One of the most challenging things about starting a meditation practice is the sitting. At least for those of us who aren’t accustomed to spending extended periods of time with our legs crossed, keeping still can be tough. Even if the meditation posture you choose feels comfortable to begin with, it’s surprising how quickly that can change. Pins and needles, numbness and aching are all common complaints. Coupled with the desperate attempts of your mind to distract you from meditation, you also have to deal with your body shouting at you to move. It can easily be enough to put you off meditation altogether. So, how do you get around this?
Experimentation and practice are key. There are any number of different sitting postures you can try - quarter, half lotus or full lotus pose, easy pose or a kneeling posture. If sitting on the floor is unbearable, you can use a chair, as long as your feet reach the floor and you sit upright.
Get Comfortable With Yoga Props
Remember, yoga props are your friends! Don’t be afraid to use them to make your posture as comfortable as you possibly can. Meditation is not meant to be an endurance sport. A useful tip from the Zen tradition is to sit on as many blankets and pillows as necessary to have your hips higher than your knees. This helps your lower back release any tension you may be holding. You can also place blankets under the knees, to support them and keep your joints and ligaments safe. (Read more in Effective Seated Postures For Meditation.)
Once you’ve experimented a bit and found the combination of posture and props that works for you, it’s time to get practicing. Don’t expect to be able to go from zero to 60 minutes in a day. Your body will take time to get accustomed to the stillness and the sitting. Give it that time. Start small, with just a few minutes, and build up. Practicing yoga every day will also help. After all, the original purpose of Hatha yoga asanas was to prepare your body to sit in meditation. (Learn more in The History of Hatha Yoga.)
Fall Into a Trance
With this gradual buildup, try to get yourself used to sitting still without fidgeting. This is hard and there are times when moving is unavoidable, but you will find that when you do tap into this lovely stillness, the effect on your mind is magical. Your mind seems to recognize that this state is something different and special, and may even reward you with a trance-like focus and sensitivity.
The power of mastering a sitting posture is exactly this. Your body and mind come into a wonderfully grounded yet lifted alignment. You find that perfect balance between stability and lightness, and are able to hold yourself there with absolute ease.
It may seem inconceivable at first, but once you’ve worked on your posture for a while, you’ll find that you can build up to sitting in it for an hour. You’ll know then that not only have you mastered the posture, but you’ve also taken your meditation practice to a whole new level. Just being in one place without moving for a whole hour will have a powerful and transformative effect on your mind. You’ll learn the depths of stillness and peace that lie within you, and experience your own ability and discipline to hold space for yourself. (Read more in 'Holding Space': What Does it Mean?)
Find Your Drishti
To take your practice deeper, you can work with different gaze points, or drishti. These can be external gaze points - gazing at a candle, for instance, is said to improve focus, concentration and awareness. Alternatively, with your eyes closed, you can take your internal gaze to your third eye. This can be seen as beneficial on a number of levels. Using a drishti helps to train the mind, while the focus on a single point symbolizes consciousness seeking an experience of oneness and unity.
Another layer you can add to your meditation practice once your sitting posture is mastered is chanting. You may wish to chant an elaborate mantra, or just repeat a simple sound, known as a bija mantra. Choose something that resonates with you, and enjoy the contrast between the dynamism and energy of producing sound and the stillness of your posture. With a truly grounded sitting posture, you free yourself to become completely absorbed in the chant. (Learn our 4 Favorite Chants.)
Trust and Time
Sitting postures, like so many things that are worthwhile in life, do take time to master. Try to enjoy the process, and trust that with time, you will find a posture and a practice that works for your body. When you do, the benefits for your mind and spirit will be profound.