Meditation posture workshop

Young woman meditating

It can take a lot of trial and error to find an effective meditation posture. Often we have to go through periods of discomfort before we can learn to sit comfortably.

The importance of posture, however, goes well beyond finding a way to sit comfortably, because the way we hold the body has a profound effect on the emotions and mental states that we experience. Something as subtle as the angle that you hold your chin at affects how much thinking you do. Having the wrong angle of your seat can lead to interference with the way you breathe, and can lead to feelings of tiredness or even depression.

In this section we explain how to use your body effectively in meditation, so that you can relax and at the same time develop alertness. Although relaxation and alertness may appear at first to be opposites, they can in fact coexist during a meditative state, and are characteristic of a state of mindfulness.

“Wildmind: A Step-by-Step-Guide to Meditation,” by Bodhipaksa, has a complete guide to meditation techniques, including posture.

We’ll explain how it’s a myth that you need to be able to get into lotus position in order to meditate effectively. There are other ways to sit, including kneeling, and in fact you can meditate while sitting in a chair or while using a meditation bench.

It’s even possible to meditate while lying down, although the results are not usually very good for this particular posture and so it should only be used when absolutely necessary, as when there are injuries that prevent any other posture from being used.

In this posture workshop we’ll take you through the whole process of setting up your posture, including what to sit on, the importance of supporting your hands, the angle of the head, and some basic trouble-shooting tips.

We’d like to acknowledge the kindness of Windhorse Publications, who allowed us to use illustrations from Meditation: The Buddhist Way of Tranquillity and Insight, by Kamalashila (now republished as Buddhist Meditation: Tranquillity, Imagination and Insight) in this section of the site.

The importance of meditation posture

There are two important principles that you need to bear in mind in setting up a suitable posture for meditation.

  • your posture has to allow you to relax and to be comfortable.
  • your posture has to allow you to remain alert and aware.

Both of these are important. If you’re sitting in a position that’s not good for your body you’ll be distracted by pain. You might even do yourself some damage, although that’s rare. If you can’t relax then you won’t be able to enjoy the meditation practice and, just as importantly, you won’t be able to let go of the underlying emotional conflicts that cause your physical tension.

Young man meditating

The first thing to learn in meditation is how to sit effectively. From reading that, you might well think that it would be best to meditate lying down. Bad idea! If you’re lying down your mind will be foggy at best, and you may well even fall asleep. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class that ends with shavasana (the corpse pose), where people lie on the floor and relax, you’ll have noticed that about a third of the class is snoring within five minutes.

Meditating lying down should be, in most cases, a last resort. The best way to effectively combine relaxation AND awareness is a sitting posture. You don’t have to sit cross-legged, or even sit on the floor.

We’ll show you how to set up an effective posture in three positions: sitting in a chair, sitting astride a cushion or on a stool, and sitting cross-legged. All of these work: the important thing is to find one in which you will be comfortable.

Remember: you may think it looks really cool to sit cross-legged, but if you don’t have the flexibility it takes to do that then you’ll simply suffer! Make it easy on yourself. Choose a posture that is right for you.

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.

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.

Meditating while kneeling, using a cushion or stool

If you can’t sit cross-legged in comfort, there are still many meditation postures open to you. You can sit in chair but many people find it’s not as satisfying as sitting on the floor.

Strange but true: somehow, being on the floor gives a more “grounded” feeling that makes it easier to calm the mind. All the same, I’ve often had to sit on a chair for various reasons and you do get used to it.

The most common alternative to a cross-legged meditation posture is to kneel, having the weight of the body supported on cushions or a meditation bench.

Finding good cushions is important. They need to be really firm, and most pillows just compress too much and can’t give you enough support.

The same goes for most ordinary, household cushions, which tend to compress too much. However, I have a lovely buckwheat pillow that is perfect when I turn it on end.

This meditator is using cushions (called zafus), that are specially designed for meditation. He’s kneeling with them between his legs, although cushions can of course be used for sitting cross-legged as well. Most people who sit astride cushions need two or three, depending on the height required.

The important thing is to get the right height. If you sit too low, you’ll end up slumping. Slumping interferes with your ability to stay aware, and can lead to discomfort.

If you sit too high, then you will have too much of a hollow in your back, which can lead to pinching. When your back is relatively upright, without you having to use any effort to keep it that way, then you’ve got the height about right.

Although the meditator above has his hands resting on his thighs, I recommend having your hands supported in front of you (see hands section). You can either have another cushion in front of you to rest your hands on, or you can tie something round your waist and rest your hands on that. I’ve often used a sweater with the arms tied behind my back. If you arrange the sweater carefully, you can make a little “nest” for your hands to rest on.

More meditation posture tech-talk

A blanket can also be used to provide support for your hands. Tie the blanket fairly tightly round your waist so that it covers your legs (also keeping your legs warm). Then arrange the blanket so that it provides a little “ledge” that you can rest your hands on, or tuck your hands inside it. A double (full) sized blanket is ideal. Blankets for a single (twin) bed tend to be a bit too small to tie properly around the waist, especially if you yourself are “full” sized.

Meditation benches are very useful. You can buy one, have one made, or make one yourself. We have a design for a simple bench that you can download (you’ll need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader).

Some meditation benches have rounded ends on the legs, so that it adjusts to the right angle as you sit on it. Others are at a set angle, which is great if you know exactly what height and angle you need your bench to be cut to. It took me several attempts to get a bench that suited me, and experienced a lot of uncomfortable meditations on intensive retreats before I hit on the right combination.

(An aside about terminology: my editor at Windhorse Publications pointed out that a bench is a long seat for more than one person, while a stool is a low seat, usually for a single occupant. So really they’re meditation stools, and not meditation benches. But if you try to correct every meditator who refers to their stool as a bench you may well have a sad and lonely existence.)

We offer a selection of meditation mats, cushions, and meditation stools in our online store.

Meditating cross-legged

Not everyone can meditate cross-legged — I’m one of them!

Fortunately, there’s no need to be in a cross-legged posture to meditate. In fact if you force yourself into an uncomfortable cross-legged posture then you may do long-term damage to your joints, and you certainly won’t be comfortable enough to meditate effectively.

However, if you have the flexibility then sitting cross-legged is a very stable and grounded posture. There are a number of ways of sitting with crossed legs.

Tailor Position

The first picture is the tailor position, which is the simplest cross-legged position. It’s also probably the most common cross-legged posture.

It’s very important for you to have both knees on the ground, to give you adequate support. Having three points of contact (your butt, and both knees) gives you a lot of stability. When was the last time you saw a photographer trying to keep a camera stable on a dipod?

If you can’t quite get both knees on the floor, then you can use some padding (a thin cushion or folded scarf) under your knee to keep you stable. If one, or both of your knees is more than an inch (2-3cm) off the ground, then use a chair or try sitting astride cushions or a meditation bench or stool. You can always do some yoga to loosen up your hips, and then come back and try a cross-legged posture later.

Again, if your hands don’t rest naturally on your lap, keep them supported, perhaps on a cushion or on a blanket. You might want to alternate which foot is in front from time to time. This is a good thing to do because any cross-legged posture is slightly asymmetrical. If you alternate the position of your feet, then you’ll even out the imbalances and not “build them in” to your posture.

Meditating in lotus and half-lotus

These postures are only suitable for those who are very flexible. I have a friend who had to have the cartilage removed from his knees after years of forcing himself into lotus.

lotus positionIf you feel any pain in your knees, or this posture becomes very uncomfortable, then try one of the earlier postures that we looked at. You really can do yourself serious damage by trying to force your legs into positions that are uncomfortable.

In the full lotus, the feet rest on the opposite thighs, with the soles pointing upwards (if you have pain in your ankles then stop! and find an easier posture).

Full lotus is said to be the best position for meditating. The meditator who is able to sit comfortably in full lotus is close to the ground (which, for some reason, seems to be helpful in feeling “grounded”), and is also in a very balanced and symmetrical posture.

half lotus In the half-lotus, one foot is on the opposite thigh with the sole pointing upwards, while the other rests on the floor, as in the tailor position. This position comes very close to the stability and groundedness of the full lotus position.

Sitting on a chair or kneeling with cushions or on a bench are even more symmetrical postures, but there’s less contact with the floor. (If this business of not being on the floor puzzles you, then you need to experience the difference between meditating on a chair and meditating on the floor.)

Lying down to meditate

Lying down to meditateI said earlier “forget about lying down” and it’s serious advice. If you lie down to meditate — especialy meditating on your back — you’ll more than likely end up having a nice snooze, which may be pleasant but it’s not going to bring about a long-term change in the quality of your life.

However some people have serious back problems — either short- or long-term — and even sitting in a chair isn’t an option. I’ve been in that situation myself because of back pain that surfaces from time to time. By serious problems I mean intense nagging pain that affects your life not just when you’re trying to meditate. If it only affects you when you’re trying to meditate then you probably just need to adjust your posture.

We can learn to work with pain in meditation, but sometimes the pain is overwhelmingly powerful and dominates the mind entirely. And pain is also sometimes a sign that we’re causing damage to the body. So there can be very good reasons for meditating in a supine position.

There are two ways to lie down to meditate: on your back, or (the more traditional method) on your side.

Lying down to meditate on your back

If you are one of those people with serious back problems then you might well want to try lying down to meditate. You’ll need to have your head resting on something firm and yet padded. A thin cushion on a book can work well, as can a firm foam block. A book without padding will work for short meditations but over longer periods the back of your head will start to hurt. Even if you’re on a carpeted surface you might want to have a folded blanket or some other form of padding between your body and the floor.

The best position for lying down to meditate is the Alexander Semi-Supine position (illustrated above), where your knees are bent and pointing to the ceiling. The feet should be flat on the floor and should be roughly where your knees would be if your legs were straight. If your legs tend to collapse outwards as you relax then you might want to try turning your heels outwards a little, keeping your toes in place.

As mentioned, you’re much more likely to fall asleep if you meditate lying down on your back. This danger becomes even more likely if you keep your focus in the belly while paying attention to the breath, so I’d advise you to pay attention to the breath in the upper chest, throat, head, or in the nostrils. This won’t guarantee that you’ll stay awake but it makes it less likely that you’ll fall asleep.

Meditating lying on your side

Oddly, very few people seem to try meditating lying on their side, even though images of the Buddha doing this are abundant. This may be because the Buddha passed away while meditating on his side, and then people see this posture they don’t think “that’s the Buddha meditating on his side” but “that’s the Buddha dying.” So the connection between this posture and meditation tends to get lost.

Actually the Parinirvana (death) statues and the meditation statues are different. In death, the Buddha’s hand is no longer supporting his head. In the image above you can see that the Buddha is clearly alive!

This is actually quite a comfortable posture to meditate in. I’ve used this when I’ve been sick, or when I’ve wanted to meditate at the end of the day and have felt physically exhausted. Here are some basic pointers:

  • Lie on your right side.
  • You’ll need to have some cushioning under the whole body. You can lie on a mattress or a couple of zabutons (meditation mats) laid end-to-end or even a folded blanket or two.
  • The left arm rests on top of the body.
  • The right elbow rests on the floor, with the hand supporting the head.
  • The knees should be slightly bent. Bend the upper knee a little more than the lower knee so that there isn’t undue pressure between your ankles and between your knees.
  • You’ll need to have a cushion under your right armpit or upper chest, to take some of your body’s weight.
  • The pressure of your hand on your head may cause discomfort, so you’ll probably need to move your hand from time to time. Be aware of the intension to move, and be mindful of the movements themselves.
  • If you have neck problems this posture is not recommended, but for most back problems it should be fine.
  • Someone on Facebook said that she found this a good way to meditate during her pregnancy, and that she’d meditated lying on her side for six months. But it’s probably a good idea for pregnant women to lie on the left, rather than the right, side. Sleeping on the left side has been shown to reduce the incidence of still births, and it would be wise to assume this applies to meditation as well.

In this position you’re far less likely to fall asleep compared to when you lie on your back, and it’s easier to maintain a sense of mental clarity.

Is this a posture you’re tried out? Have any advice? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

85 Comments. Leave new

  • Joe Jayasinghe
    May 27, 2008 12:35 am

    We have four in our family. My son (30 years) came to me and told his work is stressful and find a way to get guidance to practice Buddhist meditation. We live in a remote area in Illinois U.S.A. and know nobody who can guide us. could you please help us. Thanks

  • Hi Joe,

    Since you’re living in a remote area it’s likely there won’t be a meditation class near you, but it’s always worth checking. I once visited a group in Quincy, for example, which isn’t a particularly large town. Sometimes meditation groups spring up in the most unlikely places!

    Failing that, your son’s best bet is to get hold of a good meditation CD so that he has the benefit of guidance. With all due modesty I’d recommend my first CD, “Guided Meditations for Calmness, Awareness, and Love” which he can order from Amazon or from our store.

    With a CD and the support of the materials available on this site (and the ability to ask questions about practice by using our comment forms) he would have a pretty good base of support for establishing a practice.

    Of course he could go one step further and explore one of our online courses. Those are particularly useful for those who need structure and discipline, and of course there’s a teacher available to answer questions.

    Good luck to you and your family.

  • Hallo again. I wrote to you about how I started with meditation after reading this site. I have meditate 10 minutes every morning and sometimes in the evening.
    What effect does the mediation have on the blood pressure?
    I have always had 135/70 and suddenly yesterday I had 95/60.
    Is it okey for me continue with the meditation you think?
    I feel so god when I meditate. I have been so stressed for a long time so maybe it´s a normal reaction. I don´t know
    Best reguards

  • Hi Annica,

    As you’ve found, meditation and relaxation tend to bring the blood-pressure down. This is a normal effect of the parasympathetic nervous system kicking in, causing relaxation in your peripheral blood vessels.

    One woman I taught meditation to, who was monitoring her blood-pressure daily because of a medical condition, found that she had to talk to her doctor about reducing or eliminating her blood pressure medication because of this. If you’re on medication you might want to do likewise.

    I’m not medically qualified to give you advice here (I used to be a veterinarian, but that was a long time ago, and anyway humans were not one of the species we studied), however, it seems you’ve gone from “high normal” to “low normal”. It doesn’t seem to be to be anything to worry about (if fact I’d see this as a good thing) but I’d confirm this with a doctor just to be on the safe side.

    In the meantime, I’d suggest that you get up slowly from meditation and be careful about getting up from any seated position. It may take time for your system to adjust to a lower resting blood pressure and it would be unfortunate if you fainted because of standing up quickly. But slowing down may be something you now want to do anyway if meditating is having a beneficial effect.

    That’s an interesting and significant physiological change from only 10 to 20 minutes of meditation per day.

    I’d be interested to hear how you get on. Please feel free to keep in touch.

  • […] has all kinds of free resources to help you! I suggest you start on either the Meditation Posture page or the Mindfulness of Breathing […]

  • I practice ceremonial magic, and an important part of my routine involves daily mediation. I used to meditate in a chair, but I find this isn’t always the most practical. I have began sitting in the seiza posture, but my knees get a little sore and my feet fall asleep. Should I be concerned about any affect this may have on my health? I’ve tried sitting crosslegged on pillows but this hurts my knees quite a bit more.

    • You don’t say whether you sit on a mat (zabuton) or not, but that should give your knees adequate protection. And if you position yourself so that the ankles are hanging off the back of the zabuton this will relieve the tension in your ankles.

  • Hello, I am new to Buddhism and i have no idea where to start may somone please give me a tip?
    Please note I am a teen…

    – Zero

    • Hi Zero,

      It doesn’t do any harm to do some background reading and to get a sense of what kind(s) of Buddhism you’re interested in. At some point though you have to connect with other Buddhists, preferably face to face in a meditation class. There’s nothing that can beat that. There are online forums, but they often tend to attract people who like throwing their weight around and who have little practice to their name. It’s always possible to learn quite a bit about Buddhism by reading on the web, though. There’s lot of information including guided audio in our structured guides, and meditation can give you an experiential sense of what Buddhist practice is about.

      I wouldn’t recommend getting too much into the original Buddhist scriptures at this point because they can just be confusing without the guidance of someone who understands where they’re coming from. But the site, accesstoinsight has a lot of good stuff and you could always see what you make of it. The Dhammapada is one of my favorite texts and you can find a couple of translations on that site.

      Good luck!

  • I want to meditate but i can’t concerntrate on it when it is 30min or 45min my leg pains and feel sleepy as i really want to do
    the meditation plez help me sir

    • This probably is related to posture, Kharka, but without seeing you it’s impossible to know what’s going on. It may be that you need to sit a little higher, or to create more space behind the knees by rotating the calf muscles as you settle into your meditation posture. Also make sure, if you’re wearing long trousers, that the fabric is not bunched up behind your knees.

  • Meditation is new for/to me. My doctor suggested looking into it since
    I suffer from severe depression. Which medation can you recommend.
    Hoping for a gentle way out and easing my mind.
    Willing to spent time.
    Thank you.

  • Hi Turtledove,

    If you have severe depression I’d suggest that you should only take up meditation under fairly close supervision. Otherwise meditation can be just another way to get caught up in making judgments about yourself. You may be able to find a course in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression in your area. I’d suggest Google to check what’s available.

    All the best,

  • Hi there,
    I would love to start to meditate regularly, but I find it extremely hard to sit up cross-legged since my body is quite stiff and not flexible at all, and so it’s difficult to completely relax. Am I going to get used to it?
    Thank you very much!
    Alex C

  • Doesn’t sound like you should be sitting cross-legged, Alex. I gave up on sitting cross-legged years ago. I’d have had to put in hours of yoga every day for years to get the flexibility I’d need to sit comfortably that way. I’d suggest you try out some of the other ways of sitting recommended in this posture workshop.

  • Hi,
    I’m new to meditation and I have this issue I hope someone can help me with. I find it really difficult to concentrate on my breath and breathe natrually at the same time. Each time I try to meditate my heart rate rises and start feeling uncomfortable, I talked about this to a friend that practices yoga and she says it’s probably hiperventilation.
    thank you!

  • Hi David,

    Your friend is probably right.

    You might want to take a read of this article: We’ve all had problems at times with controlling the breath, and this is what worked for me.

    You could also check out the peripheral vision exercise that you’ll find embedded as a video on the following page:

    I suspect both of these might be helpful.

  • […] Wildmind Buddhist meditation – Meditation for Beginners: listen to “Improving Our Relationship with Others” – […]

  • Hi,
    I used to meditate may be some five years but now I want to start again and also I have started meditating when I have some free time. Before when I used to meditate I used to have this sensation of my body heating up or lets say my body gets heated up. I learned meditation from one of the meditation classes here we had. So what did I have those feelings? Also now when I meditate I do not have that feeling. Why is that so…

    • To be honest I don’t know for sure why you experienced warmth, but those kinds of things aren’t uncommon. It could be that you were relaxing and your peripheral blood vessels were opening up. That would be my best guess.

      As for why you’re not having the same experiences now, this is also quite common. It often happens that people have a desire or expectation to recreate a particular experience, and that attitude of grasping is often enough to prevent real relaxation from taking place. The original experience probably happened because there was an absence of grasping and of expectation. This is why they talk about ‘beginners’ mind.” Oddly, beginners’ mind will reappear as you continue meditating and as you learn to let go of your expectations.

  • Thank you very much for your kind reply.

  • i find it very hard to still my thoughts and be positive i am usually tired and fall asleep when meditate i am never even sure how to meditate i would like to feel calm most times not allowing the small things to blow out of context

  • Hi Ursula,

    If you’re not sure how to meditate, I’d suggest getting hold of a guided meditation CD or MP3. There are many places you can get these, but of course we have some on our store. We only stock meditations we think are effective:

  • The reason you may be having different experiences second time round is due to your mind rejecting the control you are attempting to exert over it through meditation. The mind will play tricks on you by giving you different experiences that you need to put to oneside in order to achieve the same level of enlightenment as you achieved previously. Try looking through your feelings (such as anxiety in this case). Have fun.

  • I don’t understand this site. I get short partial articles that end and I see no way to find the rest of the articles!

  • Hin, Rick. There’s a menu on the left side, under a large, orange heading “Meditation Posture.” Click on those links and you’ll be taken to other articles in the series on meditation posture.

  • […] if you aren’t an expert in meditation, I highly recommend Wildmind’s free Meditation Posture Workshop before you begin. It solved several issues for me.  There are tons of other valuable free […]

  • HI.,
    Ive always had an intrest of being a buddhist, but ive been raised in a christian home and am pretty afraid of what will be thought of me. all thou i dont believe in the christian god i have always found a better connection with buddhist ways. anyway the main reason im saying this is ive found myself angry all the time and i chanted once and it was good. now im ready to be enlighten. but im plus size and may have some discomfort. so my question is how can i do a posture that comfortable to me?

  • Hi, Taya.

    Without knowing you or seeing you it’s impossible to know what posture would work for you. It’s not just a question of your size, but also of your degree of flexibility. What meditation postures have you tried, and which have/haven’t worked for you?

  • I am thinking of attending your retreat at Omega this summer. Will there be Yoga and meditation sessions?

    • Hi, Claire.

      There will definitely be meditation sessions, although yoga is not my thing.

      I hope you can come!

      All the best,

  • Last week my mother fainted while she was meditating, this week my father fainted while he was meditating. Any reasons for this?

    • You know, I’ve heard of this happening. Although it seems to be rare, some people have a tendency to feel dizzy or faint while meditating. I’m not in a position to know why, but meditating lowers your blood pressure, and it may be that in some people that happens too quickly, or they already have low blood pressure, or they go from having high blood pressure to normal blood pressure and their systems can’t adapt. Do you know if either of your parents was meditating in hot conditions, or if they had the lower half of the body kept warm by a blanket?

  • i want to start meditation.can i do it without going to the meditation centre?

  • Hello, which DVD’s or CD’s would be the best to start with as a beginner, I had a look at the online shop but was unsure where to start.


  • and these are excellent cushions for sitting cross legged. they support your back properly and stop your legs from going numb.

  • This meditation posture workshop is so very helpful! (The humor here & there is fun too:)

    I’ve been meditating for a long, but this proved to be a good review, & has improved my meditation. Thank YOU!

  • Dear Bodhipaska,

    I am disappointed that u gave up on sitting cross-legged years ago. When i started sitting cross-legged in meditation, my legs and lower body used to pain like hell after even 5-10 mins. But now after practicing for about 10years (though not daily and mainly irregularly) i sit in lotus posture for 1 hour at a stretch without feeling the slightest pain. Sometimes i even wish that intense pain should come again!! nowadays i get up from meditation because my mind gets bored and not because of physical discomfort or pain.
    The technique i wanted to share with you and all others is that when the intense madding pain comes- just observe it neutrally instead of wanting it to go away instantly. It maybe difficult at that moment of intense pain but slowly and gradually the pain will go away and totally disappear. This is my personal experience

  • Hi, Amit.

    My problem with sitting cross-legged is not primarily one of pain, but one of lack of flexibility. Even since I was a child my body was very stiff, and I simply can’t get my legs into a cross-legged position. Even after several years of yoga I never got to the point where I was even close to sitting cross-legged.

  • I only wanted to share my experience. Please do not take my comment in any other way. I wish Bodhipaksa and all other meditators speedy progress in their meditational experience

  • I, on the other hand, wish to thank you for being candid about not sitting cross-legged.

    I am in the same situation. I had hip surgery as an infant and have never been able to sit cross-legged my entire life. Now I have a metal hip prosthesis and my doctors warn me against dislocating it. Also, my body is not proportioned like many meditators, with a long trunk, proportionately short legs, and even shorter arms.

    For decades I’ve made sporadic attempts to meditate but would run into the roadblock of my body being unable to do what teachers said was essential. If it wasn’t sitting cross-legged, it was assuming postures that were so awkward and difficult for me, they gave me a charley horse.

    It’s not healthy for any path to require or glorify masochism. I’m so glad meditation teachers are finally realizing that not everyone has a perfect, and perfectly-proportioned, body.

    I just bought your “Guided Meditations” from audible dot com. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks again.

  • Norman MacArthur
    January 29, 2013 2:42 pm

    I find the half lotus posture very effective, I’m able to practice with awareness for longer periods, although I find that I can’t sit in this position for long (probably not flexible enough) so I normally sit in a chair instead. This posture is the most comfortable and relaxing, but I’m getting an ache in the upper back normally around 20 minutes into the practice, it’s very distracting. Could this mean the seats back legs are not high enough? Would appreciate help with this, thanks.

    • It’s hard to say without seeing your posture and without knowing what you mean by “upper back.” If you have knots of tense muscles between your shoulder blades, for example, this would tend to suggest that your hands need to be supported higher. When the arms drag forward, those muscles tense to keep the back straight, and they very quickly become sore. If that’s not where you’re experiencing the pain, let me know. And if you find this kind of advice helpful, please consider making a donation to our Sit : Love : Give appeal. We spend a lot of time responding to requests for advice :)

  • Norman MacArthur
    January 29, 2013 4:32 pm

    It’s not between the shoulder blades as they feel fairly relaxed, it’s occurring a few inches under the blades and is more central around the spine area, and tends to feel like a stretching ache. Thanks very much for all the feedback, I’ll be more than happy to make a donation.

    • Hmm. I don’t think I’m understanding your description. To me, a few inches below your shoulder blades (i.e. in the direction of your “tail”) is well below the “upper back” area. I’m including a picture here that shows the position of the shoulder blades. Can you let me know if your pain is closer to A, B, or C?

      shoulder blades

  • Norman MacArthur
    January 29, 2013 7:18 pm

    hmm. I just had a short meditation session there and I would say closer to A than anywhere else. Perhaps I haven’t described it so well and it could shoulder tension after all.

    • Well, it’s hard to tell from the inside where the shoulder blades are :)

      The pain being in that area and being on either side of the spine certainly suggests to me that you need to have your hands supported higher in order to take the weight off of your shoulders and upper back. I’d guess that like me you’re moderately tall or have a long back? Of you may (also like me) just be a bit stiff. You might want to try having your hands supported slightly above belly-button level, perhaps with a scarf tied around your waist, or have your hands resting on a cushion laid in your lap (although this is less secure and the hands tend to pull away from the body).

  • Norman MacArthur
    January 29, 2013 7:40 pm

    I’m not actually sure how tall I am, It’s around 5.5/5.6 but this sounds helpful, I’ll give it a try. I’m using an office chair, should the back of it be adjusted at all? I think this one is titled slightly forward. Could this be an issue? Thanks very much Bodhipaksa.

    • If you mean that the seat of the chair slopes down toward the front, then that’s good. Most chair seats actually slope down toward the back, which encourages slumping. But the way you sit on the seat has a big effect on your posture. Next time you sit on it, bend forward from the waist until you’re more or less lying on your thighs, then wiggle your behind back as far as you can until it’s lightly touching the seat back. Then sit up, and you should be able to sit upright without leaning backward against the seat-back.

    • Actually, it strikes me that since you’re not tall, the problem is more likely to be due to you sitting in a way that’s causing you to slump, and then you’re using your back muscles to haul yourself into a more upright position.

      The slumping might be due to the chair, or due to the way you’re sitting on it. It’s not possible for me to know without seeing how you sit.

  • Norman MacArthur
    February 6, 2013 4:59 pm

    Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been trying various adjustments to the posture, today I tried raising the back legs a just a bit more and this seemed to help, my hands were more supported giving way to more relaxation in the shoulders. Still a slight ache in the back though, think i’m getting there =)

    • I’m glad that helped, even if there’s still some discomfort. I can tell a lot from photographs, if you can get me pics of yourself in meditation, from the front and side.

  • […] – has a great section on good postures for meditation. […]

  • Hello! Forgive me if this issue has been addressed elsewhere; I have done an internet search on my particular problem and can’t seem to find anything. It is regarding posture and ease of breathing.

    My “normal” posture is the typical American slouch. I notice that when I do sitting meditation with good posture (cross-legged on a flat surface, spine straight, sitting on a zafu pillow to tilt my pelvis), I find it more difficult to breathe smoothly and easily because my ab/core muscles are more engaged to maintain my posture, and I feel like I am consciously having to push my breath in and out using my ab muscles if I want to get anything more than the shallowest breath. If I go back to a slouching position my breathing becomes almost effortless (I’m guessing because my muscles are used to that position), but I realize that isn’t the best for focus and concentration. I’m wondering if you’ve heard of others having this issue, and whether it is something that will improve with time as my body adjusts to the new position and my core muscles develop more strength?

    • It’s very hard to comment without seeing your posture, Amy. You’re probably sitting at the wrong height, since your core shouldn’t need to be clamped tight while sitting.

  • Thanks. I’ll keep working at it.

  • jignesh vyas
    June 20, 2013 4:09 am

    Why faint ? When i meditation pls reply me?thanks

  • Hi,
    I am trying to start a daily meditation practice and am sitting cross legged on the floor. I sit against the wall. Maybe that is the problem because my upper back hurts. I’m trying to keep my back straight, maybe too straight in this case. What do you think?

    • I’d imagine that if you’re having to sit with your back against a wall you just don’t have enough flexibility to sit cross-legged, and so it’s putting a strain on your back muscles. I’d suggest finding a kneeling posture, either on cushions or a bench.

  • Hello Bodhipaksa,
    is there any benefit to sitting in a full lotus position, if a person is able to hold it? I read somewhere that meditating in a full lotus position for 20 minutes equals to 4 hours of meditating in any other posture, however exaggerated it seems.
    Thank you.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    I’ve been practising Ashtanga yoga for a while at Union Yoga in Edinburgh. I’m also a beginner to mindfulness meditation, and would love to hear how best to combine my new interest in this (with help from your great CDs recently purchased) together with my yoga practice.
    If I had to guess, then the lotus/half lotus pose during the penultimate stage of yoga practice, or during the final pose of Shavasana may be suitable?
    The only thing here is the time in ones life to practice both, so together would be ideal if you think at all possible!
    Many thanks

    • That’s a great question, Steve. (And say hi to Edinburgh for me!) There are any number of ways you could combine yoga and meditation practices. One thing you could try is a short period of sitting meditation before you start your asanas (maybe ten minutes or so) and then a few minutes toward the end, just before you do shavasana. And then you could take the meditation into the shavasana itself.

  • Hi

    I live in South Africa [Cape Town]. I am reading your book, which is brilliant. I have been meditating for 5 months now and I am really enjoying it. Is there anyone you can recommend in my area that follows your teachings? The internet has an overwhelming number of contacts and I’m unsure which direction to go.


    • Hi, JC.

      I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying my book.

      I’m part of the Triratna Buddhist Community, and the only presence we have in South Africa that I’m aware of is in Johannesburg. If you send them a message they can let you know if they have any activities going in Cape Town. Failing that, I don’t really know what’s available in your neck of the woods, but I have a lot of respect for the insight meditation people. One organization I’d be wary of is the New Kadampa Tradition. I find them a bit odd.

  • Mary Pauline Herron
    February 9, 2015 3:51 pm

    I was wondering if you might know if the research on the positive effects of meditation apply to guided mediation or is it about following the breath only? I want to meditate but find it alot easier to do guided meditation. Recent research talks about how it can make your brain younger and even fight off alzheimer’s disease. Is guided meditation as effective for those health benefits?
    Thanks, MAry

    • Most clinical trials have used a mixture of guided and self-directed meditations. Guided meditations can be even more effective than the self-guided ones, because there’s less opportunity for the mind to wander, and because techniques are being introduced that you probably wouldn’t think of yourself.

  • Hi, Bodhipaksa, didn’t want to load all my questions together so I tried to place them in the appropriate sections. I have a chronic back issue that makes sitting upright quite uncomfortable. I can sit up for maybe 15-20 minutes if my back has support, but still have to try not to think of my lower back during meditation this way. I can do it if reclined with no back discomfort. I haven’t even tried sitting upright with no back support. Should I “force” myself to sit up straight? I wonder if I’ll get used to it eventually, in the meantime, I’ll be distracted by my back. Btw, I do lots of crunches at the gym, so my core seems fairly strong. Sorry for the long letter!

    • Well, I’d never recommend that you “force” anything with your posture, Roland. It’s possible that with the right meditation bench you might be able to sit comfortably for longer, but without working with you on a personal level it’s impossible to say.

      Last night when I was sitting I experienced lower back pain. What I did was to make the pain into the object of the meditation, noticing the various pain sensations coming and going. They very quickly ceased to feel painful, and just became sensations. Also, because I was no longer interpreting these sensations as “pain,” the whole area relaxed and softened. You might want to try that.


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