Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation Posture

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The elements of a good meditation posture

woman in eagle poseThere are many different ways to sit for meditation, including using chairs, sitting astride cushions, using a bench, and various ways of sitting cross-legged from the simple tailor position to the full lotus.

I’m going to stress again that you need to find a position that is comfortable for you. Listen to your body.

Discomfort will distract you from your meditation and is also your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong (although you need to learn to distinguish — perhaps you can already — the discomfort of stretching from the discomfort of damaging pain; but we’ll come to that later).

We’ll look at common problems with meditation posture later, but for now, these are the things you have to bear in mind when setting up a posture that will allow you to be comfortable and to be aware:

1. Your spine should be upright, following its natural tendency to be slightly hollowed. You should neither be slumped nor have an exaggerated hollow in your lower spine.

2. Your spine should be relaxed.

3. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and slightly rolled back and down.

4. Your hands should be supported, either resting on a cushion or on your lap, so that your arms are relaxed.

5. Your head should be balanced evenly, with your chin slightly tucked in. The back of your neck should be relaxed, long, and open.

6. Your face should be relaxed, with your brow smooth, your eyes relaxed, your jaw relaxed, and your tongue relaxed and just touching the back of your teeth.

Next we’ll look at the most common ways you can sit, beginning with the easiest, and then we’ll look at some common faults in posture and how to correct them.

Comments

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Comment from Verena
Time: May 31, 2008, 7:11 pm

Hi, I’ve recently found this site and I’m going through the meditation guides. My native language isn’t English, so I’m not sure what this means:
“The back of your neck should be relaxed, long, and open.”
Especially the part about my neck being “open”. Could you please elaborate or explain it differentely? Thanks in advance!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 31, 2008, 8:28 pm

Hi Verena,

Imagine that there is an eye in the back of your neck, just where the neck and skull meet. Then raise your chin as far as you can — the “eye” will close. Lower your chin again until you feel your head at a balanced point — and the “eye” will be open.

I hope that helps you understand what I was meaning.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Verena
Time: June 2, 2008, 3:56 pm

That’s very helpful, thanks.

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Comment from A new/old mind
Time: June 17, 2008, 3:04 pm

Spontaneously I started looking into meditation and thought no time like the present to start. After reading many of the excellent articles on this site, I tried a mediation for about 30 minutes or so. However I have a posture question. During the mediation, I found my head feeling ‘heavy’ and a distracting desire to hunch forward and fall asleep. I fought this urge, kept my body upright and my spine straight and tried to focus more on the breathing. However I wonder if my posture is misaligned or if this is a natural step? I also felt very strongly the beating of my heart, namely I felt the vibrations of the heart beat move my body which again is distracting to the awareness of breath. Is this a common problem that people have, and/or is it attributed to posture? Thanks in advanced.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 17, 2008, 3:46 pm

If you felt like falling asleep you were probably tired, but posture can also be a contributory factor — slouch and you’ll be more likely to nod off. It’s hard (well, impossible) to say without either seeing you sitting or getting a very clear description of how you’re sitting.

Noticing the heart beating is very common, and nothing to sweat over. It’s just part of the learning process in meditation to feel that there’s some kind of battle going on where you notice the breath but then your mind wants to go walkabout and notice other sensations too. You don’t have to think in terms of there being any competition between the sensations of the breath and those of the heart. You can notice both at the same time. Just keep doing the practice and you’ll relax into it.

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Comment from Annica
Time: August 19, 2008, 3:11 pm

Hi, I found this site three days ago and I have decided to read a little every day.
I am realy interessted in meditation and mindfulnes. This site is just the best.
I started this morning and I have decided to meditat every morning and evening for 10 minutes each time. Is it okey to start with 10 minutes and after a week or two sit 20 minutes.
I have been so stressed that my stress-system colapsed. I think meditation is going to help me to be calm.
I did read start and step 1 to 4.
I have my own place , a candle and a flower where I sit.
Do you have any thoughts about my way to start and continue?

Thank you for this site I am so happy about it. I hope you understand because my language is not English.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 19, 2008, 3:21 pm

Hello Annica,

Your English is very good and your questions are very clear!

It’s absolutely fine to start with only 10 minutes and to build up. Any amount of meditation is better than none, and so 10 minutes viewed from that perspective is a lot. Of course more than 10 minutes would be even more helpful still, and therefore your idea of building up the amount of time you spend meditating makes a lot of sense.

I like the phrase “my stress-system collapsed”! I think that phrase is a useful reminder that anxiety is something we produce in the mind/body, and that we are free not to produce that anxiety.

It sounds as if you’ve made an excellent start!

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Comment from Markus
Time: November 4, 2008, 8:54 pm

Can I lean against a wall, or the back of my chair when I meditate? When I try to sit straight without any support for 30 minutes or more at a time my upper and lower back gets very tired and sore.

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Comment from Sunada
Time: November 5, 2008, 1:07 pm

Hi Markus,

While it is ideal to sit up without leaning back against something, the truth is, not everyone has an ideal body. Most of us in the West don’t spend much time sitting this way, so our back muscles aren’t trained to do it and start hurting. Some, like me, have spine curvatures which cause the same problem.

Personally, I feel it’s far more important to be comfortable and relaxed when you meditate than to strive for some “ideal” posture that’s beyond our reach. So I think it’s fine to lean back against something. Of course, don’t get TOO comfortable. I don’t mean completely flopping into a chair. We do want to strike a good balance between relaxation and alertness.

I’ve used something called a Nada Chair (www.nadachair.com) that’s been great at helping me to sit in classic meditation pose without having to strain anything. I think it’s mostly sold online — I’ve never seen it sold it a store anywhere. But I highly recommend it.

Best wishes,
Sunada
http://www.mindfulpurpose.com

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Comment from Shashi
Time: December 13, 2009, 7:00 pm

Is it at all possible and safe to meditate while standing? If so, how would it be done?

Thank you,
Shashi

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 15, 2009, 11:37 am

Hi Shashi,

Traditional texts mention that meditation can be done standing, although I’ve never seen any formal instruction on how best to do this. I have once or twice seen people do standing meditation when, I presume, their sitting has become uncomfortable.

The yoga pose known as tadasana (mountain pose) is in effect a kind of meditation, so you might want to look into that. I can’t think of any potential dangers except that blood can pool in the lower legs with prolonged standing without muscle movement, which is why sometimes you’ll see soldiers on parade fainting. I doubt you’d be standing that long, and in any event you could shift your weight and periodically tense your calf muscles to keep the circulation going.

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Comment from Patricia Hughes
Time: March 20, 2011, 1:26 pm

I’ve found the resources here very useful, thank you very much for all the work that’s gone into the site.

I have a question (of course!). You say above that the tongue shyould be “…. relaxed and just touching the back of your teeth”. If I relax my tongue, it slips forward between the teeth eventually causing my lips to part slightly. Am I perhaps relaxing my tongues “wrongly”?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 20, 2011, 6:59 pm

Hi, Patricia.

Well, everyone’s mouth is different, but that sounds unusual. Here’s an exercise from a clinical site on remediating tongue-thrusting:

The clinician touches the anterior portion of the alveolar ridge (right behind the upper central incisors) using a cotton swab or a tongue depressor. The student is asked to locate and hold the tongue depressor or cotton swab on the “spot” 5-10 times for several seconds at a time. Another similar activity involves the student holding a tiny dental rubber band between his/her tongue tip and alveolar “spot” for several minutes, rest, and then repeat the holding procedure several times in order to insure awareness for the tongue tip’s correct resting position.

That position is regarded as the “normal” position for the tongue at rest. It’s possible that your understanding of “at rest” is different, or that you’re simply used to holding your tongue thrust forward.

You might want to try the exercise above, although I’ve no idea whether that’s appropriate or not.

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Comment from Patricia Hughes
Time: March 21, 2011, 5:11 pm

Who knew there was so much to it? Many thanks for the reference, I think that I probably have been used to holding my tongue thrust forward. I will try the exercises and also be aware more of what my tongue is doing. It will be interesting to see if it makes a difference to my meditations both before and after it becomes “second nature” to hold it in the more normal position.

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Comment from Rosie
Time: December 15, 2012, 7:00 am

This is a great resource, thank you for sharing!

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Comment from Noushin
Time: October 15, 2013, 9:28 am

Thank you very much for your brilliant site and information about meditation,I did meditation long time ago ,and it really changed my life but unfortunately,right now I don’t have my personal place I mean I have to share my room with other people and I want to start meditating again,I want to know if it is possible to meditate while they are asleep?
And I have another question,is it ok to swallow saliva while meditation?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 15, 2013, 10:44 am

Hi, Noushin.

Yes, to both questions. If the only time you can meditate is when others are asleep in the room with you, then go ahead. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And sometimes we need to swallow. If you do need to swallow, then swallow. If you get self-conscious about your swallowing, and worry that it’s too loud, then try to swallow really loudly. If you try to swallow quietly it makes the throat tense up, but if you try to swallow loudly the throat doesn’t tense as much, and because it’s deliberate you quickly get over the self-consciousness.

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Comment from Matthew
Time: January 7, 2014, 2:47 pm

Why do my legs persistantly slide off when I sit in the lotus pose? Can someone help me?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 8, 2014, 9:40 am

You’d probably be best talking to a yoga teacher about that.

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Comment from adina
Time: March 30, 2014, 2:00 pm

Hi, I have a question about a point in your article. You say that the eyes should be relaxed but when I relax them they slowly open up. Have you ever met anyone with this problem? Is there something I could do?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 31, 2014, 10:49 am

I’d suggest moving your awareness further back when you’re relaxing the eyes. Become aware of the space just behind the eyeballs, and then soften…

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Comment from Altan
Time: June 17, 2014, 5:28 am

Hello, first i would just like to thank you for all the effort you’ve put in to helping others on their paths. I have a question regarding the relaxation of the jaw. If i relax my jaw muscles fully my mouth slides open..i’m not sure what to do. I have noticed, though, that if i create a a sort of a vacuum in my mouth that i can prevent this from happening, but i am not sure if the is a good approach to solving the problem. Thank you.

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Comment from Jane
Time: August 24, 2014, 6:30 am

I just found this sight at a time when I’m almost at my breaking point. I’ve had too much going on in my mind lately that it’s left me with severr headache. I know it’s too much stress and anxiety and want a natural way to deal with it. Can meditation help me?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 25, 2014, 4:41 pm

Meditation should certainly be able to help you, although it may be that you want to work with a teacher, since becoming more aware of our stress (which can happen in meditation) can lead to an intensification of the stress response (in other words you can get stressed about being stressed). A teacher can help you to work with that. On the other hand, you could just give it a go and see what happens. You may find it very relaxing. If you do feel extra-stressed, then you can just stop.

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Comment from Kun Chen
Time: August 26, 2014, 9:14 am

I can keep my back straight seated on a cushion, but, in about forty minutes, I usually feel a pull at a spot in the muscle inside my left chest about an inch away from my left nipple. It gradually becomes sore and the pain radiates up to the shoulder. Sometimes the pull goes away but sometimes the discomfort worsens and would cause palpitation. I feel the issue probably lies in alignment between my head, neck and shoulder, but I don’t know how to correct it. Please help.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 26, 2014, 9:37 am

That’s an unusual form of discomfort. When you say the pain is an inch from your left nipple do you mean to the left of your nipple? The most likely thing if it is is a strain in an intercostal muscle (the muscles between the ribs). I’ve only had that a couple of times, and it was very painful. The cause turned out to me a misaligned vertebra, and a chiropractor was able to sort me out quickly.

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Comment from Kun Chen
Time: August 26, 2014, 12:10 pm

Yes, the pull appears on the spot about an inch to the left of my left nipple. No pull on my right side chest. Also, the inside of my forehead usually cannot relax. A tension will build up when I concentrate. When this pull happens in meditation, the tension inside the center of my forehead becomes worse.
I definitely will follow your advice and see a chiropractor for misaligned vertebra. Please follow up on the forehead tension. Thank you so much for creating such a forum so that, to my difficult problems,I could finally find answers which are not available elsewhere. I am looking looking forward to more of your advice.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 26, 2014, 1:42 pm

You’re welcome.

A lot of people report a sense of pressure on the forehead. This can be alarming for some (I’ve never experienced it myself) but I’m assured that if you simply accept the sensations without worrying about them or trying to make them go away, they’ll pass. In fact some people say that this experience of pressure is a nimitta, or a “sign” that they’re on the right track. You can read more about nimittas here.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 27, 2014, 8:52 pm

Hi, Altan.

Sorry for the long-delayed reply. I had a very busy summer, and although I was able to respond to some comments on the blog, they tended to pile up!

What you describe is unusual. I wonder, actually, if you’re not just relaxing the muscles that close the jaw, but unconsciously tightening the muscles that open the jaw. When relaxed, the upper and lower teeth should be apart, but the mouth should not be open. I’d suggest playing around more consciously with the tightness and relaxation of both sets us muscles, and seeing if you can find a happy medium.

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Comment from lewis
Time: September 4, 2014, 12:59 am

Music? Is it okay to listen to music while meditating?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 4, 2014, 9:04 am

We have a page on the topic of meditation and music, Lewis.

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Comment from Munish
Time: September 9, 2014, 8:52 am

Hi, I tried to meditate few times in my life but never able to concentrate. My mind always wander. Also whenever i sit in upright position , most of the time my focus gets diverted to my back as it pains a little and cries to lean forward. So instead of focusing on breathing my focus is just on my back . In the end i feel irritated and just stop. Please advise.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 9, 2014, 9:35 am

Hi, Munish.

I’m afraid that without seeing how you sit I can’t tell whether your posture is causing your back pain, or make suggestions about how you might prevent the discomfort.

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