This a question that comes up alot in classes, and it also comes up alot for me in my own practice too! And with good reason. Choosing a posture for meditation is in itself an exercise in being mindful.
This is because there are no simple, black-and-white, right or wrong answers in this area. I realise this may not be what you want to hear if you’re looking for an ‘how to’ guide. I used to love a good set of rules to follow (in any area of my life), but learning mindfulness is very much about developing inner wisdom and trust in our own instincts. With time, we can become more responsive to what’s happening in our own experience.
Picking a posture is a good example of this responsiveness. While I won’t give a prescriptive list of right or wrong, I’m happy to share a few things that may help you experiment while you find your feet (or bottom, or back…)
What do I need right now?
When you prepare to meditate (whether that means self-guided or listening to a recording), check in with yourself. What do you need right now? Some other considerations that may be useful are:
If you’re feeling resistant – what will make meditation feel more appealing/do-able?
If you’re feeling sluggish – what will support a quality of awareness?
If you’re feeling physical discomfort – what does my body need?
If you’re feeling emotionally fragile – what will give me the most support?
When you check in with yourself, you may discover that you need to sit in a chair, lie down covered by a blanket or make an adjustment for your particular body. The wisdom of the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver comes to mind: ‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’.
Sitting and lying – what’s the difference?
Meditation is an awareness practice, and your posture will ideally support your ability to bring awareness to your present-moment experience. There are a few pitfalls when it comes to picking a posture that can interfere with this, and a few benefits of certain postures that are useful to know about.
One pitfall here is the belief that it’s the only ‘proper’ meditation posture, and to force yourself to stay in a position that feels uncomfortable. Although we don’t necessarily avoid unpleasant experiences in mindfulness, if you add discomfort in your posture, you’ll be sitting with a whole load of extra distraction. Plus meditation will seem like an endurance test, and you might stop doing it at all eventually. Also if you find yourself slumping when you sit, it may be that lying down enables you to get a more supported posture. Where sitting up is useful is that being upright brings a quality of alert awareness that can support curiosity. Sitting in an upright chair is usually a comfortable option for most people – you definitely don’t need to sit cross-legged, and I would advise getting the advice of a meditation teacher (in person) before you do so. Many of my own teachers who have been meditating for decades choose a nice upright chair when they practice.
When we first learn to meditate, we might need to lie down (and even fall asleep!), as we begin to seek the support of the ground and let go. This isn’t a problem, but do be aware that over time, lying down to ‘relax’ could be a way of avoiding parts of your experience. Meditation isn’t about escaping our thoughts, feelings and body sensations – but about learning to relate to them with more kindness and awareness. When we lie down, we are more likely to drift off, and become less aware of thoughts, feelings and body sensations. BUT – this is also where lying down can be helpful. If you are experiencing unpleasant feelings, then lying down may help you to get in touch with them, without getting overwhelmed. Feeling the support of the ground underneath the body in itself can be quite calming. This is totally personal (for some people, lying down may not create a feeling of ease). Body awareness may also be explored more deeply while lying down. Personally, I have found that after many years of practice, I am now able to lie down to meditate without a significant loss of awareness or drifting off.
As you become more responsive to what you need in each moment, you’ll get to know which posture will support your practice on any given day. And of course there is always the option of starting off a meditation lying down, and then transition (mindfully) to sitting for the rest of that practice – or vice versa. A bit of both within one practice can give you the full range of benefits.
If you really want a rule, I’ll concede and give you just one to close with. As any good teacher will tell you, ALWAYS ALWAYS choose a posture that feels comfortable for your body, and NEVER EVER stay in a posture that causes physical pain or distress.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the following resources:
For a little more on posture, here’s a piece from Mindful Online called How To Find The Right Meditation Posture For Your Body
My website for blogs, meditations and free resources – Lollipop Wellbeing
My blog on Everyday Mindfulness called ‘4 Ways To Make Meditation Easier’