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.
If 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.
The 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.
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?
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,
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?
Dhyana mudra is described just a little further down the page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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
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.
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?
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.
it shouldn’t matter if left hand is above or below, should it ? Well, the fact that brain is halved in two, where each has different abilities, it may be related to with hand goes above or below … well, just guessing hahahaha… any feedback ??
I have been meditating for almost a year and found a that sitting with legs crossed and my hands resting on my knees and thumbs lightly touch my index finger and middle finger gives me a really relaxed feeling and sometimes gives me great visions. Why have you not mention this position?
As far as I’m aware this isn’t a traditional posture for Buddhist meditation, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually seen anyone meditating like that, Moni. I don’t sit cross-legged myself (I kneel) and so it’s not a posture I’ve tried or am likely to try. I guess those are the reasons I haven’t mentioned that position.
Thank you Bodhipaksa. I Googled ‘hand rest for meditation’ and found your blog. The scarf trick is an elegant solution. I kneel on a stool and had been using a pile of cushions but it was still too low I think as I get a lot of neck and shoulder tension.
Yes, a pile of cushions doesn’t really give much support when you’re kneeling. Improvising with a sweater works well, too.
I love your art, by the way — the still lives in particular. It’s very vibrant.
Hi! Thank you so much for sharing, I find it amazing that you wrote this so long ago and people (me included now) still benefit today from your good action of the past. Ive been meditating for a year now and I could say I was feeling a lot of progress in so many ways. However I noticed my hands and arms were in an unusual position, I used to just place my hands on my thighs, pretty much halfway of the thigh or a bit closer to the knees, palms down while sitting in half lotus. But then I got told briefly by a teacher that I should place my hands/arms in Dhyana Mudra, not the way I had them. Now I have so many doubts regarding posture because after some time I still haven’t found a proper way in which I feel comfortable in Dhyana Mudra. My hands keep falling down, I place them on my lap but they keep falling down like towards the “hole” which builds between my legs. What is the purpose of posture? would you recommend me to continue my path with the previous posture I had? Even though it was not Dhyana Mudra I was able to sustain long sessions of meditation without a physical issue and also felt like I was truly going “deeper” into meditation. Or perhaps I should just keep finding my Dhyana Mudra ideal position? to be honest I was trying to avoid the use of more “props” like the scarf you recommend, because I would like to one day be able to just meditate no matter my situation, example for some reason im lost in a forest, I dont have anything with me, to be able to still meditate there as I usually do (as opposed to being unable to do it because I did not had my scarf with me). Is there something you could recommend to me based on all of this doubts :D? Thanks!
I think revolving your meditation practice around “what if some day I have to meditate in a forest with no equipment” isn’t particularly helpful. I imagine you don’t apply this to other areas in your life, such as eating (only eat raw food with your bare hands) or sleeping (sleep on the floor with no blankets). Life is hard enough. As long as you have the equipment handy, use it in order to create a sustainably comfortable and upright posture. And if you happen not to have a scarf you can improvise. I sometimes tie the arms of a sweater behind my back, and nest my hands on my lap, between the sweater and my belly.
What is currently happening is that the hindrance of doubt is creating a story designed to stop you from meditating. It’s good to recognize those stories, see them for what they are, and decide not to buy into them.
All the best,
Thank you very much! your comment was very helpful to seeing it with a different and more helpful perspective. Regarding the hands, not taking into consideration what I said before about the forest, do you think its ok if I practice with my hands in my thighs? even using equipment, I find it more comfortable to place my hands in my thighs near my knees.
I’m glad what I said was helpful.
As far as having your hands on your thighs goes, you’ll just have to see what works. I do recommend trying out dhyana mudra, though. There’s something very grounding and integrating about it.