In my view, there is no one “right” meditation posture. Below, I’ve described a few postures that work for me—but every body is different, so the important thing is to do some research, experiment, and find postures that work for you.
Give yourself permission to modify the “standard” postures to make them work better for you. (My leg muscles have always been tight no matter how much I’ve tried to stretch them, so I’ve done plenty of modification and experimentation myself over the years.)
Here’s an important caution. As you learn new meditation postures, you may be putting your body in positions it hasn’t been in before. To do this in a healthful way, monitor your level of discomfort. Gentle stretching sensations are generally okay, but you shouldn’t feel pain; pain is your body’s way of telling you that you’re pushing too hard. Regularly meditating in a painful posture is likely to cause damage to your body over time. I know of a couple of longtime meditators who eventually developed serious knee problems; don’t be like them!
By far, my favorite meditation posture is sitting on a meditation cushion in a variation of accomplished pose, with one foot on the floor, the other resting on my opposite calf, and both knees on the floor. To cushion my ankles, I put the meditation cushion on a bed, couch, or meditation mat (which serves as the “floor”). I put my palms on my thighs, I let my spine be relaxed but erect, and I tuck my chin down ever so slightly to support my back.
This is the only cross-legged posture I can do comfortably, and it took a long time for me to learn it. At first, my knees wouldn’t go down to the floor, so I rested them on cushions or other forms of support; I gradually lowered the height of the support over a period of months until my knees eventually rested on the floor.
This is my favorite posture because I find I can meditate more deeply more quickly in this posture than in others. Unfortunately, I can’t maintain this posture for more than an hour or so without getting uncomfortable.
Meditation requires you to be relaxed, so the benefit of any specific posture is negated by high levels of discomfort. Learning a few different postures allows you to switch postures in the midst of a meditation session. When I’m doing a long session, I tend to rotate through my favorite postures; I find that changing my posture every 30 to 60 minutes works well for me.
Sitting in a Chair
For those new to meditation, I recommend sitting in a chair because it’s the simplest and easiest way to get started. I still meditate in a chair often, myself—my second-favorite meditation posture is sitting in an armless chair with my palms resting on my thighs. Sometimes I give the chair a slight forward incline by raising the back legs of the chair by an inch or so, placing a meditation mat under the back legs.
I do two variations of this posture. In one, I scoot forward a bit on the chair, resting my thighs on the edge of the chair and crossing my ankles under the chair. In the other, I sit farther back in the chair with my feet flat on the floor in front of me, my butt touching the back of the chair, and my back straight (so my back isn’t actually touching the back of the chair, just my butt).
My neck and back muscles get tired sometimes when I’m meditating cross-legged or in a chair; to stretch my neck and back, I place the palms of my hands on the top part of my upper thighs with the fingers of each hand pointing toward each other, I make fists with my hands (leaving the top part of my palms on my thighs), then I straighten my arms to push my fists against my thighs. This raises my shoulders and stretches my shoulders and back. (There’s a name for this stretch in Tibetan Buddhism, but I forget what it is.)
My third-favorite posture is lying on my back on a rug with a low cushion under my knees and a small pillow under my head. This posture only works for me after I have been meditating for a while in a sitting posture; otherwise, it’s too easy for me to fall asleep.
The only time I do walking meditation is in the middle of a session, to stretch my legs when I’ve been meditating for a while and I’m ready to shift postures. I do a slow walk around the edge of the room, taking steps slowly and deliberately, placing one foot directly in front of the other, with palms together and fingers pointed upward at heart level.
Cushions, Benches, and More
These days, I use a round meditation cushion filled with buckwheat hulls from DharmaCrafts. I’ve used a kapok-filled cushion in the past, but I find that the buckwheat hulls give me better support and allow me to adjust the height of the cushion by adding or removing hulls. I need a fairly high cushion in order to sit comfortably, and I’ve added extra hulls over time as the original hulls have compacted.
A friend of mine uses a meditation belt around his knees and lower back when sitting cross-legged for long periods of time; he says it really helps, but I haven’t tried this myself.
Just as with postures, I suggest you experiment with different types of cushions, benches, and other meditation supports to discover what types of support work best for you.
Do you have any tips on meditation posture that might be helpful for others to learn? Leave a comment to let us know!