Mar 03, 2012
How to meditate lying on your side
I have a vertebra that tends to slip out of alignment. Regular visits to my chiropractor keep it in place and prevent too much discomfort, but when I’m on retreat my back sometimes gets so painful that I have to lie down to meditate.
When I first had to do this on retreat, the posture that was suggested was the Alexander semi-supine position, where you lie on the back, with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor, and the head raised on a cushion.
This is comfortable, but it’s very hard to stay alert in this position, and I’d tend to fall asleep. Even if I didn’t fall asleep my head would feel fuzzy. Recently I’ve been experimenting with a more traditional — and badly neglected — approach.
Oddly, very few people seem to try meditating lying on their side, even though images of the Buddha doing this are abundant. This may be because the Buddha passed away while meditating on his side, and when people see statues depicting this posture they don’t think “that’s the Buddha meditating on his side” but “that’s the Buddha dying.” So the connection between this posture and meditation tends to get lost.
The Buddha didn’t lie down this way only when he was dying. He lay down like this often when he was meditating. In fact this is how he advised monks to go to sleep, so that they could be mindful right up to the last moment. So this is a meditation posture in which the Buddha happened to die, not a special posture for Buddhas to die in!
Actually the Parinirvana (death) statues and the meditation statues are different. In death, the Buddha’s hand is no longer supporting his head. In the image above you can see that the Buddha is clearly alive!
This is actually quite a comfortable posture to meditate in. I’ve used this when I’ve been sick, or when I’ve wanted to meditate at the end of the day and have felt physically exhausted. Here are some basic pointers:
- Lie on your right side.
- You’ll need to have some cushioning under the whole body. You can lie on a mattress or a couple of zabutons (meditation mats) laid end-to-end or even a folded blanket or two.
- The left arm rests on top of the body.
- The right elbow rests on the floor, with the hand supporting the head.
- The knees should be slightly bent. Bend the upper knee a little more than the lower knee so that there isn’t undue pressure between your ankles and between your knees.
- You’ll need to have a cushion under your right armpit or upper chest, to take some of your body’s weight.
- The pressure of your hand on your head may cause discomfort, so you’ll probably need to move your hand from time to time. Be aware of the intension to move, and be mindful of the movements themselves.
- If you have neck problems this posture is not recommended, but for most back problems it should be fine.
- Someone on Facebook said that she found this a good way to meditate during her pregnancy, and that she’d meditated lying on her side for six months. But (see the comments below) it’s probably a good idea for pregnant women to lie on the left, rather than the right, side.
In this position you’re far less likely to fall asleep compared to when you lie on your back, and it’s easier to maintain a sense of mental clarity.
Is this a posture you’re tried out? Have any advice? Please feel free to leave a comment below.