Postures In Meditation

The sitting postures are important because we need to keep the body stilled for the mind to focus. Thus, choose one that allows you to be stilled for as long as possible. There is no preference over which posture is best. It is all down to personal preference. You will only know by trial and error. The following guidelines will give you some ideas what has worked the best for most people. Experiment with it.

Wear loose, comfortable clothing and sit in any way that allows to you sit still with a straight back for a long time without leaning against anything. For most people, this means sitting cross-legged on the floor with a cushion supporting your bottom. But if you find that uncomfortable you can also sit on a chair. Although once you are used to sitting cross-legged you will find that more stable and less fidgety than sitting on a chair, so it is worth a try.

It is important to choose a comfortable posture (but not too comfortable that you’d fall asleep) as pain arising from sitting can interfere with your meditation, and your focus will be shifted to the pain rather than the meditation object. You should just need a very slight effort to maintain the posture and your body should not be too stiff, slouching or leaning backward.

The postures I found most comfortable are:

1. The Burmese or ‘Comfortable’ posture


Sitting on the floor with a cushion supporting your bottom and the legs folded inwards, both legs resting on the floor, one in front of the other. This posture is very stable and comfortable, and there is no pressure on any of the legs. If you sit many sessions a day you can alternate which foot goes on the outside.

2. The quarter and half-lotus postures


This technique is similar to the above but with one leg resting on another. This posture is comfortable enough for up to one-hour sitting, after that you might feel some pressure and pain on the leg being rested on and also on the knee of the resting leg.

In the quarter-lotus position, your foot rests on the calf of the other leg. With the half-lotus posture, your foot rests on the inner thigh of the other leg.

3. The full-lotus


This posture involves putting both feet over the other leg. It is a very stable posture if you can get used to it, if not, it can be uncomfortable because there is pressure on the knees, ankles, and calves.

4. Sitting on the edge of a chair


Sit towards the edge of a chair. Keep your back straight and do not lean on the backrest. Put your feet flat on the floor a few inches apart. The thighs should be near horizontal. You might need a cushion underneath the feet if your legs are too short.

5. Kneeling


This involves kneeling with both feet pointing backward. You need a cushion supporting your bottom or you can sit on a meditation stool.

It is useful to be familiar with a few different postures so that if you are sitting for a long time, such as during a retreat, you can alternate between different positions to avoid pressure on the same areas. Even if you use the same posture, it helps to reduce tension on the knees by swapping the legs on different sessions.

Few things to note about the body parts:

The head, face, eyes, and mouth

  • The face, eyebrows, cheeks, and jaw should be relaxed.
  • The mouth should be closed, with the tip of the tongue touching the gum line of the upper teeth. This helps to reduce saliva production.
  • The eyes should be gently closed.
  • Avoid squeezing the eyes and frowning.
  • The chin should be slightly tucked in.

Shoulders, arms, and hands

  • Shoulders should be relaxed and slope downwards.
  • Do not hunch the shoulders.
  • Arms should be hanging loosely with the hands either cupping the knees, resting in the lap, or hanging over the shins.
  • There should be slight, but not extra effort required keeping them in position.

The back

  • Imagine a string from the ceiling is holding you up by the crown of your head.
  • The spine should be upright, with a slight natural inward curve above the waist.
  • The back should be straight but relaxed, not stiff or tense.

Things to check

  • Do you feel balanced, comfortable, and relaxed?
  • Try rocking your body slightly back and forth, and side-to-side. You will find a position where the body feels naturally centered and stable.
  • When you relax, are you slumping? Slumping can cause dullness and drowsiness.
  • Are you tilting backward (over-arching)?
  • Make sure you are not holding yourself too stiffly.
  • Is your back relatively upright (with a slight inward curve)?
  • After some time, your posture may slump, you can straighten up slightly, but do it very slowly and gently to avoid disturbing your meditation.
  • In the beginning it may be useful to get someone to correct your posture or you can check yourself in the mirror.
  • Before you start, scan the body from head to toes to ensure all the muscles are relaxed, and gently release any tension you found along the way.
  • When you finish, avoid getting up quickly. Be mindful when you open your eye. Move slowly and mindfully.

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Quyen Ngo

Quyen Ngo

Quyen Ngo is a Buddhist studies scholar.​ He has a master’s degree in Buddhist Studies and is an author of a number of books and articles on meditation and Buddhism. He has done numerous meditation retreats around the world.

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