You’re not alone. Discomfort can be a real barrier to the stillness and focus you want to cultivate. In fact, the original reason yogis practiced the asanas of Hatha yoga was simply to prepare the body to sit comfortably in meditation. (Read more for the history of Hatha yoga.)
So, what can you do to help yourself? There are two standard seated positions which can aid meditation.Try them both and see which works best for you.
Cross-legged Meditation Posture
In this position, cross the legs in front of the body, with the tops or sides of both feet resting on the floor. The hands can be resting on the knees or the lap in any supported position. The key to feeling comfortable in a cross-legged posture is to ensure that the hips are higher than the knees and the knees are supported. There are two modifications that can be made to ensure this is the case:
- Raise the hips higher than the knees by sitting on the edge of a meditation cushion or folded blanket.
- If the knees are not resting on the floor, place cushions underneath them for support.
Imagine a string is pulling the crown of the head to the sky. Then, allow the muscles to soften slightly while maintaining the lifted or coiled-up feeling. The advantage of this posture is that the body is grounded by the legs and it should take very little effort to keep the body upright.
Kneeling Meditation Posture
This position is called seiza in some schools of meditation. There are three ways to perform it:
- Sit directly on the heels with the knees shoulder-width apart.
- Use a meditation stool, called a seiza bench, under the sit bones. This keeps the weight off the feet and is at an angle that promotes healthy alignment of the spine.
- Kneel with a cushion between your legs, again taking the pressure off the feet and calves.
Whichever version you are using, as in the cross-legged posture, find a balance between feeling lifted and relaxed, drawing energy up through the length of the spine. This posture may be better for anyone who struggles with tightness in the hips in a cross-legged position.
If neither of these postures feel comfortable, consider modifying further by sitting with your back against a wall for support, using additional blankets or cushions wherever you need them, or even sitting upright in a chair. The most important thing is finding a posture that lets you sit with both alertness and ease.
Benefits of a Proper Meditation Posture
In an effective seated meditation posture, the weight of the body is supported by the alignment of the bones rather than muscular effort. The vertebrae are stacked, maintaining the healthy curvature of the spine without strain (Learn more health benefits to sitting properly during meditation.). This allows you to experience an ease and lightness in the posture. The alignment of the spine reduces compression on the chest and abdominal muscles, freeing them to support proper breathing and increasing the capacity of the lungs.
The ease of the posture reduces the energy demands on the body and allows for a much lower cardio-respiratory activity than is typical. This can reduce the heart rate and blood pressure, taking the body into a more relaxed state.
Perhaps most importantly, a good meditation posture makes the whole experience of meditation more pleasant. Without the distractions of discomfort, it can be much easier to concentrate. The combination of greater comfort in posture and better focus means you will reap the rewards of meditation and be far more likely to keep it up.