Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation Posture

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Meditating sitting in a chair

We’re going to start with the easier meditation postures first.

One thing I often see in beginning meditators is a desire to contort themselves into a posture that demands more flexibility than they have. This results in discomfort, distracted meditations, and even physical damage. Be kind to yourself.

You can meditate perfectly well in an ordinary dining-room or office chair. The only thing you have to do to modify the chair is to raise its back legs by maybe an inch or so (2.0 to 2.5cm). This allows you to sit upright without having to either hold your back rigidly, or leaning against the back of the chair. Blocks of wood, or even telephone directories, can be used for this.

The meditator in this photograph probably needs to raise the back legs of his chair another half-inch or so, so that he can sit more upright. Notice how his back is rounded leaning against the chair-back.

When I use a chair to meditate I like to have only the very base of my spine touching the back of the chair. It’s best not to lean back in the chair — I think it encourages underachievement! When you’re slumping against the back of a chair then you’re not taking responsibility for your body, and this also encourages an attitude of not making an effort with the mind.

Of course there are always exceptions, and some people with back problems may need to use the seat-back as an extra support in order to be able to sit for the length of time it takes to meditate.

Meditating in a chairIn this picture you’ll see an ordinary dining-room chair being used very effectively. You’ll note that the back legs of the chairs are raised on wooden blocks. This means that the meditator’s back is straight and is only touching the back of the chair at the very bottom, meaning that he’s basically self-supporting. This meditator is also quite short and his feet don’t touch the floor. He’s therefore using a folded blanket to prevent his legs from simply dangling.

One compromise I’ve found that allows for a small amount of back support from the chair-back while avoiding slumping is as follows: Sitting on a chair, bend forwards from the waist so that the belly is along the thighs. Then wiggle backwards until your derriere is lightly touching the back of the chair. Then sit up, and you should find that the very base of your spine gets a slight support from the base of the chair-back, helping you to keep your back naturally upright.

Your hands need to be supported, so rest them on your thighs, palms down. If you have a long back then you may need to have a cushion on your lap on which to rest your hands, in which case have your palms face up.

Have your feet flat on the floor if you can. If your legs are very long or very short compared to the chair, then this might not be possible. If your feet don’t reach the floor, then you can use another phone book to rest your feet on. If your legs are too long, then ideally you should find another chair, or put a cushion or folded blanket on the seat of the chair to give you a bit more height.

Some office chairs are perfect for meditating! Set the seat so that it is slightly tilted forward, and make sure that the backrest is only making very slight contact with your lower back. Adjust the height so that your feet are flat on the floor.

There are specialist meditation chairs available to help you sit comfortably in an appropriate posture. Searching on the internet is the best bet, but Zen By Design has a good, although expensive range.

Comments

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Comment from emmanuel
Time: December 30, 2007, 9:42 am

i need to know which form of meditation to do in order for me to boost my memory’s retentive capacity. i am an undergraduate student in Nigeria.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 1, 2008, 9:12 pm

Hello Emmanuel,

Any meditation that helps develop focus and calmness — for example the mindfulness of breathing practice — will help you to develop a more retentive memory. Much of remembering involves actually paying attention in the first place, and this is much easier to do when we know how to focus the mind.

At the same time I’d encourage you to explore mnemonic techniques such as the method of loci that help us to create an effective filing and retrieval system so that we can encode information in memory and (even more importantly) retrieve it when needed.

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Comment from jssarce7
Time: November 17, 2008, 12:47 pm

It would help me also to see a photo of a person sitting with the correct posture on a chair.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 18, 2008, 10:52 am

Hi Jssarce7: That’s a very good point. So good, in fact, that I came close to slapping my forehead with my hand. I’ll get onto that and post a new photo as soon as possible. [Later: okay, you have your wish!]

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Comment from Werner
Time: January 25, 2009, 6:57 pm

The posture on the second foto is still not good enough. The hips are still leaning back.
The curve in the lower back could be more pronounced. Placing a small ball at the lumbar part helps.
This is just one possibility of meditating on a chair, the “Egyptian Posture”
An other would be: cross the ankles, let the knee fall outward. That draws the hips forward.
Position of the hands: turn the palms up, that opens the diaphragma.

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Comment from Lisa
Time: July 16, 2009, 11:25 pm

My doctor told me to try budhism meditation to clear my mind so I can sleep. Any suggestions?Im new to this website and trying to find my way around. Thanx

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 19, 2009, 8:17 pm

Hi Lisa,

I’d suggest starting with the mindfulness of breathing meditation. It’s the most straightforward meditation to learn, and it does help to slow the mind down. I also have a post based on my own experiences with overcoming insomnia. You may find it useful.

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Comment from Myriam
Time: September 6, 2009, 12:13 pm

I’m new to meditation, and I’m having problems sitting to meditate, I’d try to control my body; however, the only position that is confortable for me is laying down. I believe is due to a car accident I had years ago which demage my back. I want to make sure that is ok meditating laying down?

Thank you,

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 7, 2009, 6:02 am

If you need to lie down, you need to lie down. I’ve done it myself on retreat when I’ve had back pain. But it is harder to stay awake and to be focused.

There is a traditional Buddhist posture for meditating while lying down, which I don’t mention on this site and that I’ve never (not once) seen anyone using. I tried it once as an experiment and it worked fine. I had the impression it would be easier to develop mindfulness in this posture, although I don’t know whether it would work with a back injury.

Here it is:

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Comment from Emma C
Time: October 31, 2009, 8:39 pm

Hi,

Thanks heaps for this useful information and for those photos. I’m doing a bit of research for a little article I’m writing on meditation with a chronic illness – so I’ll give a link to this page in the article.

Someone a few posts above asked about lying down postures. I recently wrote a blog post about lying down to meditate which might be useful. I hope it’s OK to put the link here (just delete if not!) It’s at

http://chronicmeditator.blogspot.com/2009/09/lie-back-and-think-ofyour-breath.html

thanks again, I really love this website and the fact you take the time to answer people’s questions. I have your CD of meditations and really like it.

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Comment from gurpreet
Time: November 24, 2009, 11:20 am

hi, i have started mediatating sitting in lotus position and i find i cannot last for long with out getting stiff. I have also started gettin lower bakc pain/ache. Will meditating on chair not give me as much sucess as stting down and meditating. Thanks

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 25, 2009, 8:30 pm

Hi Gurpreet,

Sitting in lotus isn’t the only way to sit on the floor. Have you tried other ways of sitting cross-legged? But to answer your question, a comfortable posture on a chair will give you better meditations than an uncomfortable posture sitting in lotus. It can take a little while to get used to not being on the floor, but one does adjust.

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Comment from Gurpreet
Time: November 26, 2009, 3:18 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa,
Thank you very much for the reply. What other ways on the floor is it possible to meditate. Also will i be able to get results if i only mediate once or twice a week. thanks

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 26, 2009, 10:10 pm

Hi Gurpreet,

This posture section shows a number of alternative ways of sitting on the floor. You will benefit from meditation once or twice a week, but not as much as if you meditated more often. It’s just like if you did physical exercise just once a week — you’d experience some benefit but not as much as from more frequent exercise.

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Pingback from Meditating with a Chronic Illness
Time: February 17, 2010, 9:02 pm

[...] more information on postures here’s an excellent article on sitting in a chair to meditate, and I’ve written a blog post on lying down to [...]

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Comment from Susan
Time: April 9, 2010, 10:49 pm

Wow, what a great website. I have been experimenting with meditation for several years, but don’t have a teacher and your website has been so helpful in answering my questions. The section on posture has been especially helpful. I sit meditation in a chair because of low back and hip pain, and after reading your page, I elevated the rear legs of my chair as you recommended. Here’s the problem: I tend to lean forward a little bit and pull my left shoulder forward just about a quarter inch. When I adjust my posture as you recommend, sitting squarely on my sit bones and straightening my torso, I slide off the chair! I thought I remembered reading somewhere on your site what to do about this, but I can’t seem to find it now. Any help you could give me would be much appreciated. Again, thank you for the good work you are doing.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 9, 2010, 10:56 pm

Hi Susan,

Well, that’s an interesting one. If you’re sliding forwards I wonder if you may have a rather steep angle on the chair. I find that blocks that are perhaps 2 inches work — how high are yours?

And what’s the seat of the chair made from? Is it polished wood, or something else that’s slidy?

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Susan
Time: April 9, 2010, 11:09 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa:

Thank you for your response. I actually have 3/4″ blocks under the rear legs and the chair is made of wood and the seat is pretty smooth, although not shiny. I wonder if I need more height so that my weight rests more on the soles of my feet? I will experiment! Thanks!

Peace,
Susan

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 9, 2010, 11:18 pm

Ah, OK. It may be that we’re using the same words to mean different things. If you’re sitting too low (and it sounds like you are) then your torso will tend to collapse so that your front is hollowed, and that could well push your pelvis forwards — a bit like when you slouch on a couch your hips are forwards on the cushion. Is that what’s going on? Are you learning back into the back of the chair while you’re having this experience of sliding forwards?

Anyway, I’d suggest raising the back legs a bit more, and see if that makes things easier. I’d also recommend that when you’re setting up your posture you bend forward from the waist until you’re completely collapsed forwards, wiggle our but back until it’s lightly making contact with the back of the chair, and then sit upright. You may find that this helps you get a better posture.

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Comment from Susan
Time: April 11, 2010, 4:21 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa:

I’ve been experimenting with the height of the blocks under the back legs of my chair. 2″ was too high and caused a cramp in my upper back, and, no, I can’t explain why! :) 1.5″ seems to work best with a blanket under my feet.

Many thanks, again, for your guidance.

Peace,
Susan

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 11, 2010, 5:20 pm

If you get the cramp in your upper back (I’m assuming it’s on either side of the spine, at about shoulder-blade level) you need to have something supporting your hands higher. Anyway, I’m glad you’re figuring it out!

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Comment from somn
Time: August 26, 2010, 2:04 am

I have been doing meditation on chair and it’s now almost 7 months or more. But i think
my abdominal parts are painning. I wish you have sth to say on this matter

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 26, 2010, 1:11 pm

It’s very hard to say without actually seeing you sitting, or without more information. I don’t know whether you’ve followed our recommendation to have the back legs raised, for example.

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Comment from Rumi
Time: September 23, 2010, 7:31 am

Dear Bodhipaksa,

Thank you for your contribution to all of us sharing your knowledge on meditation and I really like this site. I am
a Buddhist and follow Buddhist teaching in day to day life. Just one point to bring your attention is; the picture you
have posted is, not a posture that Buddha used for meditation. This picture Illustrates his passing away and eyes are
closed.You can differentiate the lying down posture and passing way from the Feet. if the Feet together, that means ihe is
lying down and if not together, means his passing away.

Keep up good work. Metta !!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 29, 2010, 11:09 pm

Interesting. That’s not something I’ve ever heard before.

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Comment from Tempe
Time: August 13, 2011, 2:51 pm

Love your site!
Nice to see sitting in a chair taken seriously. I have arthritis in the knees, and cannot meditate in a crosslegged position. I have to use a chair, and, as you say, it is easy to think that you NEED to sit in lotus to meditate.
How necessary is it, I wonder, to raise the back legs of the chair? Perhaps one of the chairs I have in the house will not need this leg-raising.
New question: Half of what I read says that anything less than 30 minutes is insufficient and insignificant; the other half says that doing many short sessions per day is just fine. What do you think?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 13, 2011, 4:16 pm

Hi, Tempe.

Thanks for your kind comments. I’d say it’s very important to raise the back legs of the chair. If this isn’t done the pelvis tilts backwards and then we either slump or have to make effort to sit upright. Either way our meditation is affected. Ordinary household chairs are just not designed for sitting comfortably upright.

I think it’s important not to let the ideal be the enemy of the good. There are some people who will tell you that 40 or 50 minutes is a bare minimum, or even that you have to meditate for hours. The thing is that even a minute spent meditating is better than nothing, which is often what people end up achieving if the bar is set too high. I know people who have noticed a significant difference to their lives by meditating for just ten minutes a day. Do what you can, and you may find that you end up wanting to do more.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from LunaLon
Time: February 27, 2014, 12:11 am

Hello,
I was wondering if there is any meditative technique to reduce/suppress lustful feelings?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 27, 2014, 4:48 pm

Any form of mindfulness training will help you to become more aware of how lustful thoughts come to appear in the mind, and will give you more freedom to notice them while choosing not to act on them. There are also traditional techniques of meditating on the “unpleasant” (asubha) but those are not practices I know or teach. You might be able to find some instruction online, but they’re often regarded as “dangerous” practices because they can incline the mind to depression and nihilism. They’re not to be done by people who dislike themselves.

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Comment from LunaLon
Time: February 27, 2014, 11:46 pm

Hello Bodhipaksa.

Okay, if I want to start learning meditation from the scracth, then how should I use this site? I mean do you have any videos or docs that help a beginner?

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Comment from LunaLon
Time: February 27, 2014, 11:51 pm

Bodhipaksa, one more thing I wanted to know is about the asubha meditation you just mentioned. I read online and found that this technique is used for the contemplation of various body parts. I dont see any thing wrong in it, why is it then called unpleasant or foulness meditation and also has risks associated with it that you also mentioned
??

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 28, 2014, 8:15 am

Sure. Go to the link in the horizontal menu above that says “meditation guides.” It contains step-by-step instructions in a variety of techniques.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 28, 2014, 8:19 am

I’m afraid I’ve never been taught this form of meditation, so I’m not in a position to say.

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Comment from Jon
Time: October 20, 2014, 12:26 pm

I have been meditating for just under two years and now meditate between 90 minutes and one hour and 45 minutes a day, split into three sessions. I am very disciplined and almost never miss a session. I also have a somewhat deformed back. It is hyperextended at the bottom (curves inward) and curves downward (my spine is slightly curved) at the top. I can’t sit in proper posture for more than 15 minutes without very uncomfortable muscle spasms. Endless yoga strengthening exercises hasn’t helped. As a consequence, I sit in a comfortable chair that leans backwards. My feet are planted firmly on the floor and I seldom move during a session.

My question is: am I missing out by not having proper posture? Do you have any recommendations given my physical limitations?

Thank you,
Jon

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 24, 2014, 11:08 am

Hi, Jon. We just need a posture that “works.” It doesn’t have to be perfect. So if your arrangement allows you to sit comfortably, then go with it. If your back was otherwise, then you could sit comfortably in a different position. And you might then have a somewhat different experience of meditation. But your back is not otherwise, and so it’s not worth thinking about!

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