How to Sit: The Importance of Posture

May 29, 2021

When you hear the word “meditation,” what image comes to your mind? For many, it will be the image of someone sitting cross-legged with a peaceful expression on their face. This image that is associated with meditation points to an important aspect of the practice—our physical posture.

While meditation is primarily a mental activity, the body and mind are intimately connected, and we cannot really separate the two. Having a good meditation posture greatly supports our meditation practice.

Why Posture Is Important

The primary reasons for having a proper posture have to do with our body, our mind, and our energy. Physically, having a stable posture supports you and allows you to focus less on your physical body as you investigate your mind. Mentally, it brings a certain quality of attentiveness and alertness that are supportive for meditation practice. Energetically, it allows the energy in our body to flow more freely.

This last point is emphasized by many advanced practitioners. According to the Himalayan traditions of India and Tibet, we have numerous channels (nadis) in our body through which our life energy (chi, prana, ki, etc.) flows. When our spine is straight and our body relaxed, it allows this energy to flow more harmoniously, and this supports our meditation practice.

The Way You Sit Is Your Choice

The way that we choose to sit for practice is often personal and depends on many factors, such as one’s interest, one’s physical health and capabilities, or what one feels most comfortable doing. Many people feel uncomfortable sitting at first, and often prefer to lay down instead. This is perfectly acceptable, and it is much better to lay down and meditate than to not meditate at all, but there is a reason why meditation is often taught seated, and has been practiced in this way for thousands of years.

If you find that you resist the practice of seated meditation, I invite you to give the practice another try, and to try it out for a few weeks. Notice what the resistance is that arises in you, and what your relationship to your body is. Focusing on regular stretching can also make the seated posture more comfortable.

What is shared in this article is a traditional seated posture that supports meditation practice by giving us reference points, so we can feel confident in how we are sitting, and the body becomes less of a distraction to meditation practice. However, your practice is your practice, so find a posture that works best for you.

The Seven-Pointed Posture

The traditional posture that is taught is known as the seven-pointed posture, and as the name implies, there are seven points of reference:

  1. Legs

If possible, sit with your legs crossed in the full lotus position. In this position, each foot is placed, sole upward, on the thigh of the opposite leg. This position is difficult to achieve, but one can train the body to do so over time. This position gives the best support to the body and mind. However, it is not essential. An alternative position is the half-lotus position where one foot is on the floor under the opposite leg and the other foot is on top of the opposite thigh. A third alternative is simply sitting in a cross-legged position with both feet resting on the floor under the opposite thighs.

Sitting on a firm cushion raises the hips higher than the knees and can make it easier to sit with a straight spine. It can also help you to sit for longer periods of time without having your feet and legs fall asleep or get uncomfortable sensations. If sitting on a cushion on the floor is not possible, one can use a low meditation bench. It is also perfectly acceptable to meditate while sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. The most important thing is to find a suitable position in which you are able to be comfortable.

  1. Arms

Hold your hands loosely in your lap, right hand resting in the palm of your left, palms upward, thumbs lightly touching, forming the shape of a teardrop, or flame. This is known as the cosmic mudra, and it is a hand gesture symbolizing openness and a readiness to receive. It also has a practical use. When your thumbs are lightly touching, it acts as a reference point, for if you begin to lose your focus, your thumbs will likely separate. So, whenever they separate, you can notice you lost your attention and return to the original hand posture.

Your hands should be resting about 2–3 inches below the navel, and your shoulders and arms should be relaxed. Allow a bit of space between your arms and your body to allow air to circulate. This helps to prevent sleepiness during meditation. Alternatively, one can simply sit with the hands on the lap or knees, or in any other meditation mudra.

  1. Back

Your back is the most important point. It should be straight, held relaxed and upright, as if the vertebrae were a stack of blocks effortlessly resting in a pile. This helps your energy to flow freely and contributes greatly to the clarity and alertness of your mind in meditation.

  1. Eyes

There are many different opinions about what to do with your eyes. Some traditions state firmly that the eyes should remain open, others say they should be half open, while others say they should always be closed. When the eyes are closed, it narrows our focus, but there is a tendency toward sluggishness, sleep, or daydreaming. When the eyes are open it helps us to remain alert and present, but it is easier to get distracted. My suggestion is that you play around with both and see what works best for you. However, it is recommended not to switch between the two during a single session, but to try the eyes open for one whole session, and the eyes closed for another whole session. If you switch back and forth in a single session it could be distracting.

  1. Jaw and Mouth

Your jaw and mouth should be relaxed with your teeth slightly apart, not clenched, lips lightly touching.

  1. Tongue

Your tongue should rest lightly on your upper palate, with the tip lightly touching the back of the upper teeth. This reduces the flow of saliva and the need to swallow. These automatic bodily actions can be hindrances to deepening your concentration as they can become distractions.

  1. Head

Your head should be just slightly inclined forward so that your gaze is directed naturally toward the floor in front of you. If your chin is held too high, you may have problems with mental wandering and distraction. If you drop your head too far forward, this can bring mental dullness or sleepiness.

Having a point of reference for the posture, such as the seven-pointed posture, gives us a foundation for our practice. Without this foundation, it can be easy to get distracted. You may be sitting in meditation and wondering to yourself, “what do I do with my tongue?”, or “what position should I place my hands in?” To prevent the body from being a distraction, a point of reference for our posture is very helpful.

After settling into the posture, take some time to feel your body in this position. How does your body feel? How does your mind feel? Can you find the balance between a straight spine and a relaxed body?

Have Good Posture, But Don’t Be Too Rigid

While having a good posture is important, it is not something you need to be too strict about. When instructing a musician on the right amount of effort needed in meditation, the Buddha asked, “what happens when you tune your instrument too tightly?”

 "The strings break,” the musician replied.

And what happens when you string it too loosely?

When it’s too loose, no sound comes out,” the musician answered. “The string that produces a tuneful sound is not too tight and not too loose.

That,” said the Buddha, “is how to practice: not too tight and not too loose.

This is known as the middle way, and is excellent advice for meditation practice. For if we are too tight, we struggle, strain and wear ourselves out. But if we are too loose, too relaxed, we lose our focus. Allow yourself to be attentive, yet relaxed in your practice.

If you'd like to learn more about meditation, our Introduction to Meditation course is a great place to start.


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