Meditation Positions: Finding a Posture That Works for You
Finding a meditation posture that works for us can be quite the journey. We try a few different meditation positions, but cannot seem to get comfortable. Maybe you’ve seen people sitting in positions your body simply cannot do.
There are many meditation postures and techniques, and when we’re new to meditation it can be difficult to find what works for ourselves. We wanted to offer a few different meditation poses for those new to meditation practice with the hope that you can investigate for yourself what is useful and conducive to your practice.
First, let’s just dispel a few myths about meditation posture. You don’t need to sit in a full lotus posture to practice “right.” There is not one Buddhist meditation posture that is correct. Meditation positions don’t show how advanced or awakened you are, and you don’t need to sit any specific way to meditate correctly.
We’ll go through a few different poses for beginners, to work with pain, and to investigate what is useful for you and your body. There are meditation posture pictures to go along with each posture, but remember you can make minor adjustments as you listen to your own body.
Why Posture Matters
Let’s start by investigating why we should even care about the posture while meditating. First, our posture can make a difference in our practice, either creating the causes and conditions for awakening or conditions which prevent awakening. The posture of the body during meditation can lead to back pain, sleepiness, or restlessness. It can also lead to clarity, ease, and compassion.
The way we sit impacts the way the mind works. If the body is agitated, the mind may become restless. If we are slouched or too relaxed, we become prone to sleepiness. A great way to start investigating what is going on in the body is by working with a body scan meditation practice.
Another important reason to care about our posture is the simple intention of metta, or kindness toward ourselves. We can use the postures as a foundational practice in offering ourselves some gentleness.
By checking in with the posture at the beginning of our practice, we are training the mind and heart to care for our bodies. Even when we don’t feel especially loving toward our bodies, we can check in with our meditation posture to cultivate this caring for and mindfulness of the body.
Meditation Positions for Beginners
When I was new to meditation, I had the image in my mind of somebody sitting in a full-lotus posture as the “correct” meditation posture. However, I was not (and still am not) able to sit in this position. My body simply does not allow me to. I had the feeling that I wasn’t as spiritual or awake as I should be.
This is a common thing many newcomers to meditation go through. Don’t worry! You can meditate without sitting any specific way. As Tara Brach shares, we should find a posture that invites in both alertness and relaxation. What that looks like for me may be different than what works for you! Here are a a few common meditation postures for beginners that may work.
Quarter Lotus Pose
This pose is one many people start with. It is essentially a traditional cross-legged pose. As with other meditation postures in this list, it’s helpful to keep your knees below your hips. This helps support your spine and keep it straight if possible.
To do quarter lotus, you can sit on a meditation cushion and cross your legs below you. You can investigate for yourself where your legs feel comfortable. Traditionally quarter lotus involves putting one food on the calf of the other leg. Again, you can find for yourself what feels most sustainable for your meditation period.
The Burmese meditation posture is my personal favorite. This doesn’t mean it is best, but it is how I find myself most comfortable during practice. The Burmese posture helps keep the knees lower than the hips, and may help prevent feet or legs from falling asleep as easily.
To sit Burmese style, rest on a cushion and put one leg and foot in front of the other. The legs are not crossed really in this meditation position. Ideally, the shins should be resting flat on the floor. If (like me) you aren’t known for your flexibility, you may want to sit on a tall cushion or multiple cushions. This can help us get the knees and shins to the floor.
Kneeling is another option many people find useful. For those that find their limbs falling asleep a lot, the kneeling posture is helpful. You can use a meditation cushion, yoga block, or zen bench for this pose. Sitting like this to practice helps keep the spine upright and the knees naturally lower than the hips.
To strike a kneeling posture, rest your legs and knees on the ground and kneel on the cushion, block, or bench. You may try investigating the height of your cushion. Many people flip their meditation cushions up on the side to kneel, as this added height helps create a more comfortable posture. You may also consider putting a sock or piece of clothing right under the ankle to help support the ankles and feet.
Sitting in a Chair
Sitting in a chair for meditation may not seem like the best option, as we have the idea that we’re supposed to be sitting on the ground. However, there’s nothing wrong or bad about sitting on a chair! I often sit in chairs to practice myself, especially when sitting on a meditation retreat. We can really practice with almost any meditation technique while sitting in a chair without any compromise to our practice.
When you sit on a chair, allow some room to investigate what feels comfortable. Move the feet around, straighten the back as much as possible, and listen to your body. You may try putting a cushion or piece of clothing between your back and the chair in order to help support the lower spine, and you also may investigate where the feet feel most comfortable on the ground.
Meditation Positions Lying Down
We can also of course meditate while lying down. For many people, lying down leads to sleepiness. There are many ways to prevent sleepiness during meditation, but if you tend to fall asleep you may want to avoid lying down.
On the other hand, lying down is often helpful for those with pains in the body. Whether you have nerve pain, muscle soreness, or some chronic condition that causes pain in the body, lying down may be helpful. Here are two ways you can practice while flat on your back.
First, there’s the simple posture of just resting on your back. This posture may lead to sleepiness quite easily, but again it works well for those experiencing pain while sitting. You can use this meditation pose during your day or at night. If you’re hoping to meditate to fall asleep or at night in bed, this may be the best position to try.
When lying flat on the ground, dedicate a bit of effort to investigating what feels comfortable. You may try placing the hands on the stomach, on the chest, or at the sides. Resting on the ground like this lends itself well to a body scan, as you can feel the contact of the body with the ground, bed, or yoga mat.
When I meditate on the ground like this, I find it helpful to lift the legs up. This helps keep the lower back flat on the floor and the spine straight. Keeping the spine straight is a great way to take care of your body and build healthy posture, and this can really make a difference.
You can use a chair, a few cushions, or even a pillow. Try a few different items that have different heights to see what is useful. You may want your legs and feet up, or just something under your knees to lift them while keeping the feet on the floor. As you do this, tune into the lower back, as this is where this posture helps us.
Other Meditation Postures
There are a few other common meditation positions you will see and may want to investigate. Remember there is no “correct” meditation posture for everyone. However you sit, the focus should be on taking care of your body and your practice. Keeping the spine straight is a powerful foundation to start with, but you must listen to your own experience in the end!
The full lotus pose is one of the more commonly-represented poses in media. It is a pose used for millenia by yogis from Buddhist, Hindu, and other traditions, and has a long history of use among different cultures. This meditation posture is quite beautiful, and allows the yogi to strike a pose of balance and stability.
To sit in a full lotus position, you are crossing your legs up onto one another. Each foot should be on the calf of the other leg. This requires some flexibility of the hips and knees, so do not hurt yourself! If you cannot get into this posture, you may try some stretches to get into full lotus. This posture offers the person the ability to rest on the three points of the butt and two knees, and can be a great sustainable posture for the more flexible meditator.
Standing certainly doesn’t seem like a traditional meditation posture at first, but you can indeed meditate while standing. In fact, the Buddha himself recommended practicing while standing many times. Standing is a great way to help combat sleepiness, and offers a different way to look at the body and experience present.
When doing standing meditation, start at the bottom of the body to see where the feet feel right. You can move up through the body, investigating the legs, hips, back, neck, and arms. You may notice some slight movement or swaying, and this is perfectly normal while meditating in this position!
Finally, we have the practice of walking meditation. Just like sitting or kneeling, we can practice mindfulness, compassion, or anything else. It’s a form of moving meditation, and offers us the opportunity to practice while the body is in motion. If you’ve never tried meditating while walking, we strongly recommend giving it a shot!
To do walking meditation, find a short space to walk. You only need 15 or 20 feet. You can walk back and forth in this space slowly, using it as a space and period for meditation. You can focus on the feet on the floor, offer metta phrases, or do any other practice you would normally do while sitting.
Commonly Asked Questions
We took a look at some of the questions we’ve received over the years regarding meditation poses and postures, and thought we’d offer our thoughts and answers.
You don’t need to do anything specific with your hands. Like many other aspects of the meditation position, you can investigate for yourself what feels right. Tune into the shoulders and back as you move your hands. You may try resting them in one another in the lap, on the knees, or somewhere on the thighs.
How do I know which posture is right for me?
There’s no one answer to this question. Personally, I have a few different postures I find useful. I recommend looking into it yourself. Try different postures, see what feels comfortable, and be open to change. Remember that your body is your body, and you need to listen in order to see what feels right.
Can I move during meditation?
In many meditation traditions, the practice is to remain as still as possible. This helps us investigate discomfort and aversion. However, being new to meditation, you may want to allow yourself the space to move when necessary. When you do feel like you need to move during practice, do so mindfully. Feel how it feels to be in discomfort, and how the body feels as it moves.
What do I do about pain during meditation?
There are many ways we can deal with pain in meditation, but one of the most simplest ways to approach pain is with compassion. We can remember that pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. We can’t avoid all discomfort, but we can find a posture and ways to move during meditation that are conducive to our physical well-being.
Can I used other meditation supplies?
There are other supplies and meditation tools you can use such as a blanket, yoga block, or a mat to sit on. Many people use a shawl or blanket to cover their legs. We recommend trying to keep your sitting space as clean and simple as possible. I often ask my students if their statues, malas, and other items help their practice. And, if so, how do they help?
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