I'd be willing to bet that a lot of you are living in the meditation misery closet- the one where you think it should be easy and amazing but it actually isn't, but because of your belief you don't own up to this or ask anyone for help. Yea, I think most of us hang out in there at some point. Frankly, not enough people share the reality of meditation and mindfulness and these misrepresentations and lack of explanations can easily turn you off because you feel like you're missing something or you're such a hot mess that even meditation can't fix you.
Today I want to discuss sitting, or I should say "hold you position your body while you meditate" because the reality is that you don't have to sit at all. Meditation is the practice of focusing one's mind to a singular point (anchor) in an effort to relieve the stress associated with mental distractions. At no point has it ever been insinuated that a meditation needs to be done in a certain position. Actually that is a lie- the "certain position" that a meditation needs to be done in is one that minimizes discomfort, but how this minimal discomfort is established is completely up to you, today (because tomorrow may be different). So how should you be when you begin meditation? In a way that maintains dignity within the body and minimizes discomfort.
Let's break this down...
Maintains Dignity- The moment I tell students to sit or stand well or with dignity everyone shifts, spines lengthen, shoulders roll back, heads lift. It's a beautiful thing to watch. A dignified position is one that allows the body to hold itself the way it is naturally intended to hold itself- without slouching or looking like you have a gun to your back.
Minimizes Discomfort- The reality twofold: first, holding a position for more than five minutes can definitely start to get uncomfortable regardless of your body, strength, etc. Second, most of us have injuries, large and small, that make life in our bodies uncomfortable at times. Thus, "being comfortable" is just not accessible to all and thus creates an illusion that may never be met, which creates its own level of stress. Telling someone to "sit comfortably" when they have a herniated disc is like telling someone to be happy when they just lost a loved one- it doesn't go over well.
Back to the meditation
Before you begin meditating, consider your body and your level of stress/distraction. What do you need right now to support your body and minimize discomfort? Beyond the iconic lotus pose, there are many options that work for the bodies that you and I have...
This is still my favorite position, though how I sit changes regularly. I like sitting because I'm upright which makes it easier for me to stay alert (aka not fall asleep).
Cross Legged - this is the way 90% of people perceive they should be meditating. It's a great way to go, but if you have hip, knee or back problems (which, like 50% of you do) then this most likely will not minimize discomfort or maximize dignity. A key way to know this is that your hips should be higher than your knees, to which you may respond with, "that's been impossible since elementary school." Agreed! If you are sitting on the ground, cross-legged, and your knees are way higher than your hips, then your pelvis is tilting forward/upward, your back is slouching backward/downward and your head, neck, shoulders are all slumping forward. Note on anatomy: everything in your body is connected together, if one area of alignment is messed up the rest are going to be affected. This is a total disaster for your body. At first it may seem like you can hold this position with dignity but I guarantee you within a few minutes your body will be as described. No dignity. Loads of discomfort. If you really want to work on cross legged then the way to work around this is to sit up on a bolster, block or pillow. You want to bring your butt to the edge of the pillow, tilting your pelvis forward, it may even feel like you're rolling off the prop. This should bring your knees down and lengthen your spine up. If you can figure this out and it feels good for you, then you are good to go!
Chair - This became my favorite go to when I stopped worrying about how I looked and started paying attention to supporting my practice. The key here is to sit in a chair that supports your body, because not all do. I often need to put a small pillow behind my lower back so that I can comfortably straighten up... most chairs don't allow you to sit into them without slouching into them. The other key is to make sure you have your feet planted on the ground, legs uncrossed.
Legs Outstretched - This was how I first learned to meditate in India, sitting on the ground with my legs outstretched, left leg crossed over right. This also works well enough but again it's important to make sure your bag is supported and the support can be maintained, a pillow behind the back may be helpful.
Note the pillow behind me in these positions. Not necessary but it helps me to sit up and drop my shoulders back
My back is wrecked at the moment so pretty much any sitting position isn't working for me, so I have been lying down to meditate for the last few days. Lying down brings a very different experience than sitting up, you can feel more of your body on the ground, you can really notice your body expanding with the breath. I have found this position to be nice when I am really wound up and need to ground, my whole body is equally weighted here unlike sitting where my lower half is heavy and my upper half feels light. The downside of lying down is obvious- it's really easy to fall asleep. One suggestion here is that if you notice yourself starting to drift off (that is a big IF) you can stretch your arms up into the air and that'll help revive you. In a laying position you have a few options...
Knees Bent and feet flat on the ground. Legs can either be straight (aka straight from hips to knees and knees to feet) or you can widen your feet and let your knees drop into each other. This tends to feel really good with lower back pain. The back is mostly flat on the ground.
Corpse Pose is when you stretch your whole body out on the ground, arms are angled down and away from body, palms face up which serves to roll the shoulders down the back which arches the spine. Legs angled out (feet falling outward) which tilts the pelvis slightly forward and again supports the arch in the spine.
There's no reason why meditation needs to be a sedentary practice. Standing is a great option if you feel too tired to successfully sit or lay down without losing consciousness. The importance of posture applies to standing as well- take time to plant your feet evenly. This means lift all ten toes and find balance on the big toe mound, little toe mound and heel, then drop your toes back down. Roll internally and externally several times until you find balance, repeat this process leaning forward and backward until you find balance. Tilt your pelvis forward and backward several times, notice how it affects your legs and back, find neutral. Lift shoulders up and relax them back and down, finding your comfortable spinal arch. Imagine there is a string attached to the top (slightly back) of your head, lifting your head up and back, tucking your chin slightly inward. VOILA a dignified standing position. I would recommend keeping eyes open for this meditation, closing them makes it easier to lose balance.
The Fidget Factor
I know I know, dignity and minimal discomfort, but as mentioned before if you are meditating for more than five minutes there is a good chance you may begin to experience some discomfort. Your mind, with laser accuracy, goes straight to the discomfort and starts to obsess over it. My recommendation is this: see if you can just be aware of the discomfort and ok with it (because it is ok that you are uncomfortable!). Sometimes if you are able to do this, your mind will get bored with your lack of response to the drama it's creating and find something else to focus on. If this doesn't happen though, JUST ADJUST. Stop worrying about the fact that you're adjusting or making noise in a quiet room or failing to meet your ideal of meditation perfection. Meditation is all about focusing, controlling and quieting the mind, if you go into panic about your body then you are no longer focused, controlled or quiet. The goal, if you need to adjust, is to adjust in a way that you are not fixating on it, just adjust, quietly and mindfully, and carry on with your practice.
Just remember, however your body is positioned, you want it to be good for YOUR body (because sitting or standing poorly can create long-term injuries, or provoke existing ones) and you want it to be as sustainable as possible for the duration of the practice. Beyond that, just let it go. All bodies are different, some are just tighter and prone to certain problems, it's not your job to judge your body, but to honor it. If I have learned anything over the years it is that injuries don't go away because you want them to. Never be afraid to use a prop, pillow, blanket or anything that helps you to get into your happy place, this is about making yourself feel good not guilty. Mindfulness is about thinking less, so think less about how you position (or move positions) and just do what feels right. What counts is that you are here, right now, practicing.
I have a Blue Lotus Buckwheat Crescent meditation cushion that I love, it is moldable and fits the shape of my hips and legs perfectly. This made a huge difference to my practice and frankly I use it all the time when I'm not meditating just to sit better.
(The only reason I am posting the specific company is because I have yet to find one like it)
Chelsea M Latham
When I was a kid my mom would occasionally refer to me as a Reverend, because I had the need to speak so passionately about just about everything. Little did she know that some day I would build a business upon sharing the wisdom that I am so passionate about. So here you go, here are some bits and bobs of thoughts strung together for your enjoyment.