Why Posture Is NOT Important During Meditation
By Matthew Joyce
Back straight. Legs crossed. Hands on knees. Palms up. Eyes closed. The Buddha sat like this and so should you.
If you think you need to sit in a certain posture to meditate, get over it. Posture is a less important than you think. The main thing is to meditate. Period. How you position your body is secondary.
The Trouble with Traditional Positions
Many traditions and spiritual practices tell you how you should sit for meditation. They tell you to kneel on the floor or to sit cross-legged in a lotus position with your feet on top of your thighs. That may work for people who are limber, but what about everyone else?
Those who advise you to sit in certain postures have good reasons for doing so, but such postures can be daunting for beginners, as well as for those who have accepted their limitations when it comes to flexibility.
Meditation Starts with Your Mind
Meditation is primarily an act of increasing and focusing your awareness. In its simplest form meditation is the process of quieting the mind and accessing what is available to you within each moment.
There are countless types of meditation from mantras to mindfulness and contemplation to concentration. You can meditate to access inner guidance or for relaxation, visualization, insight, and healing. You can practice it by yourself or with others.
With so many different ways to meditate, there is no one body posture suited for all purposes. You should choose the one works best for you. But once you choose, you’ll do well to sit as still as you can.
Stillness Is More Important than Posture
Regardless of the posture you choose, stilling your body sends a signal to your mind that you want it to slow down and be still as well. Of course that may be easier said than done.
When you first start meditating, sitting still can be a sure way to discover just how restless your mind and body are. Nonetheless, it’s worth sticking with it because, despite any initial resistance, sitting in stillness really does help reduce the distractions you perceive from your body and mind.
How to Sit
Many meditation traditions encourage you to begin your practice by sitting on cushions on the floor. They don’t say this because meditation was invented before furniture, but rather because sitting on a firm flat surface provides a stable foundation for your spine that makes it possible to meditate for long periods of time without moving.
If you want to sit this way, try sitting with legs crossed in front of you and your back comfortably erect. Sitting on a cushion that elevates your buttocks slightly above your knees can make you more comfortable. If you need to you, use extra cushions to fill the gap between your knees and the floor.
If sitting on the floor feels uncomfortable, try sitting in a kitchen chair with your feet flat on the floor in front of you, hands on knees, and back straight without touching the rear of the chair.
Whether you sit on the floor or in a chair, the main idea is keep your back straight since it’s easier to remain alert when you are sitting upright.
If sitting with your back unsupported feels uncomfortable, take the easy way out and lean against the back of the chair. Or slouch.
Give Yourself Permission to Slouch
That’s right. When sitting upright starts to feel problematic, let your body relax and lean back against a wall or a seat back. Or if nothing is behind you, allow your back to slump forward in a curving arch.
There’s nothing wrong with slouching per se. If adopting a more relaxed pose works for you, go for it, particularly if it makes you more comfortable and it means that you can continue with your meditation. You can always sit up straight again when you’re ready to do so.
Meditation teachers tell you to sit up straight because the natural curve in your spine is designed to hold your upper body erect with very little effort. Slouching relies on your muscles to maintain your body position. As your muscles tire you begin to fidget, and fidgeting leads to distraction. But if you are fidgeting anyway, you might as well get comfortable.
In fact, if it’s comfort you seek, you might want to skip sitting down altogether.
Skip Sitting Altogether
One of the most relaxing ways to meditate is to put your feet up in an easy chair or to stretch out on your back on a bed, on the floor, or on the grass on a sunny summer afternoon. In addition to being well suited for relaxation, reclining while meditating is also good for visualization and for when you want to send your awareness beyond your physical body.
Of course, lying down does run the risk of falling asleep. So if you’re concerned about dozing off or if you simply want to increase the number of opportunities you have for meditation, you can always try meditating with your eyes open.
Once you free yourself from the belief that meditation is something that you do with eyes closed on cushions, you realize that you can mediate anywhere at any time.
If you have your eyes open, you can mediate while walking. You can meditate while you are eating or bathing. You can even meditate while you are waiting for a red light.
Do What Works for You
When it comes to meditating there are definite advantages to sitting with an erect spine and a solid foundation for your lower body. With practice sitting in such traditional postures becomes easier and more rewarding. But don’t let your concerns about “perfect” posture keep you from meditating. The most important thing is to sit for meditation and to adopt a posture that works for you in that moment.
Read more articles, and if you haven’t done so already:
(That’s a hint!)