We all love the idea of meditation, but when it comes to sitting still for a while, even 10 minutes can feel difficult! Suddenly, our body is filled with aches in places that we had never noticed before. Or we notice that a tap is dripping which becomes the most important thing to fix. In this months meditation article, I share some tips on how to love your meditation seat. I will share five common positions and give you some hints on how to make it more comfortable to sit in meditation at home.
Cross legged (top left image)
Cross legged is the position that people imagine first when you say “meditation”. However, if you know you experience tightness in your hips, this might not be the most appropriate meditation position for you.
The most comfortable way of sitting cross legged is to find some cushions with good support to put between you and the floor. Large square cushions are great or a few soft blankets. This provides both support and warmth.
When you sit cross legged, you want to find a way to make your knees level or lower than your hips – this will help to protect your back. Placing an extra folded blanket or cushion beneath your buttocks will help your knees to drop lower towards the floor. Support beneath the knees with blankets if your knees do not touch the floor. Check how your ankles feel – maybe add extra blanket beneath the ankles, so that they do not press hard into the floor.
Have an erect spine, so your shoulders are directly over your hips – try pulling in your belly button towards the spine for a moment and see how that feels. If you start to allow your back to round, you back is likely to start aching. Take a moment to check your shoulders, allow them to drop away from your ears, to relax.
Your eyes will be gazing down towards the floor about one metre away from you, which means your chin will be slightly tucked. (Gazing down into your lap will mean that your head will start to feel heavy, and the muscles in the back of your neck will start to pull and ache). You can then gently close your eyes.
Kneeling (top right image)
For many of us, sitting cross legged is uncomfortable, so you can also try kneeling. Again, use a large cushion beneath your shins to provide some softness, comfort and warmth. Most of us will need at least one cushion, block or bolster beneath the buttocks – this will release some of the body weight and pressure from your knees and lower legs. Aim for your weight to be going down towards the floor through your seat bones, rather than the lower legs.
Kneeling for meditation can mean that the front of your ankles become almost flat (which is an extended position and some people can find this painful). To support your ankles, and to relieve some of the pressure, roll a thin blanket (or cardigan) and place it in front of your ankles – you can see how we did this in the top right image.
Keep your spine erect, shoulders relaxed and gaze just in front (as described above). Close your eyes.
Back against the wall, legs out straight in front of you (bottom left image)
If you have tightness in your hips which rules out sitting cross legged, or you find kneeling painful, one option to try is sitting with your back against a wall.
Again, having a large cushion or blanket folded beneath your buttocks and legs helps to support your body and also provide a little extra warmth. Make sure your knees stay lower than your hips. You will probably need to sit on a folded blanket, block or bolster to do this. Your whole back should rest gently on the wall. If you wear your hair up in a bobble, you will need to remove it, so that the back of your head also rests against the wall. Relax your shoulders.
Keep a slight bend in your knees – maybe use a rolled blanket beneath your knees (see the bottom left image). This will help to prevent you from locking your knees – if you lock your knees it becomes painful and also difficult to get up!
Sitting in a chair (bottom right image)
Finding a supportive chair is another option for a way to sit in meditation, particularly if you struggle to sit on (or get up from) the floor.
The meditation chair will need to have good back support, so that your whole back can rest comfortably on it. You still want to have an erect spine, with head over hips, so avoid reclining chairs. It is best if the chair does not have arms.
It is important that you can rest both feet flat on the ground – if the chair is high, place some blocks or other support beneath your feet. Your knees should be at right angles. By placing your feet flat, you can stay grounded. Having the knees at right angles helps to maintain a good blood supply – if your feet dangle unsupported, it becomes uncomfortable and cause unpleasant sensations in your legs.
Lying down (savasana)
Lying down is actually one of the most difficult positions to meditate in, because when you lie down, you are more likely to fall asleep!
Place a mat and blanket beneath your body. When reclining, some people find it can cause some tightness in the back or spine, so raise your knees slightly – use a rolled-up blanket beneath bent knees. Allow the feet to fall out to one side, the feet need to be hip distance or wider apart. If you experience neck pain, you might want to place a cushion beneath your head and neck for extra support. The hands can fall out to the side of your torso – check if you want the palms face up or face down (work out what feels most comfortable for you).
Lying down is great if you are practicing a five minute or short meditation in bed before you fall asleep, following a guided meditation or yoga nidra where the aim is to completely relax (and it does not matter if you fall asleep). Otherwise try to avoid this position until you are established in meditating. Falling asleep is not meditating!
General tips for all meditation positions
- The key is that when you sit to meditate you want to feel comfortable and your body should feel supported.
- Allow yourself to relax. This is particularly important if you are planning to sit for a longer period of time.
- The key is to relax your muscles. If you sit and have the muscles engaged, as soon as you sit for 20 minutes or more your muscles will really ache.
- Be kind to yourself and to your body. When I first started meditation, I was amazed at how much my body ached, just by being still. Sometimes, when we get quiet, you can start to notice all the little aches and pains in your body, that are there most of the time, but are masked / hidden by the chattering mind and the busyness of life. Just notice them, and breathe.
- Keep your spine straight, with head over hips.
- Stay warm – have a blanket or throw nearby that you can easily add or remove. You can feel cold when you sit in meditation for a while, as your body starts to slow down.
- Wear comfy clothes. Make sure you are wearing soft warm clothes – avoid tight waistbands, or anything with too much material to gather behind your knees.
- Try to keep still. Pick a position and sit in it. If you have an urge to move or adjust, try to ignore it. Sometimes that is our mind trying to stay in control, and constantly adjusting your meditation position can distract from meditation. However, do be conscious of any messages of pain from your body. Learn to differentiate between pain and the niggle that can be ignored.
What to do with your head
In all of the meditation positions (except lying down), you should look to keep your head over your hips – so that if you drew a line down through your body the top of your head is straight over the centre of your hips.
Close your eyes. By closing your eyes, you can cut out all the visual distractions from around you.
Close your mouth, allowing the tongue to rest against the roof of your mouth. (Most meditations you will breathe in and out through your nose).
What to do with your hands
Whichever position you choose to sit in meditation, you should aim to rest your hands gently, in or on your lap. By supporting your hands on your body, your shoulders receive a message to relax. If your arms are short, then place a blanket in your lap so that your hands have somewhere to rest.
A comfortable position for most people is to rest one hand on top of the other – e.g. left hand on top of right hand, or the opposite way around. It can also feel nice to rest the back of the hands on your lap or knees, with the palms facing upwards. Or, swap it around, so the palms are resting down on your body facing towards the floor.
For meditation I tend to avoid the use of yoga mudras (hand positions) as I feel this takes the focus (when the focus is better placed on the meditation technique). Mudras also engage muscles in your hands, which can ache if held for a long time (even 15 minutes) and this distracts from sitting in meditation.
I suggest that you play around with the different hand positions and find the most comfortable position for you.
In meditation we use a natural breath – no force or control. Your breath is simply your breath. (In yoga we often use pranayama – this is a control of the breath for specific purposes, which is different to pure meditation). Agitation in the body or mind can manifest in your breathing – by that I mean that your breath becomes quicker and shallower (for example, you might breath into the top part of your lungs or chest). As you relax, and your meditation becomes deeper, you might notice that your breathing changes, becoming slower and maybe lighter, that is fine.
Choose a suitable environment
To be able to sit in meditation, particularly when you first start, you need to find a space that supports you. Check:
- Smells: make sure there are no strong smells coming your way. Food cooking can distract, so too can incense!
- Sounds: ideally find a place where there are no (or minimal) sound distractions. Switch off your phone, remove a ticking clock, close the door to the family (and put a “do not disturb sign” on the door)
- Temperature: make sure the room is a pleasant temperature. Anything too cold will make it uncomfortable to sit in meditation. The same applies if the room is too warm. Try to avoid drafts.
New to meditation?
Here at La Crisalida Retreats we offer a 30 minute meditation session most days of the week. We give you different meditation techniques to try, so that you can find one that works for you. For more tips on meditation read our earlier article: 10 top tips for successful meditation.
Once you find a comfortable meditation position, and a meditation technique that you like, then I suggest that you stick with it. Regular practice (ideally daily, even for five minutes) is a great habit to get into and will help you to reap the benefits of this amazing inner practice.
If you are interested in learning more about meditation, you can try it for yourself here at the retreat. Read more here.
We also have lots of articles about meditation on our blog page– use the handy search box or select the category “meditation”.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).