Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation Posture

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Meditation Posture: Hands

Your arms weigh a lot. If your hands are not supported, then your shoulders have to carry all of that weight. That means either that your shoulders and back will tense to bear the weight of your arms, or your shoulder muscles will be overstretched. Either way it’s going to be uncomfortable.

Make sure your hands are supported.

hands supported in meditationIf you’re in a low cross-legged position, then you may be able to rest your hands comfortably in your lap. However, you may want to have your hands supported higher.

This will allow your shoulders to roll back further and be more relaxed. If you’re sitting in a chair, you can usually rest your hands on your thighs, but some people with long backs may need something to support the hands. If you’re kneeling, using cushions or a stool, then you may need to have some substantial support for your hands. In this case another meditation cushion, or perhaps a sweater or blanket tied round the waist, can be used.

If you feel knots of tension gathering between your shoulder-blades while sitting, this usually means that you need to have your hands supported higher. The knots are forming because your back is making an effort to stop the weight of your arms from pulling your trunk forwards.

Depending on factors like the relative length of your back and arms and your muscular flexibility, you may have to have your hands supported as high as just above the navel. To achieve this it’s usually necessary to have a blanket tied around the waist.

If you live in a climate where it gets hot then a blanket around the legs may not be practical (it certainly isn’t in a New England summer, although I’ve used many a blanket on Scottish “summer” retreats) then a scarf tied around the waist may be a more acceptable alternative. Make the knot behind you, keeping the scarf snug, but not so tight that it constricts your breathing. And then slip your hands between the scarf and your belly, preferably with your hands in dhyana mudra. If your hands feel a bit crushed then loosen the scarf a little.

Dhyana Mudra

dhyana mudra cropThe word “dhyana” just means “meditation” and “mudra” means “position of the fingers.” The illustration shows the classic meditation mudra, with the right hand resting on the left, thumb-tips lightly touching.

This is a very comfortable position in which to rest the hands. It also acts as a “meditation effort meter.” When you’re slacking off in meditation and your mind is daydreaming, you’ll find that the thumbs drift apart. On the other hand, when you’re straining (which often happens unconsciously) the thumbs will be pressed together, making a small “mountain.”

So if you keep monitoring what’s going on in your thumb-tips it will help you to become more aware of whether you’re making too much or too little effort — of just the right amount.

When your meditation is going well and you’re alert but relaxed (i.e. you’re making just the right amount of effort in a relaxed and sensitive way) the thumbs are lightly touching.

Often people find that as they start to relax in meditation they begin to have pleasant sensations in the hands, and in the tips of the thumbs in particular. It can feel as if a mild current of energy is flowing between the thumbs in a very enjoyable way. This is normal. It’s nothing to worry about (people worry about all kinds of things, even pleasurable ones). In fact it’s a good sign because this only happens when you’re beginning to relax and when the mind is calming down significantly.

At that same time it’s nothing to get excited about. It’s not a sign that you’re enlightened and although it is an indication that your practice could go deeper, getting excited will actually stop that from happening. Telling you this probably won’t stop over-excitement happening in your practice — you’ll have to learn by experience — but it may help you to catch yourself sooner and just relax into the meditation practice when this sort of phenomenon happens.

Comments

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Comment from terence
Time: March 28, 2008, 6:58 am

in this picture (‘meditation posture: hands’), the left hand seems to be resting on the right hand–the opposite of what the text says. am i seeing backwards?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 28, 2008, 2:31 pm

HI Terence,

Well spotted! While it’s traditional to have the right hand on top of the left, not everyone does this all the time. In fact when I’m very tired I sometimes sit with the left hand on top because the difference is enough to be gently stimulating.

Also, the photograph may have gotten reversed at some point!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from walt
Time: October 27, 2011, 7:40 pm

undefined term alert:

“And then slip your hands between the scarf and your belly, preferably with your hands in dhyana mudra.”

i know i can just google it, and will do so as soon as i finish writing this, but encountering unknown and undefined terms distracts me from whatever i’m reading.

is “dhyana mudra” defined in some earlier section that i haven’t looked at yet? and if it’s a hand position, why is it not defined in the “hands” section?

thanks.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 27, 2011, 7:43 pm

Dhyana mudra is described just a little further down the page.

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Comment from walt
Time: October 28, 2011, 11:23 am

fascinating. did you just add that description now? because it wasn’t there when i posted that comment yesterday. in fact i still had the page open from yesterday when you replied, and i came here and looked at it again, and indeed there was no description of dhyana mudra anywhere on the page. so i clicked “next page,” thinking it might be there, saw that the next page was about head position, and when i clicked my back button to come back to the hands page, there was an elaboration on dhyana mudra! :D

anyway – thank you for that. this is wonderful and welcome information you’ve compiled here.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 28, 2011, 12:19 pm

It was always there, but there was some code on the page that might have caused a problem. I removed it, and apparently that did the trick.

And you’re welcome for the information. It’s a pleasure to share.

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Comment from Sanjay Kumar
Time: December 17, 2013, 12:12 am

Hello,
First – I am thankful for the explanation you gave about the Dhyanamudra.
Second – As pointed out by Walt, the right hand should rest on the left, so you should change the picture.

Thank you.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 17, 2013, 3:06 pm

Hmm. I thought I’d done that already. I have difficult distinguishing left and right unless I really think hard about it, so perhaps I “fixed” it but didn’t fix it. Thanks. It should be OK now. I even asked someone to check for me.

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Comment from Ray
Time: January 27, 2014, 4:12 am

Glad I found this site. Good, clear explanations. Thank you.
As an aside, I was taught that in this mudra, the dominant hand rests on the non-dominant hand, so different depending on whether you are right- or left-handed. In any case, does it matter?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 27, 2014, 10:06 am

I really don’t think it matters much. Once when I was having problems staying awake on a retreat I was advised to switch my hands around because it feels odd and so it keeps you a bit more alert. But in time you get used to anything…

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Comment from Rajaram
Time: June 13, 2014, 2:53 am

I have been trying to meditate for the past six months, but I’m unable to find one comfortable position and keep changing it. A position which seems to be comfortable one days does become uncomfortable after some days. There is only one common thing.

1. I get pain in the back and it become very uncomfortable.

I always try to keep Dhyna mudra – do you think that could be the problem.

Appreciate all your help

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 13, 2014, 3:28 pm

If you have a long back, then your arms may be pulling your back forward, and then your back it tensing to stay upright. You might want to try supporting your hands in a scarf or blanket tied around your waist.

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Comment from Dark
Time: June 15, 2014, 5:04 pm

I’m new to meditation and I’ve got the right pose but I can’t find how to relax or to find my place as some may call it. I started to meditate to become more like my ” role model” I would ask her for pointers but its really hard to do that. I also wanted to know how it “feels” to medita. My question is what can I so to find this place that we speak of?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 16, 2014, 8:59 am

First I’d suggest replacing the words “I can’t find how to relax” with “I haven’t yet found how to relax.” But I can’t really give you any detailed advice. You say you’re found the “right pose” although you don’t say whether you’re actually meditating or, if you are, what approach you’re taking. I’d suggest mindfulness of breathing alternated with lovingkindness meditation. Just keep doing the practice…

As for “the place” — you’ll have pleasant experiences and unpleasant experiences, and both of these will come and go. It sounds like you’re new to meditation, and it would be a good idea to let go of any expectations of getting anywhere quickly. Just keep doing the practice.

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