Can You Meditate Lying Down?
Many people are interested in the correct posture for meditation. Although you may think of meditation and think of the traditional sitting posture, we really can meditate in almost any posture at all. There are pros and cons of meditating lying down, and we all have to investigate for ourselves what is useful. We’ll offer some thoughts about it and a few practices that may work well for when you need to relax or lie down. To answer the question “Can you meditate lying down?” we will look at the Buddha’s suggestions, our experience, and a few tips we’ve found to be useful.
What the Buddha Says
Despite the common image of somebody sitting in full lotus posture, the Buddha actually instructed his followers to practice in multiple postures. In the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s words on establishing mindfulness, the Buddha spoke of establishing mindfulness in multiple positions. Specifically, the text reads:
And further, monks, a monk knows, when he is going, “I am going”; he knows, when he is standing, “I am standing”; he knows, when he is sitting, “I am sitting”; he knows, when he is lying down, “I am lying down”; or just as his body is disposed so he knows it.
In many other discourses, the Buddha suggested we bring awareness to the posture of the body, whether we are sitting, standing, moving, or lying down. Although this is not the primary posture for meditation practice in the Buddhist tradition, it is explicitly mentioned. When we begin looking at the Buddhist teachings, we can see that alertness and awareness are essential, and sloth and torpor are major hindrances. As such, we may want to be careful in choosing a posture, as we don’t want to fall into sleepiness or laziness.
The Downside of Meditating Lying Down
Before we jump into the pros and cons of meditating while lying down, it’s worth noting that we are all individuals with different experiences, and you should not take our word for what works or does not! In our experience, lying down can lead to sleepiness rather quickly. This is probably the largest downside, and one you may or may not find in your own meditation practice. Part of the purpose of meditation is to develop clarity and insight, and this may be hard to do when the mind grows tired.
When we lie down and close our eyes, we are most often sleeping. The mind and body know this, so when we do this to meditate, we may fall into sleep mode. If we are practicing mindfulness meditation, this can be a problem. However, if we’re meditating to fall asleep this can actually be a benefit. In general, the posture of lying down can lead to the hindrance of sloth and torpor arising, and this is something to watch out for in our practice.
The Benefit of Meditating Lying Down
On the other hand, lying down for a period of meditation may be a good fit for some people. One of the chief benefits people find from meditating while lying down is that it can promote relaxation and ease. If you’re doing a type of meditation to fall asleep, lying down may be the obvious choice. It can also help when we’re experiencing anxiety or restlessness, as the relaxed posture puts the body at ease.
There are also cases in which meditation lying down is much more accessible. Whether you have a condition which prevents you from sitting, chronic pain in the back or legs, or headaches, you may find that lying down is much more conducive to relaxation and clarity than sitting. There are many cases in which people find much more ease and concentration in one position than another.
One of my favorite Buddhist symbols is the unalome, which represents the path to enlightenment. The reason I like this symbol so much is that it seems to represent the path as a non-linear one. We go different directions, investigate different practices, and use discernment to redirect ourselves. It’s a reminder that we can allow ourselves the space to make mistakes, find things that do not work for us, and continue growing.
You can investigate for yourself how to meditate in bed before sleep, lying down in the afternoon, or whatever works for you. Listen to your body and tune into your mind. As you continue to practice, you will begin to see what is working. Be open to what your body is trying to tell you. You may try a body scan to see what is going on with the body. You can also tune into the mental state to see if you find yourself alert and attentive, anxious and restless, or sleepy and unaware.
Lying Down Meditations
There are a few practices that work well with this posture. You really can try any practice you’d like lying down (other than walking meditation!), but here are a few of our favorites.
Body Scan Meditation
The body scan meditation is one of my favorite practices to do while lying down, and can be quite relaxing. In a body scan, you move through the body slowly, looking at each experience with nonjudgmental awareness. You can visit our page with guided meditation scripts</> to find a script for a body scan, or meditate below with this guided meditation!
Metta (for Self)
Loving-kindness, or metta, is the practice of cultivating a heart that is kind and loving toward people. In this case, we are working on cultivating kindness and gentleness with ourselves. Practicing with metta while lying down can be really beautiful, as we are taking care of ourselves by resting in a relaxing position.
Mindfulness of Breathing
We can also work with the breath while lying down. When we are resting on our backs, we can really tune into the different places in the body in which we can feel the breath. This can be a relaxing practice that works well while lying down!