-legged position for at least 20 minutes but had to switch position because legs fell asleep in less than 10? Happens all the time.

The best position for meditation depends on the individual and their preferences, physical condition, and the type of meditation being practiced. It may also depend on the time of the day, your current mental and emotional state and other factors. Read on for more information how various poses may enhance your practice and the neuroscience behind it.

Meditation is a practice of mindfulness and focus where an individual trains their mind to achieve an emotionally calm and mentally clear state. The goal of meditation may be relaxation, focus, better sleep etc. But the common denominator in all meditation styles is practicing staying present and focusing the attention on a certain object of observation like breath, flame of a candle, a mantra or physical sensations to quiet one's thoughts and emotions, leading to a sense of inner peace and serenity.

Why proper posture is important in meditation

  • Physical comfort: Good posture ensures that your body is properly aligned and supported, which reduces discomfort and pain during prolonged periods of sitting or standing.
  • Mental focus: Proper posture helps to keep your mind alert and focused. When you are physically comfortable, it's easier to maintain mental clarity and prevent distractions.
  • Breath control: in practices that involve breath control, like Pranayama, proper posture allows you to breathe more deeply and efficiently. This helps to regulate your breathing and promote relaxation.
  • Energy flow: In many meditation traditions, good posture is believed to facilitate the flow of energy through the body, helping to balance and harmonize the mind and body.
  • Overall well-being: Consistent practice of proper posture in meditation can lead to improved physical health, mental clarity, and emotional stability.

The best position for meditation depends on the individual and their preferences, physical condition, and the type of meditation being practiced. Here are some common meditation positions:

Five most common meditation positions

  1. Cross-legged sitting (Lotus or Sukhasana, the Easy Pose): This is a traditional meditation posture where you sit on a cushion or mat with your legs crossed and hands resting on your knees or folded in your lap. This position allows for stability and grounding, and is commonly used in practices such as mindfulness meditation and Zen meditation.
  2. Seated on a chair: Sitting on a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the ground and your hands resting on your thighs or in your lap is another option. This position is suitable for those who may have difficulty sitting on the floor or who prefer a more upright posture.
  3. Lying down (Shavasana pose): Lying down on your back with your arms by your sides is a position that can be comfortable for some people, especially if they have physical limitations or back pain. However, it's important to be mindful of not falling asleep, as meditation is an active practice that requires alertness and awareness.
  4. Kneeling: Kneeling on a cushion or mat, also known as the "seiza" position, is common in practices such as Zen meditation. This position requires flexibility in the knees and ankles, and is not recommended for those with knee or ankle issues.
  5. Standing: standing meditation practices like Zhan Zhuang originate in Chinese martial arts and Qigong, this position is great for increasing focus and mental clarity but can be challenging for longer meditations.

Common problems with sitting cross-legged in meditation

Sukhasana, also known as the Easy pose, has long been the go-to position for yogis seeking to meditate. According to yoga traditions, the main goal of Easy pose is to enter a meditative state of mind. The ultimate objective of this meditation pose is to create a comfortable and stable seated posture that promotes relaxation, calmness, and mental clarity," as it is known in Sanskrit. Sukhasana is one of the many ways to reach this tranquility.

As adults, sitting cross-legged can be a struggle due to a sedentary lifestyle that leads to tight hips and sore knees. Our joints are not accustomed to the required flexibility and rotation. Our body gets used to slouching and sinking into our midsection when we spend long periods sitting. This can result in rounding the shoulders and slouching, especially when using a computer. Most common issues with sitting meditation include:

  • Slouching while sitting
  • Tail bone pain
  • Knee pain
  • Numbness

To correctly sit in Sukhasana, it is important to find a comfortable and sustainable posture, finding the right meditation cushion can make all the difference for an effective meditation practice. You may also like to experiment with different props like blankets, yoga blocks to support the knees or wedges. The goal is to find a stable position where you can comfortably stay for 15-30 minutes. With regular practice, sitting cross-legged can become a deeply restorative and rejuvenating posture that can support your meditation practice and overall well-being.

How to sit crossed-legged to help you enter and maintain a meditative state of mind:

  • Sit down on a mat, folded blanket or cushion, and feel the support of the surface underneath your buttocks.
  • Cross your legs, positioning your feet beneath your knees.
  • Place your hands on your knees or lap, with your palms facing up to receive or place them down for a more grounding effect.
  • Keep your spine long and straight but not stiff. If your knees are higher than your hips, use a meditation cushion to elevate and forward rotate the pelvis for proper spine alignment. The position should feel natural and require no muscle effort to maintain a straight spine without slouching.
  • Let the shoulders drop while the spine stays gently in place.
  • Tuck the chin slightly in, the crown of the head reaching toward the sky.
  • Release any tension in your face, jaw, shoulders and abdomen.
  • Inhale deeply through your nostrils and feel the air fill your lungs, then exhale fully until your lungs are empty. Maintain this breath for as long as it feels comfortable for you.

In the book "Search Inside Yourself" by Chade-Meng Tan, who pioneered a mindfulness program at Google, suggests a fun way to find your meditation posture. The idea is to think of your favorite mountain, say Mount Fuji or Mount Kilimanjaro, and then pretend to be that mountain when you sit. By sitting in a way that makes you feel dignified and awe-inspiring, you might also become more alert and relaxed. Give it a try and see if it works for you!

Which meditation types are practiced sitting in a cross-legged position?

Sitting in a cross-legged position is a common posture for several types of meditation, including:

  • Mindfulness meditation: This is a type of meditation that involves paying attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental attitude. It is often practiced while sitting cross-legged with your hands resting on your knees or in your lap.
  • Transcendental meditation: This is a technique that involves silently repeating a mantra, typically while sitting in a comfortable, cross-legged position with your eyes closed.
  • Zen meditation: Also known as "zazen," this is a type of meditation that is practiced while sitting in a traditional cross-legged position on a cushion or mat, with your hands in a specific position and your back straight.
  • Vipassana meditation: This is a type of meditation that involves observing the sensations in the body and cultivating awareness of the present moment. It is often practiced while sitting cross-legged with your hands in your lap and your eyes closed.
  • Loving-kindness meditation: This is a type of meditation that involves cultivating feelings of love, kindness, and compassion towards oneself and others. It is often practiced while sitting cross-legged with your hands resting on your knees or in your lap.

These are just a few examples of the types of meditation that can be practiced while sitting in a cross-legged position. However, it's important to note that sitting cross-legged may not be comfortable or accessible for everyone, and there are other postures that can be used for meditation as well.

Seated in a Chair 

What if you cannot sit cross-legged due to an injury or inflexibility? Sitting in a chair might be a great alternative! In fact, this is a standard practice at 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreats: chairs are typically provided for students who are not able to sit cross-legged for hours and hours of meditation.

Seating in a chair meditation is a simple yet powerful approach to incorporating awareness and relaxation into your everyday practice. Sitting comfortably, focusing on your breath or sensations in the body and bringing awareness to the present moment are all part of this practice. You can either close your eyes or keep them open as long as you keep your attention on your breathing. This style of meditation may be done anywhere and is an excellent alternative for persons who have difficulties sitting in traditional meditation positions. You can achieve peace with persistent practice, even amid daily chaos.

Lying down position in meditation

Meditation doesn't always have to be sitting up straight. For certain meditation types that focus on relaxation and promoting better sleep rather than alertness, a lying position can be more beneficial as it signals our body it's time to take rest. And, of course, there are also days when we just want to relax and let ourselves sink into the soft surface.

Lying position Meditation is a simple and pleasant meditation in which you lie down comfortably and focus on your breath. This style of meditation is especially beneficial for people unable to sit in standard meditation positions due to physical discomfort or injury.

Meditation in the lying position can be done for as long as you choose. It could be from a few minutes to an hour or more. The goal is to stay relaxed and focused on your breath, letting go of any worries or ideas that may occur. 

Yoga Nidra or Yogic Sleep is a powerful meditation technique that is practiced while lying down in a comfortable and relaxed position. It is a deeply restorative practice that is often used to reduce stress, improve sleep, and promote overall well-being. 

Another well-known type of lying down relaxation technique is the practice of Shavasana after a yoga class.as Shavasana, is a yoga posture in which you lie flat on your back with your arms and legs extended, simulating a dead body, hence its name "Corpse pose". This meditation aims to induce deep relaxation and tranquility in the body and mind. The body can release any physical or emotional stress in this position, allowing you to submit to the present and reach inner calm. My favorite yoga pose!

Standing Position in Meditation

It is an intriguing truth about standing meditation that, although it is practiced in India, it did not originate in this nation. This distinction sets it apart from other forms of this exercise. This type of meditation originated in China because several practices, such as Qigong, Zhang Zhuang, Wuji, and Yiquan, are very common in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts.

Standing position meditation requires you to be still, with your feet firmly planted on the ground and your body calm. The feelings of the feet touching the ground, the pressure of the body against the earth, and the sense of breath going in and out of the body should be the focus. This exercise can be done for a few minutes every day, in a calm environment, with or without your eyes closed, depending on your preference. The idea is to promote awareness and inner serenity rather than physical posture.

Standing meditation practices like Zhan Zhuang originate in Chinese martial arts and Qigong. An extended period is spent standing still while the practitioner engages in deep, diaphragmatic breathing and develops an awareness of their internal energy or Qi. Building strength and endurance, increasing physical and mental awareness, and balancing the body's energy systems are all goals of Zhan Zhuang. It is a straightforward yet effective technique with significant implications for general health and welfare.

What is the Ultimate Best Position for Meditation

In his book "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom," Rick Hanson explains the neurological reason why sitting straight during meditation might be the best position for meditation. He writes that sitting in an erect posture provides internal feedback to the reticular formation – a mesh like network of nerves in the brain stem which is involved with wakefulness and consciousness, telling it that you need to stay vigilant and alert. 

Ultimately, the best position for meditation is one that allows you to be comfortable, relaxed, and alert, and that helps you maintain focus and mindfulness. Experiment with different positions to find the one that works best for you and your meditation practice. It's also important to remember that meditation is a personal practice, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

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