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Meditation Posture

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Meditation Posture: Body Awareness and Relaxation

MeditateBeing aware of your body in meditation is vital.

It’s not something separate from the meditation, and is not an optional extra. It’s an integral part of the process of meditating, and it’s necessary to spend some time setting up your posture and taking your awareness through your body if you want to meditate well.

The more awareness that you can take into your body as you begin your meditation, the better your meditation will go. Otherwise it’s a bit like trying to bake a cake without bothering to mix the ingredients first, and without checking to see that the oven is warm enough.

Set up your posture

After you have set up your posture (see previous pages), feel free to take your awareness through your body.

Body awareness and relaxation

Here’s a recording that will help you develop more awareness of the body:

Start by becoming aware of your feet, and with the contact you have with the floor. Really let your awareness fill your feet. The more you become aware of your feet, the more you can allow them to relax. Let the muscles soften and lengthen.

Once you’ve done that for a minute or two, take your awareness from your feet through the rest of your body, “letting go” as you move through all the different muscles. Become aware of your legs, your thighs, your hips, your back, your shoulders, your arms and hands, your neck, your head and face. When you become aware of a particular area of your body, then soften, relax, let go.

Notice the subtle change in the quality of your experience as you first become aware, and then relax. Often you’ll notice more energy, or tingling, or even feelings of pleasure, as your body relaxes.

Pay particular attention to the following parts of your body, where lots of tension is commonly stored:

  • The back of the neck
  • The shoulders
  • The hips
  • The thighs and calves
  • The jaw
  • The muscles around the eyes
  • The brow

Once you’ve gone through your entire body, area by area, become aware of your body as a whole.

Then center your awareness on your belly, sensing the calming, rhythmic motion of your belly as you breathe in and out.

Relax, soften, let go. Now you’re ready to begin meditating. Actually you’ve already begun.

Comments

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Comment from Ganapathy Raman
Time: December 31, 2007, 11:19 pm

It is a very good reading for those who want to start meditation… I am also one of those who want to initiate myself for meditation… Hope I can take on the valid points mentioned for carrying out the mediation…

Thanks once again for the valuable tips/points and references…

Wish U All A Bright and Prosperous New Year 2008..

God Bless U all…

Ganapathy Raman
Chennai, India

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Comment from Owen
Time: July 6, 2008, 2:25 am

Hello Bodhipaksa,

Thank-you for this introduction to meditation. As I have no one to ask I have a few questions of you to see if I am engaging correctly. I have meditated once a day for four days now. I use your audio stream above two times in a row and then continue to sit for about 30 minutes total.

By the end of the second round I can feel waves of what might be called relaxation travelling parts of my body in what can best be described as resulting in numbness. When I get these sensations my body feels slightly numb and responds slowly when I go to move. This is not the gone-to-sleep numb that a foot might get. I am wondering if this is a state I should be trying to achieve as I seem to be able to get here more quickly each time. Or is this a result of bad posture.

During this morning’s session I had a strange sensation. When I was trying to be aware of my body as a whole I had a sensation were I felt like I had been rung like a bell. Waves of the above relaxation travelled down my core and out each appendage only to reflected back inwards. For a moment I felt as if I was resonating. Is this something I should be looking to reproduce?

This leads me to a final question, is the focus of meditation to be aware of the parts of your body as in the above audio, or is it to follow these other sensations as they arise? A friend suggested I try meditation as a way to focus. Am I being distracted in my pursuit of other sensations?

Thank-you for introducing me to this gift,

Owen

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 6, 2008, 1:14 pm

Hi Owen,

I’d appreciate you saying more about what you mean by “numb”. I had a couple of students years ago who talked about a kind of “numbness” that they took to be a good sign, and I could never get clarification about what they meant. “Numb” means lacking in feeling, and you say you’re feeling waves of sensation, so I’m not sure what you’re describing, exactly.

The general sense I get though, is that these are encouraging signs. The sense you get of the sensation that was like being rung like a bell sounds very much like what we call a nimitta, which is a sensation that arises when the mind is becoming concentrated. At a certain level of stillness and concentration the mind often finds an alternative object of concentration that you can switch your attention to. Sometimes this alternative object is an image, or it can be a sound, or it can be a physical sensation as in your case.

This, as I’ve mentioned, is a good sign, and it’s a good idea to pay attention to it — without getting excited. Getting excited about it and grasping after the sensations undoes the stillness you’ve given rise to.

Trying to make these sensations happen is also counterproductive. You didn’t make them happen in the first place — they just arose spontaneously as you became still and concentrated — and trying to recreate the sensations will actually cause disturbances in the mind that will prevent you from becoming still.

So appreciate the sensations when they are present, and pay attention to them, but don’t try to make something happen.

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Comment from Owen
Time: July 10, 2008, 6:47 pm

Hello Bodhipaksa,

In response to your inquiry about my sensation of numbness.

I have followed and given attention to this sensation over the last week of meditations. In retrospect, the sensation of “numbness” might better be described as “stillness”. For me it is the withdrawing of movement (at least conscious movement) resulting in the quieting or stilling of the body that gives the sensation.

As mentioned before I follow your audio stream through twice. On the first pass I tense and then relax the muscles in each body area as you bring my attention to it. I wiggle my toes, one at a time (if that is possible), arch the foot, and so on. On the second pass my tensing is imperceptible. By now the body is very relaxed and I focus my thoughts on the muscle groups and what it felt like to move them, but never actually moving the body part.

Most of my sensation is on my skin. On the first pass I might feel an air current across my leg, or the need to itch. By the end of the second pass the skin gives little to no sensory response. If anything it feels “dry”. This is what gave rise to the term numb.

On a body part by body part basis (i.e. feet, lower legs, etc.) I do not get sensations of energy, or heat, or tingling coming in after the relaxation. It is only once my complete body is stilled that I get the waves of “relaxation”. The feeling is euphoric. I would term these body waves, as no sensation occurs on the skin. The waves seem to flow from the core outwards in anywhere from one to five waves at a time. No sensation of tingling or heat or energy. I call them waves of “relaxation” as my body seems to let go with each wave and become less tense as if the sub-conscious muscle tensing is let go.

Owen

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 24, 2008, 8:03 am

Hi Owen,

Apologies for the belated reply. I’ve been rather busy in the last couple of weeks.

What you describe all sounds good. You’re doing a very thorough body scan, especially with going over the whole body twice. I don’t think I quite get what you’re talking about with the numbness or “stillness” in the skin, but individual experiences do vary, so it might just be that my system behaves differently in meditation than your does. But what you describe sounds wholesome!

The waves of relaxation that you’re experiencing within the body are a good sign. The technical term for these is priti (Pali: piti) and it’s often translated as “rapture.” Often priti is accompanied with a deep sense of happiness, which is technically called “sukha” (same in both Pali and Sanskrit). Both are a sign of developing stillness and concentration.

It’s important simply to accept these experiences as normal, and not to get excited about them. In other words we accept them with equanimity, without clinging to them. Sometimes people get all worked up and excited that something is happening in meditation, and want to make something happen by, for example, trying to prolong the experiences.

But priti is essentially a transitional phenomenon. It arises when we’re moving into a deeper state of concentration and stillness and when (as you note) the body is letting go of very subtle tensions. And it passes, because there’s only so much to let go of, and it leaves a deeper and more stable state of mental sukha in its wake.

The thing to “do” with priti is simply to let it be (practice equanimity), and to continue relaxing into it so that it pervades the entire body. It will eventually seem to fade into the background, and that’s where equanimity is again essential, because if we’re trying to hold on to the priti we’ll either try to “make it happen” or we’ll panic at the thought of it subsiding.

But as mentioned, when it does permeate the body and subside, there’s a deeper state of bliss left behind. In the post-priti state there is often no inner chatter at all. The mind (or at least the speaking part of the mind) becomes completely silent. There is still thought, but it’s a more subtle and intuitive kind of thought that doesn’t require inner dialog.

I guess what’s happening is that the left brain is becoming quieter and the compulsive activity it often exhibits dies away and the right brain more active.

Technically what I’m talking about here is the transition from the first to the second dhyana. There are four of these dhyanas altogether.

Anyway, all the best with your practice. It does seem to be going well.

Take care,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Joshimar
Time: August 25, 2010, 7:41 pm

Hi, this website was recommended by my therapist because I relapsed on my OCD condition… my question is that as I try to follow the guided instructions i start to get sensations of anxiety… I acknowledge that they are there but I feel that I’m not doing it right… What should I do to better increase my concetration when I get these Anxious feelings when meditating?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 28, 2010, 2:46 pm

Hi Joshimar,

The “feeling that you’re not doing it right” is just another thought to be acknowledged and let go of. Eventually this kind of thing sorts itself out.

There may, however, be things you could do that would lessen the likelihood of anxiety arising. I’d suggest being aware of the movements of the breathing in the belly, which tends to have a calming effect.

You might also want to make sure that you establish a wide field of awareness that includes the sounds and space around you, before you begin to focus on the breath. When your awareness is large and spacious, the anxiety can be seen as small and relatively insignificant — as just one part of your experience rather than the whole of your experience.

Lastly, you break down the sensations associated with anxiety and pay attention to each of them in turn (noting whichever is most prominent at any given time). So you can notice a fluttering sensation in the belly, or your heart beating, or a sense of energy in your hands. Take an interest in these sensations, and observe them simply as “what’s happening” rather than as signs that something is wrong.

It may be that that last point is tricky because you start feeling anxious when you note the sensations of anxiety! It’s worth persevering, but if you get caught in a vicious cycle of anxiety then stick with the earlier suggestions I made.

I’d be interested to hear how you get on. Why not check back with me in a few days?

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Comment from josh
Time: September 23, 2010, 10:07 am

Bodhipaksa, i have recently begun meditating and seem to have similar problems to joshimar. I have an anxiety disorder, and when i begin to settle into my meditation, i often begin to get very anxious about my breathing. I feel that im not breathing properly and naturally and trying to control it too much.

I also have feelings of tension and stiffness in my chest and stomach, and also jumpy feelings in my stomach as im meditating. i try to recognise that these are just sensations arising in the present moment but i find it extremely difficult to detach myself from them! For instance im anxious about when the jumpy feeling will occur next as im meditating! Clearly this is a vicious cycle as you said in the last post, i seem to be able to be aware of my thoughts, but the feelings associated with my stomach and breathing just become too much sometimes and i give up. Any thoughts or tips would be greatly appreciated!

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Comment from phokion
Time: September 29, 2010, 11:40 am

Greetings Bodhipaksa. Thanks to your expert advise I seem to have made some progress getting into what seems as a good posture. However, everything changes as all Buddhists know well. So I find that my posture quickly deteriorates during meditation, or at least it feels that way, within 10 breaths sometimes. In particular, it feels like my spine settles gradually and becomes less upright, and my chin also moves outward, while I am “busy focusing on the breath” so to speak. So I correct it during meditation by pushing the crown up and stretching the spine, and tilting the pelvis a bit more forward (then relaxing). The problem is that doing all those corrections is distracting, and I do not seem to get into a deep enough concentration. So how often should I try to correct the posture during meditation? Is there a good way to do it that you recommend? Your advise is always greatly appreciated!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 29, 2010, 11:56 am

Hi Phokion,

It might be necessary to make small adjustments to your posture every couple of minutes, depending on how used to sitting you are. It sounds like you need to do this more frequently, but that’s OK. Ideally we can work toward setting up our posture so that we don’t need to check it too often, but having to check in and make frequent changes is just part of the process. You don’t need to see this as a distraction. In some forms of meditation (body scanning, for example) we keep our attention in the sensations of the body, and this can involve a lot of attention to our posture. Sometimes when I’m feeling sleepy, all I can do is keep an eye on my posture to make sure it’s not collapsing. You can keep being aware of the sensations of the breath while you do this, but it will just be part of a broader field of awareness, rather than something you’re exclusively focusing on (although it rarely is something you’d exclusively focus on — there’s always a lot going on in meditation). Having said all this “don’t worry, it’s all part of the process stuff” It’s likely you do need to make some more adjustments to how you actually set up your posture — the height and angle of your seat, how you hold your arms, etc. It can take a while to get this all sorted — in fact it’s an ongoing process.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 2, 2010, 10:22 pm

Hi Josh,

Sorry for the delayed response. Life’s been rather too full recently.

You don’t say whether you’ve tried any of the suggestions I offered to Joshimar, so at the moment I don’t know what to say. Do feel free to let me know what you’ve tried so far.

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Comment from Steven
Time: February 12, 2013, 11:17 pm

I have been meditating for a half an hour each day and have noticed an odd sensation in the last few days. After about five ten minutes in, I will feel a wave of pleasure that seems to originate from my stomach and flow throughout my body, one at a time. They seem to occur every couple of minutes or so. The method I have been using is counting my breaths and this wave will come after I reach 10, while returning to one. I find these waves often take my attention away from my counting and drift to a sort of indescribable nothingness. I then gently catch myself and return to counting. Does what I am describing make any sense? These waves that flow through my body are VERY intense. It almost feels like dopamine is being released from my stomach (scientists have found an area in around the stomach that does in fact produce dopamine). My problem is that these waves seem to take my attention away from counting and almost put me on the verge of, what feels like a dream or sleep-like state. What do you think of this?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 13, 2013, 1:36 pm

Hi, Steven.

What you’re experiencing is called pīti, often translated as “rapture,” although I prefer the more down-to-earth “pleasure.” This is one of the “jhāna factors,” along with calmness (which allows for vitaka-vicāra, which is simply the limited thinking that goes on when the mind isn’t distracted), and sukha (or joy). If the pīti is distracting, which it can be, then see if you can find some joy to pay attention to, and also make sure that you’re relaxing physically and mentally so that a greater degree of calmness can emerge. If you get all three of those together, then you should find yourself in jhāna, or at least in access concentration. It’s important not to strive after these experiences, though. Just set up the conditions and let them emerge naturally.

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Comment from Brian
Time: October 29, 2013, 3:50 am

Hey there all, great reading! May I add a few things…

I seem to have a really bad anxiety disorder which gives me symptoms from DP/DR & dissociative symptoms to depression and OCD symptoms and other awful feelings along those lines, including Anehdonia which SUCKS. Anyways, I have not been myself for the past few years and its grown to effect my life tremendously. Rather than seeing a psychologist and getting out on a million meds, I’m on Bupropion and Xanax which I take as necessary but dislike the feeling I get on it. So I have decided to try and get to the bottom of this myself with months and months of research of everything that can possibly be wrong with me. So I gladly ended up here for some advice.

I will lay in bed, lights out, quiet, and ill just start to try and let my mind go off. Within seconds ill get an INTENSE sensation or feeling coming from my stomach/ genital area in which it’s like a shock or electricity or a pulse which my body is responding to it SUPER sensitively. At the same time it’s like a good rush feeling through my head which is awesome because every day I live with a tension/squeezing/pressure in my head or brain and now it gets released for a few seconds. I can’t seem to keep going and going to the end where I will feel completely calm and relaxed and like myself again. Please, any advice would be appreciated as I’ve been struggling with my life with this issue that I believe this meditation technique will help resolve.

Thanks-Brian

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 29, 2013, 2:26 pm

Hi, Brian.

It’s very hard to comment on something like this. It doesn’t sound like you’re doing any kind of formal meditation, which I’d recommend, or that you have a meditation teacher, which I’d also recommend. At the moment I wouldn’t be happy giving you advice.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Jon
Time: May 7, 2014, 1:37 am

Greetings Bodhipaksa. I have been meditating daily for 18 months, and for the past five months twice a day 40 minute sessions. I suffer from curvature of the spine, it’s sort of S shaped, curved down at the top and in (hyperextended) at the base. I’ve been working extensively with my Yoga teacher strengthening the core muscles in the spine but still have difficulty sitting erect. If I don’t slouch a bit my back muscles start to spasm and it is consequently hard to focus. I have found that if I lean backwards slightly in a reclining chair my spine is straight, though not erect. While I’m going to keep trying with core muscle strengthening my Yoga teacher thinks I may never be capable of sitting on the floor with my back fully erect.

Do you have any suggestions? Will this disability I have prevent me from progressing? I am disciplined and highly committed to my meditation practice.

Thank you.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 7, 2014, 3:53 pm

Hi, Jon.

You don’t have to have a perfect posture to progress. As long as you can find a way to be relatively upright and relatively comfortable, that’s the main thing. If you’re reclining slightly, and that’s the best way to do the above, then just go with that.

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Comment from Paolo
Time: October 14, 2014, 7:59 am

Hi I am new here. I have been meditating for just 6 weeks and even if it if getting better now as I am able to relax for longer time and concentrate on my breathing, the beginning of each session is always scary..

I always see or feel like someone comes to me and start hitting me on my face, slapping etc… It is very scary and I get my heart bit going very fast.

I managed to control it (even if often I have to open my eyes to make sure nobody is actually there) by deep breathing. Do u think this is something that will eventually go away?

Thanks

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 14, 2014, 8:12 am

Yes, I think this will go away in time. You might try having a gently and kindly chuckle at yourself as you experience this fear. At least try smiling.

I suspect that you’ve just got into a habit. Perhaps at one time you experienced fear for some sort of rational reason — like you didn’t know what was going to happen in meditation — without being very conscious of why, and so your mind invented a reason, namely that someone might hit you while your eyes are closed.

Another thing you might want to do is to think thoughts of lovingkindness toward the person you imagine is going to hit you. Wish them well, and hope that they be well, happy, and at peace.

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Comment from May
Time: December 5, 2014, 1:33 pm

Hello. I have been doing meditation for a couple of weeks (mainly to break out of negative subconscious beliefs stored there through a relaxed state) and I have been doing fine I guess. Though recentely whenever I’m starting to do some meditation, even before I begin, I suddenly have a bad feeling around the chest/heart area. It’s not really a physical one, maybe I’m thinking it’s my subconscious beliefs that are trying to distract me from “being a better/positive persons,” (as crazy as it sounds, but my beliefs have been very negative.) anyways, it’s really preventing me from reaching a “full relaxation.” It’s like I’m only half there after a 30 minute session. Do you have any suggestions? It’s really bothering me, and I’m thinking about quitting if it doesn’t work out

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 10, 2014, 10:27 am

Hi, May.

Sorry for the late reply — it’s been a bit hectic here. (Yes, even the lives of meditation teachers can get a bit crazy!)

There’s nothing “wrong” with experiencing an unpleasant feeling around the heart. It’s not “bad” — just unpleasant. What’s unhelpful is deciding that it is in fact bad, and trying to make it go away. What would it be like if you just allowed it to be there? What would it be like to just observe it, noticing its size and shape and position and how it’s changing moment by moment? What would it be like to offer it some kindness, the way you might tenderly hold a frightened baby?

Being in a rush to get to “full relaxation” is rather counter-productive :)

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