Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation Posture

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Meditation posture problems: slumping

Slumping is the simple most common fault I see in people’s meditation postures.

A slumped posture does not allow us to be alert and to remain aware while meditating.

When you slump, you may also experience tension in the neck and shoulders (look at how the back of the neck is short and compressed, rather than long and open).

There are three causes of slumping:

  • Sitting too low
  • Having insufficient tilt in your seat
  • Habitual slumping

slumping in meditationThe meditator in the photograph is sitting too low. When you sit too low, this tilts the pelvis backwards, which tilts the lower back backwards, and so the upper back has to slump forwards so that you can stay in balance.

Slumping has the effect of closing the chest and reduces your ability to breathe freely. If you sit in this posture you’ll tend to feel rather dull and may even fall asleep because of the constriction in your chest. Keep your posture like this for a long time and you’ll become depressed. Become depressed and this is the posture your body will adopt.

Having your seat at the right height, but having a flat or insufficiently tilted seat, is also a cause of slumping.

And sometimes slumping is just a habit.

After we’ve had a look at over-arching we’ll look more closely at how to deal with slumping. But what we most often do is to try to hold ourselves upright by force of will. This can result in a posture that “looks” okay. If you slump, and then force yourself to sit upright, your posture might look okay from the outside, but before long those clenched muscles will start to feel pretty painful from the inside.

Comments

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Comment from Georgina Hollaway
Time: July 10, 2008, 5:01 pm

i slump all the time but i find it uncomfortable sitting normal, what do i do??? i’ve just become a buddhist!!!!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 15, 2008, 3:19 pm

Hi Georgina,

I’d love to help, but I don’t have much to go on if you say you “find it uncomfortable sitting normally.” What kind of discomfort are you experiencing, where is the discomfort, how are you sitting, and how long are you sitting for?

Generally, though, if you habitually slump you might want to get yourself to a yoga class. Yoga really encourages good posture.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Nimia
Time: November 19, 2008, 10:08 am

Referring to the last paragraph, last two lines, then, what is for one to do to correct
slumping AND to prevent or correct painfull muscles? Thanks!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 19, 2008, 2:32 pm

I’d suggest reading the pages on finding the correct height of seat, finding the correct angle of your seat, etc.

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Comment from Ed McGuigan
Time: December 5, 2008, 11:07 am

Hi Bodhipaksa:
Just wanted to back up your comments. Yoga will strengthen your back and improve your posture and your walking. If you slump when meditating you probably slump when seated and can look forward to having a stoop as you age. I find that I can sit for your quite lengthy guided breathing and loving-kindness meditations with only minimal fatigue in the back muscles since I started doing yoga a couple of years ago. Having suffered from occasional stress related lower back problems it is very liberating to have developed a stronger, straighter back.

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Comment from Mark Josefsberg
Time: April 12, 2009, 6:30 pm

Hi All,

You really owe it to yourself to try the Alexander Technique. It’s a way to learn how not to slump anytime;meditating or not. That way, when you meditate, you won’t have to do anything special. It will become a part of your life. I teach the Alexander Technique in New York City, and have written a short article on Meditation and the Alexander Technique. You can find it, as well as many other articles and tips here: http://www.MarkJosefsberg.com
Mark

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Comment from phokion
Time: August 17, 2010, 2:36 pm

Having access to a neither teacher nor meditation supply store, I have been trying to get into good sitting posture by improvising with a makeshift seiza bench (cutting the legs off an ordinary stool at an angle). I find that when I straighten my spine, then relax my back, the outbreath becomes much more deep, complete and spontaneous, which seems right. However, I also find that when I breathe in I tend to lean forward a little, and when I breathe out, I tend to lean back. This swaying back and forth is a little distracting. Worse, at the last step of the outbreath the tendency to lean back becomes so strong that I nearly fall backwards unless I tense some muscles to keep erect. I have tried to correct this by trying to find a balanced position with more arching and forward tilt of the lower back, but I can never achieve the same spontaneous depth of outbreath that way. Adjusting height and tilt of the seat within limits does not seem to help; relaxing the spine to achieve deep exhalations always leads to this precarious balance. It feels like I am on the verge of slouching but not quite there. What am I doing wrong? I would be grateful for your suggestions.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 19, 2010, 1:46 pm

Hi Phokion,

It’s very hard to tell just from a description what’s going on. If you could get side- and front-view photographs and email them to me I would have a better chance of figuring out that’s happening. Assuming you subscribed to get notifications of any reply to your comments, you can use the email address that the notification came from.

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Comment from Christina F.
Time: February 18, 2013, 2:14 am

I have such horrible posture and have for years. It doesn’t help that my upper body is long so it just feels impossible to hold it up all day. I was even in the marines and that didn’t even help!! What do I do to keep my back straight?? Mental reminders somehow?? Please someone give me some ideas so I don’t have to look like the hunchback of notre dame :*(

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 18, 2013, 7:28 am

Since I can’t see your posture, and there can be many reasons for why people slump, your best bet might be to talk to an Alexander Technique instructor. Perhaps a chiropractor might be able to help.

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Comment from Vrajesh
Time: March 20, 2013, 10:26 pm

haha! That is so funny because i am in that posture all the time and i always am thinking negatively and worrying about something…wow. i think its the same thing with having your head down all the time also.

Bodhipaksa, is it true that we become depressed because we give our negative thinking too much attention and energy rather we could just think positively and use our imagination wisely? Doesnt that seem efforting?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 20, 2013, 10:35 pm

Yes, depression is often caused by us thinking too much and thinking too negatively, although sometimes it can have physical causes as well.

It’s not as easy as “just thinking positively,” though. It’s not easy to recognize depressive thought patterns and to learn to let go of them. And positive thinking is useful, but it’s not everything. We need clear thinking. We need to cultivate positive emotions of patience, kindness, compassion. We need to cultivate energy. We need supportive friends. We need rest, and good nutrition. We need to find a sense of purpose in life. There’s no one simple solution. But we have to start from where we are and make what changes we can — mostly small ones, although sometimes we have larger breakthroughs.

Efforting? The Buddha was in favor of making effort. “Rouse yourself! Sit up! Resolutely train yourself to attain peace.” He was no slacker, and he encouraged people to strive. His last words were “Strive diligently.”

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Comment from Steph
Time: June 27, 2013, 10:02 am

Hi,
I have problems keeping a straight back. When I am sitting cross-legged (siddhasana), I cannot tilt my pelvis forwards at all, only a little bit by forcing which results in pain in my back and hip flexors after a few minutes. My pelvis seems to be locked in a backwards position no matter how high or low the cushions. I have now switched to meditating on my knees but I would really like to go back to meditating cross-legged. What can I do about this?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 27, 2013, 11:17 am

Hi, Steph.

You’d be best going to talk to a yoga teacher, I think. This is the kind of thing were someone really needs to work hands-on with your body and to be able to demonstrate exercises etc.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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