5 Meditation Postures: What to Do With Your Body

 

I sat on the ground, painfully squirming in my seat. It was 2007, and my first 13 hour meditation retreat as part of my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training in Minnesota.

I was cold and then hot, peaceful and then agitated, glad I was there and miserable at the same time.

I looked around and everyone else seemed like picture-perfect buddhas sitting there all still and calm.

What was wrong with me? Why was my body fighting me?

For a while, I forced myself to sit anyway — like I had to be strong, but now I know better.

Trying to sit still when it’s physically painful? Feet falling asleep? “When will this be over?” Sigh.

I bet you also know what this is like.

 

Ever wonder what to do with your body in meditation?

We'll take a look at five posture options for meditation or awareness practices. 

Whether you're troubleshooting your practice or starting completely from scratch, you'll want to set up the fundamental conditions before you practice.

Choosing the appropriate posture, you'll meet yourself where you're at and where you want to go — giving your body the framework in which to settle into.

You'll support yourself and become more able to enjoy meditation.

It was a life saver when finally a teacher told me to just lie on my back, do some breathing and practice surrender. This was not what I was used to. I didn't think it was enough. But to my delight, and over time, my experience began to reflect one sutras commentary: "My body has become like a void dissolving itself into infinite space and I am the wide expanse of the sky."

This can happen if we align ourself in the right posture. Ask what you need to cultivate more of and you take your posture intelligently.

I mean...mind your knees and ankles and stuff. But also I urge you to consider the important aspects underscoring each posture. It's as much about your physical body as your inner body and mental state while you're there.

 

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The chosen posture for practice needs to be steady, stable and comfortable.
— yoga sutra 2.46

 

Posture #1

Supported Sūkhāsana | comfortable

This is simple crossed-legged seated pose that is most suitable for all people and with approriate propping, this will be fine for nearly everyone. 

Due to the neutral position of this pose, it has the possibility to release entire body's tension, breathing may become slow and subtle, and by quieting the mind it promotes meditation.

 sūkhāsana

sūkhāsana

How To:

1. Sit with whole seat on at least two folded blankets. {See image}

2. Feet on the ground {not on the blankets}, tuck feet into a crossed legged position, so that the sole of each foot us under the calf of the opposite leg

3. Prop body as needed so that knees and hips are level and spine is upright and relaxed. {Note: If hypermobile, roll a blanket to support under the knees}

4. Hands can rest in the lap or on the thighs, in a mudra or "just put your hands someplace and forget about them." -Swami Dayananda Saraswati

5. Sit with body and spine relaxed and neutral but upright for 3 minutes to 3 hours

 

Posture #2

Supported Svāstikāsana | auspicious

This is a physically stable, seated position for concentration, alertness, pratyahara {inward turing of the mind and senses}.

Nādī points {acupuncture points} at the back of the thighs are stimulated, which directs energy upward along the spinal column, plunging the practitioner into the inner experience of deep meditation more readily than other poses. 

How To:

1. Sit on buttocks {on floor or blankets}

 svāstikāsana

svāstikāsana

2. Bring feet into a crossed legged position so that the sole of each foot touches or is "lined up with" the opposite inner thigh

3. Prop body so that knees and hips are level and spine is upright and relaxed

4. Sit with body and spine relaxed and neutral but upright for 3 minutes to 3 hours

*Side note: This posture looks a lot like Siddhāsana, where the feet intersect on the ground with both heels just in front of the pelvis. I used to think it was my "good yogi seat" until I learned that it's for celibacy and will throw off sexual energy later!

 

Posture #3

Supported Sthambhāsana | firm

This is a seated pose for a straight spine, firm mind and is a good beginner's meditation posture. Bonus points for helping you improve awareness of your own posture. 

This was my personal go-to for many years, as here I found the ability for my back to be upright, yet at ease.

It's a very physically stable pose that supports healthy digestion after meals and can relieve constipation. It promotes mental strength and resolve, clarity, self-confidence and decision making. 

How To:

1. From a hands and knees position, with toenails on floor, walk your knees and feet together

 sthambhāsana

sthambhāsana

2. Keep your knees together as you sit your buttocks down on to the soles of your feet. If possible, with your toes touching, allow your heels to separate until they angle out towards the side of your hips {your feet creating a cradle for your seat}

3. If uncomfortable...add propping:

a} One rolled blanket between heels {under buttocks} or

b} Two stacked rolled blankets under seat and one folded blanket under lower leg with feet "dripping off the back" to take pressure off the ankles

4. Sit firmly with your head in line with your spine and shoulders relaxed

 

Posture #4

Chair

 chair meditation

chair meditation

For chronic or acute back or knee pain, a chair may be the best option. The previous postures can be approached overtime with yoga therapy experience. 

How To:

1. Sit on a stable and steady chair with your feet touching the ground {prop if necessary}

2. Make sure that knees are not much higher than hips.

3. Lift your back away from the back rest and find an inner lift to the spine

When we're seated, the torso is upright and vertical while legs are at a horizontal angle, this promotes a combination of relaxation and alertness and is beneficial for awareness, meditation and study. 

 

Posture #5

 śavāsana | Reclined

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, this one removes tiredness and enables the mind {and whole body} to relax. Architecturally, the horizontal supported posture generates deep, profound rest. It's used to slip into pratyahara {inward turning of the mind and senses}, it's the ideal position for cultivating yoga nidra {yogic sleep} state.

Here it's possible to resolve deep seated emotional and mental struggles. This is the one for anyone who is exhausted or ill to increase prāṇa, joy and healing.

This posture could provide a head-heart alignment that is ideal in seated meditation and is not unique to any particular style of yoga. Ultimately, we want to take this head-heart alignment from lying down positions into seated and standing positions.

How To:

1. Lie on your back with a blanket or rug beneath you

  śavāsana

śavāsana

2. Elevate your legs on the seat of a chair, couch or any firm and stable support. Support legs all the way to the back of the knees

3. Leg bones aligned side-by-side, there will be a slight, natural, outward rotation of the thighs

4. Support the head on a firm support such as a folded towel or blanket {not a soft pillow} high enough as needed so that head is not tipped back

5. Arms either elbows bent, hands on abdomen or arms by your side 7-12 inches from the torso and open with palms facing the ceiling

 

Looking back at my meditation journey, I find it interesting that my body chose the "firm" posture, Sthambhāsana — which is also sometimes referred to as a lightening bolt. It was the inner attitude with which I was approaching meditation, reflected in my choice.

Transitioning to a different posture brought a new inner attitude — a welcomed contrast to my disciplined pushing.

 

 
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali refers to a state of mind when the thought fluctuations have settled — revealing a clear and transparent jewel.
  Allison Kunath

 

The classical commentaries expand on this metaphor, comparing this consciousness to a crystal that appears to change it’s properties based on the object placed next to it. This is how what we concentrate on assimilates and becomes part of our experience. 

The subtleties of the posture itself become the benefits you experience. So choose your position based on what seems right at this moment.

Consider what your object of focus is. If it's to take a freaking load off, then lie down according to the instructions. Maybe some of us are sitting more and more. Maybe we'll sometimes carry the practice into standing postures...into walking postures...and into relationship postures. 

Go ahead and make an investment in your practice by consciously choosing your seat, then stock your practice space with the props you need for practice.

Try any of these postures! See if you notice subtle differences, or simply choose the one that you can do — your needs may change too. 

May you benefit greatly in all the ways you need.

In Support,

Lauren