Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation Posture

Sit : Love : Give

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Meditation posture workshop

Woman meditatingIt can take a lot of trial and error to find an effective meditation posture. Often we have to go through periods of discomfort before we can learn to sit comfortably.

The importance of posture, however, goes well beyond finding a way to sit comfortably, because the way we hold the body has a profound effect on the emotions and mental states that we experience. Something as subtle as the angle that you hold your chin at affects how much thinking you do. Having the wrong angle of your seat can lead to interference with the way you breathe, and can lead to feelings of tiredness or even depression.

In this section we explain how to use your body effectively in meditation, so that you can relax and at the same time develop alertness. Although relaxation and alertness may appear at first to be opposites, they can in fact coexist during a meditative state, and are characteristic of a state of mindfulness.

"Wildmind: A Step-by-Step-Guide to Meditation," by Bodhipaksa, has a complete guide to meditation techniques, including posture.

We’ll explain how it’s a myth that you need to be able to get into lotus position in order to meditate effectively. There are other ways to sit, including kneeling, and in fact you can meditate while sitting in a chair or while using a meditation bench.

It’s even possible to meditate while lying down, although the results are not usually very good for this particular posture and so it should only be used when absolutely necessary, as when there are injuries that prevent any other posture from being used.

In this posture workshop we’ll take you through the whole process of setting up your posture, including what to sit on, the importance of supporting your hands, the angle of the head, and some basic trouble-shooting tips.

We’d like to acknowledge the kindness of Windhorse Publications, who allowed us to use illustrations from Meditation: The Buddhist Way of Tranquillity and Insight, by Kamalashila (now republished as Buddhist Meditation: Tranquillity, Imagination and Insight) in this section of the site.

Use the links in the menu on the left to explore different aspects of meditation posture.

Comments

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Comment from Leonard Hewson
Time: January 18, 2008, 3:31 pm

I am looking for something online because I live in rural area and cannot find classes within a reasonable distance from home.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 20, 2008, 8:10 am

Well, we’re here! Do check out our online course listings: http://www.wildmind.org/mindworks/date.

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Comment from Joe Jayasinghe
Time: May 27, 2008, 12:35 am

We have four in our family. My son (30 years) came to me and told his work is stressful and find a way to get guidance to practice Buddhist meditation. We live in a remote area in Illinois U.S.A. and know nobody who can guide us. could you please help us. Thanks

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 27, 2008, 7:43 am

Hi Joe,

Since you’re living in a remote area it’s likely there won’t be a meditation class near you, but it’s always worth checking. I once visited a group in Quincy, for example, which isn’t a particularly large town. Sometimes meditation groups spring up in the most unlikely places!

Failing that, your son’s best bet is to get hold of a good meditation CD so that he has the benefit of guidance. With all due modesty I’d recommend my first CD, “Guided Meditations for Calmness, Awareness, and Love” which he can order from Amazon or from our store.

With a CD and the support of the materials available on this site (and the ability to ask questions about practice by using our comment forms) he would have a pretty good base of support for establishing a practice.

Of course he could go one step further and explore one of our online courses. Those are particularly useful for those who need structure and discipline, and of course there’s a teacher available to answer questions.

Good luck to you and your family.

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Comment from Annica
Time: August 29, 2008, 12:35 pm

Hallo again. I wrote to you about how I started with meditation after reading this site. I have meditate 10 minutes every morning and sometimes in the evening.
What effect does the mediation have on the blood pressure?
I have always had 135/70 and suddenly yesterday I had 95/60.
Is it okey for me continue with the meditation you think?
I feel so god when I meditate. I have been so stressed for a long time so maybe it´s a normal reaction. I don´t know
Best reguards
Annica

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 29, 2008, 1:07 pm

Hi Annica,

As you’ve found, meditation and relaxation tend to bring the blood-pressure down. This is a normal effect of the parasympathetic nervous system kicking in, causing relaxation in your peripheral blood vessels.

One woman I taught meditation to, who was monitoring her blood-pressure daily because of a medical condition, found that she had to talk to her doctor about reducing or eliminating her blood pressure medication because of this. If you’re on medication you might want to do likewise.

I’m not medically qualified to give you advice here (I used to be a veterinarian, but that was a long time ago, and anyway humans were not one of the species we studied), however, it seems you’ve gone from “high normal” to “low normal”. It doesn’t seem to be to be anything to worry about (if fact I’d see this as a good thing) but I’d confirm this with a doctor just to be on the safe side.

In the meantime, I’d suggest that you get up slowly from meditation and be careful about getting up from any seated position. It may take time for your system to adjust to a lower resting blood pressure and it would be unfortunate if you fainted because of standing up quickly. But slowing down may be something you now want to do anyway if meditating is having a beneficial effect.

That’s an interesting and significant physiological change from only 10 to 20 minutes of meditation per day.

I’d be interested to hear how you get on. Please feel free to keep in touch.

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Pingback from Getting started with meditation « Breathe
Time: January 17, 2009, 9:00 am

[...] has all kinds of free resources to help you! I suggest you start on either the Meditation Posture page or the Mindfulness of Breathing [...]

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Comment from Ron
Time: March 19, 2009, 1:12 am

I practice ceremonial magic, and an important part of my routine involves daily mediation. I used to meditate in a chair, but I find this isn’t always the most practical. I have began sitting in the seiza posture, but my knees get a little sore and my feet fall asleep. Should I be concerned about any affect this may have on my health? I’ve tried sitting crosslegged on pillows but this hurts my knees quite a bit more.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 19, 2009, 7:55 am

You don’t say whether you sit on a mat (zabuton) or not, but that should give your knees adequate protection. And if you position yourself so that the ankles are hanging off the back of the zabuton this will relieve the tension in your ankles.

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Comment from Zero
Time: April 7, 2009, 2:53 pm

Hello, I am new to Buddhism and i have no idea where to start may somone please give me a tip?
Please note I am a teen…

– Zero

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 7, 2009, 3:38 pm

Hi Zero,

It doesn’t do any harm to do some background reading and to get a sense of what kind(s) of Buddhism you’re interested in. At some point though you have to connect with other Buddhists, preferably face to face in a meditation class. There’s nothing that can beat that. There are online forums, but they often tend to attract people who like throwing their weight around and who have little practice to their name. It’s always possible to learn quite a bit about Buddhism by reading on the web, though. There’s lot of information including guided audio in our structured guides, and meditation can give you an experiential sense of what Buddhist practice is about.

I wouldn’t recommend getting too much into the original Buddhist scriptures at this point because they can just be confusing without the guidance of someone who understands where they’re coming from. But the site, accesstoinsight has a lot of good stuff and you could always see what you make of it. The Dhammapada is one of my favorite texts and you can find a couple of translations on that site.

Good luck!

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Comment from Kharka
Time: October 7, 2009, 6:43 am

I want to meditate but i can’t concerntrate on it when it is 30min or 45min my leg pains and feel sleepy as i really want to do
the meditation plez help me sir

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 7, 2009, 10:28 am

This probably is related to posture, Kharka, but without seeing you it’s impossible to know what’s going on. It may be that you need to sit a little higher, or to create more space behind the knees by rotating the calf muscles as you settle into your meditation posture. Also make sure, if you’re wearing long trousers, that the fabric is not bunched up behind your knees.

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Comment from turtledove
Time: November 24, 2009, 7:54 pm

Meditation is new for/to me. My doctor suggested looking into it since
I suffer from severe depression. Which medation can you recommend.
Hoping for a gentle way out and easing my mind.
Willing to spent time.
Thank you.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 25, 2009, 8:32 pm

Hi Turtledove,

If you have severe depression I’d suggest that you should only take up meditation under fairly close supervision. Otherwise meditation can be just another way to get caught up in making judgments about yourself. You may be able to find a course in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression in your area. I’d suggest Google to check what’s available.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from alexcarr
Time: May 21, 2010, 2:04 am

Hi there,
I would love to start to meditate regularly, but I find it extremely hard to sit up cross-legged since my body is quite stiff and not flexible at all, and so it’s difficult to completely relax. Am I going to get used to it?
Thank you very much!
Alex C

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 21, 2010, 9:12 am

Doesn’t sound like you should be sitting cross-legged, Alex. I gave up on sitting cross-legged years ago. I’d have had to put in hours of yoga every day for years to get the flexibility I’d need to sit comfortably that way. I’d suggest you try out some of the other ways of sitting recommended in this posture workshop.

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Comment from DavidR
Time: July 9, 2010, 6:37 am

Hi,
I’m new to meditation and I have this issue I hope someone can help me with. I find it really difficult to concentrate on my breath and breathe natrually at the same time. Each time I try to meditate my heart rate rises and start feeling uncomfortable, I talked about this to a friend that practices yoga and she says it’s probably hiperventilation.
thank you!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 10, 2010, 4:45 pm

Hi David,

Your friend is probably right.

You might want to take a read of this article: http://www.wildmind.org/mindfulness/one/breath-control. We’ve all had problems at times with controlling the breath, and this is what worked for me.

You could also check out the peripheral vision exercise that you’ll find embedded as a video on the following page: http://www.wildmind.org/applied/stress/meditation-for-the-very-very-busy

I suspect both of these might be helpful.

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Pingback from Meditation 101 « How to Live Buddhiciously
Time: September 11, 2010, 1:11 am

[...] Wildmind Buddhist meditation – Meditation for Beginners: listen to “Improving Our Relationship with Others” – [...]

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Comment from Shakya
Time: September 16, 2010, 12:34 pm

Hi,
I used to meditate may be some five years but now I want to start again and also I have started meditating when I have some free time. Before when I used to meditate I used to have this sensation of my body heating up or lets say my body gets heated up. I learned meditation from one of the meditation classes here we had. So what did I have those feelings? Also now when I meditate I do not have that feeling. Why is that so…

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 16, 2010, 12:46 pm

To be honest I don’t know for sure why you experienced warmth, but those kinds of things aren’t uncommon. It could be that you were relaxing and your peripheral blood vessels were opening up. That would be my best guess.

As for why you’re not having the same experiences now, this is also quite common. It often happens that people have a desire or expectation to recreate a particular experience, and that attitude of grasping is often enough to prevent real relaxation from taking place. The original experience probably happened because there was an absence of grasping and of expectation. This is why they talk about ‘beginners’ mind.” Oddly, beginners’ mind will reappear as you continue meditating and as you learn to let go of your expectations.

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Comment from Shakya
Time: September 16, 2010, 9:16 pm

Thank you very much for your kind reply.

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Comment from ursula clyde
Time: September 30, 2010, 7:00 am

i find it very hard to still my thoughts and be positive i am usually tired and fall asleep when meditate i am never even sure how to meditate i would like to feel calm most times not allowing the small things to blow out of context

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 30, 2010, 9:19 pm

Hi Ursula,

If you’re not sure how to meditate, I’d suggest getting hold of a guided meditation CD or MP3. There are many places you can get these, but of course we have some on our store. We only stock meditations we think are effective: http://shop.wildmind.org/home.php

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Comment from Simon
Time: October 9, 2010, 11:53 am

The reason you may be having different experiences second time round is due to your mind rejecting the control you are attempting to exert over it through meditation. The mind will play tricks on you by giving you different experiences that you need to put to oneside in order to achieve the same level of enlightenment as you achieved previously. Try looking through your feelings (such as anxiety in this case). Have fun.

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Comment from Rick
Time: December 17, 2010, 9:25 am

I don’t understand this site. I get short partial articles that end and I see no way to find the rest of the articles!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 17, 2010, 9:42 am

Hin, Rick. There’s a menu on the left side, under a large, orange heading “Meditation Posture.” Click on those links and you’ll be taken to other articles in the series on meditation posture.

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Pingback from Popcorn Calm: Two Hot Buttered Resources for Friday Self-care (On A Sunday) | The Circus Serene
Time: March 6, 2011, 12:03 pm

[...] if you aren’t an expert in meditation, I highly recommend Wildmind’s free Meditation Posture Workshop before you begin. It solved several issues for me.  There are tons of other valuable free [...]

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Comment from Taya
Time: March 8, 2011, 8:38 am

HI.,
Ive always had an intrest of being a buddhist, but ive been raised in a christian home and am pretty afraid of what will be thought of me. all thou i dont believe in the christian god i have always found a better connection with buddhist ways. anyway the main reason im saying this is ive found myself angry all the time and i chanted once and it was good. now im ready to be enlighten. but im plus size and may have some discomfort. so my question is how can i do a posture that comfortable to me?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 8, 2011, 12:11 pm

Hi, Taya.

Without knowing you or seeing you it’s impossible to know what posture would work for you. It’s not just a question of your size, but also of your degree of flexibility. What meditation postures have you tried, and which have/haven’t worked for you?

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Comment from Claire
Time: April 7, 2011, 9:30 pm

I am thinking of attending your retreat at Omega this summer. Will there be Yoga and meditation sessions?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 7, 2011, 11:17 pm

Hi, Claire.

There will definitely be meditation sessions, although yoga is not my thing.

I hope you can come!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from rani
Time: September 4, 2011, 1:40 pm

Last week my mother fainted while she was meditating, this week my father fainted while he was meditating. Any reasons for this?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 4, 2011, 1:45 pm

You know, I’ve heard of this happening. Although it seems to be rare, some people have a tendency to feel dizzy or faint while meditating. I’m not in a position to know why, but meditating lowers your blood pressure, and it may be that in some people that happens too quickly, or they already have low blood pressure, or they go from having high blood pressure to normal blood pressure and their systems can’t adapt. Do you know if either of your parents was meditating in hot conditions, or if they had the lower half of the body kept warm by a blanket?

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Comment from k.v.narendran
Time: January 18, 2012, 9:55 am

i want to start meditation.can i do it without going to the meditation centre?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 18, 2012, 10:10 am

Absolutely. We have plenty of meditation instruction on this site that you can follow.

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Comment from kees
Time: January 26, 2012, 3:02 am

Hello, which DVD’s or CD’s would be the best to start with as a beginner, I had a look at the online shop but was unsure where to start.

Thankyou

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 26, 2012, 8:32 am

I’d suggest starting with this one: http://shop.wildmind.org/product.php?productid=1

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Comment from LAUREN
Time: April 8, 2012, 3:16 am

and these are excellent cushions for sitting cross legged. they support your back properly and stop your legs from going numb.

http://moonleap.com/shop/meditation_cushions

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Comment from Shala
Time: June 13, 2012, 4:23 pm

This meditation posture workshop is so very helpful! (The humor here & there is fun too:)

I’ve been meditating for a long, but this proved to be a good review, & has improved my meditation. Thank YOU!

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Comment from Amit
Time: June 21, 2012, 2:11 pm

Dear Bodhipaska,

I am disappointed that u gave up on sitting cross-legged years ago. When i started sitting cross-legged in meditation, my legs and lower body used to pain like hell after even 5-10 mins. But now after practicing for about 10years (though not daily and mainly irregularly) i sit in lotus posture for 1 hour at a stretch without feeling the slightest pain. Sometimes i even wish that intense pain should come again!! nowadays i get up from meditation because my mind gets bored and not because of physical discomfort or pain.
The technique i wanted to share with you and all others is that when the intense madding pain comes- just observe it neutrally instead of wanting it to go away instantly. It maybe difficult at that moment of intense pain but slowly and gradually the pain will go away and totally disappear. This is my personal experience

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 22, 2012, 2:59 pm

Hi, Amit.

My problem with sitting cross-legged is not primarily one of pain, but one of lack of flexibility. Even since I was a child my body was very stiff, and I simply can’t get my legs into a cross-legged position. Even after several years of yoga I never got to the point where I was even close to sitting cross-legged.

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Comment from Amit
Time: July 14, 2012, 1:49 pm

I only wanted to share my experience. Please do not take my comment in any other way. I wish Bodhipaksa and all other meditators speedy progress in their meditational experience

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Comment from Rosemary
Time: December 28, 2012, 2:02 pm

I, on the other hand, wish to thank you for being candid about not sitting cross-legged.

I am in the same situation. I had hip surgery as an infant and have never been able to sit cross-legged my entire life. Now I have a metal hip prosthesis and my doctors warn me against dislocating it. Also, my body is not proportioned like many meditators, with a long trunk, proportionately short legs, and even shorter arms.

For decades I’ve made sporadic attempts to meditate but would run into the roadblock of my body being unable to do what teachers said was essential. If it wasn’t sitting cross-legged, it was assuming postures that were so awkward and difficult for me, they gave me a charley horse.

It’s not healthy for any path to require or glorify masochism. I’m so glad meditation teachers are finally realizing that not everyone has a perfect, and perfectly-proportioned, body.

I just bought your “Guided Meditations” from audible dot com. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks again.

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Comment from Norman MacArthur
Time: January 29, 2013, 2:42 pm

I find the half lotus posture very effective, I’m able to practice with awareness for longer periods, although I find that I can’t sit in this position for long (probably not flexible enough) so I normally sit in a chair instead. This posture is the most comfortable and relaxing, but I’m getting an ache in the upper back normally around 20 minutes into the practice, it’s very distracting. Could this mean the seats back legs are not high enough? Would appreciate help with this, thanks.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 29, 2013, 4:11 pm

It’s hard to say without seeing your posture and without knowing what you mean by “upper back.” If you have knots of tense muscles between your shoulder blades, for example, this would tend to suggest that your hands need to be supported higher. When the arms drag forward, those muscles tense to keep the back straight, and they very quickly become sore. If that’s not where you’re experiencing the pain, let me know. And if you find this kind of advice helpful, please consider making a donation to our Sit : Love : Give appeal. We spend a lot of time responding to requests for advice :)

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Comment from Norman MacArthur
Time: January 29, 2013, 4:32 pm

It’s not between the shoulder blades as they feel fairly relaxed, it’s occurring a few inches under the blades and is more central around the spine area, and tends to feel like a stretching ache. Thanks very much for all the feedback, I’ll be more than happy to make a donation.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 29, 2013, 6:53 pm

Hmm. I don’t think I’m understanding your description. To me, a few inches below your shoulder blades (i.e. in the direction of your “tail”) is well below the “upper back” area. I’m including a picture here that shows the position of the shoulder blades. Can you let me know if your pain is closer to A, B, or C?

shoulder blades

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Comment from Norman MacArthur
Time: January 29, 2013, 7:18 pm

hmm. I just had a short meditation session there and I would say closer to A than anywhere else. Perhaps I haven’t described it so well and it could shoulder tension after all.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 29, 2013, 7:27 pm

Well, it’s hard to tell from the inside where the shoulder blades are :)

The pain being in that area and being on either side of the spine certainly suggests to me that you need to have your hands supported higher in order to take the weight off of your shoulders and upper back. I’d guess that like me you’re moderately tall or have a long back? Of you may (also like me) just be a bit stiff. You might want to try having your hands supported slightly above belly-button level, perhaps with a scarf tied around your waist, or have your hands resting on a cushion laid in your lap (although this is less secure and the hands tend to pull away from the body).

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Comment from Norman MacArthur
Time: January 29, 2013, 7:40 pm

I’m not actually sure how tall I am, It’s around 5.5/5.6 but this sounds helpful, I’ll give it a try. I’m using an office chair, should the back of it be adjusted at all? I think this one is titled slightly forward. Could this be an issue? Thanks very much Bodhipaksa.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 29, 2013, 8:02 pm

If you mean that the seat of the chair slopes down toward the front, then that’s good. Most chair seats actually slope down toward the back, which encourages slumping. But the way you sit on the seat has a big effect on your posture. Next time you sit on it, bend forward from the waist until you’re more or less lying on your thighs, then wiggle your behind back as far as you can until it’s lightly touching the seat back. Then sit up, and you should be able to sit upright without leaning backward against the seat-back.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 30, 2013, 3:25 am

Actually, it strikes me that since you’re not tall, the problem is more likely to be due to you sitting in a way that’s causing you to slump, and then you’re using your back muscles to haul yourself into a more upright position.

The slumping might be due to the chair, or due to the way you’re sitting on it. It’s not possible for me to know without seeing how you sit.

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Comment from Norman MacArthur
Time: February 6, 2013, 4:59 pm

Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been trying various adjustments to the posture, today I tried raising the back legs a just a bit more and this seemed to help, my hands were more supported giving way to more relaxation in the shoulders. Still a slight ache in the back though, think i’m getting there =)

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 6, 2013, 6:34 pm

I’m glad that helped, even if there’s still some discomfort. I can tell a lot from photographs, if you can get me pics of yourself in meditation, from the front and side.

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Pingback from How I Meditate | Mindful Parenting | Unwind your Mind and Get Creative!
Time: April 6, 2013, 4:03 pm

[...] – Wildmind.org has a great section on good postures for meditation. [...]

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Comment from Amy
Time: April 7, 2013, 10:39 am

Hello! Forgive me if this issue has been addressed elsewhere; I have done an internet search on my particular problem and can’t seem to find anything. It is regarding posture and ease of breathing.

My “normal” posture is the typical American slouch. I notice that when I do sitting meditation with good posture (cross-legged on a flat surface, spine straight, sitting on a zafu pillow to tilt my pelvis), I find it more difficult to breathe smoothly and easily because my ab/core muscles are more engaged to maintain my posture, and I feel like I am consciously having to push my breath in and out using my ab muscles if I want to get anything more than the shallowest breath. If I go back to a slouching position my breathing becomes almost effortless (I’m guessing because my muscles are used to that position), but I realize that isn’t the best for focus and concentration. I’m wondering if you’ve heard of others having this issue, and whether it is something that will improve with time as my body adjusts to the new position and my core muscles develop more strength?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 8, 2013, 12:59 pm

It’s very hard to comment without seeing your posture, Amy. You’re probably sitting at the wrong height, since your core shouldn’t need to be clamped tight while sitting.

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Comment from Amy
Time: April 9, 2013, 6:38 am

Thanks. I’ll keep working at it.

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Comment from jignesh vyas
Time: June 20, 2013, 4:09 am

Why faint ? When i meditation pls reply me?thanks

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 20, 2013, 8:13 am

You may have low blood pressure. Have you seen a doctor?

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Comment from Chris
Time: January 29, 2014, 9:41 pm

Hi,
I am trying to start a daily meditation practice and am sitting cross legged on the floor. I sit against the wall. Maybe that is the problem because my upper back hurts. I’m trying to keep my back straight, maybe too straight in this case. What do you think?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 30, 2014, 12:52 pm

I’d imagine that if you’re having to sit with your back against a wall you just don’t have enough flexibility to sit cross-legged, and so it’s putting a strain on your back muscles. I’d suggest finding a kneeling posture, either on cushions or a bench.

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Comment from Gregor
Time: July 18, 2014, 10:51 am

Hello Bodhipaksa,
is there any benefit to sitting in a full lotus position, if a person is able to hold it? I read somewhere that meditating in a full lotus position for 20 minutes equals to 4 hours of meditating in any other posture, however exaggerated it seems.
Thank you.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 18, 2014, 10:59 pm

It’s a very stable posture, but I don’t think there’s any benefit beyond that.

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