by Lodro Rinzler, cofounder of MNDFL Meditation, award-winning author, and teacher of meditation.
There are many forms of meditation in the world, but often when you see someone meditating it looks pretty similar from the outside - why? Particularly when we’re talking about people doing mindfulness practice stemming from the Buddhist tradition, there are a handful of pointers on the posture that have been time-tested for thousands of years that we could benefit from today.
First Point of Posture: The Base
Often you will see people seated on a meditation cushion set with their legs loosely crossed. It’s important when we sit down to meditate that we don’t become overly masochistic: you can sit with your knees dropping a little below your hips with both feet sitting below the opposite thigh or knee. If you prefer to bring one foot (or both feet!) to rest on the opposite thigh that’s great but - again - only if that’s comfortable for you. Alternatively, you can sit in the posture known as seiza where you kneel with a meditation cushion or bench between your legs.
If you like to meditate in a chair, that’s totally okay! Just pick a chair without wheels so you’re not coasting around the floor and plant your feet firmly on the ground about hips-width apart.
Sometimes people ask me if they can meditate laying down. You can, but you may be tempted to fall asleep. If you’re going to do that, you could place your feet on the ground with your knees in the air in order to maintain a sense of upliftedness.
Second Point of Posture: The Spine
Once we have that strong base we can lift up through the top of the head, elongating the spine. With that strong skeletal structure we can begin to relax all the muscles around it.
Third Point of Posture: The Hands
In different traditions you may see people do different things with their hands in meditation. A common thing to do is to place your hands on your legs an inch or two away from your kneecap. This provides a bit of extra support for your back and some teachers would point out this helps to relax the flow of energy throughout your body. Alternatively, you can place your right hand on top of your left with your thumbs very lightly touching, resting them on your lap at your navel.
Fourth Point of Posture: The Shoulders
As I mentioned before, once we have that strong skeletal structure in place everything else can hang loose! Here you let the muscles in your back and shoulders relax, with the shoulders moving slightly back to create a strong back and a soft front, opening up the heart center.
Fifth Point of Posture: The Chin
If you recall from the movie Jerry Maguire, the human head weighs (at least) eight pounds. To make sure you’re not straining the muscles in the neck you can slightly tuck in your chin. You don’t want to go so far that you are looking directly down at your lap but you don’t want your head held so far upwards that it hurts your neck either. See if you can find a natural sense of balance by bringing the ears in line with your shoulders.
Sixth Point of Posture: The Jaw
Gently let your jaw hang open. This naturally starts to relax the other muscles in your face. From there you can place the tongue up against the roof of your mouth to allow for clear breathing, slowing down the swallowing process (which at times can be distracting).
Seventh Point of Posture: The Eyes
You can keep your eyes open or closed…but best to make a conscious choice before you start meditating. Otherwise you will sit there meditating on whether the eyes should be open or closed instead of simply doing the practice itself. If you choose to sit with your eyes open, relax your gaze two to four feet ahead of you on the ground in a loose and unfocused manner. Given that you are trying to wake up to the present moment, symbolically it makes sense to keep your eyes open. Alternatively, you can let the lids gently shut while still maintaining that notion that you are attempting to wake up to who you really are.
If you take the time to establish your meditation posture correctly, you will find it is much easier to relax your mind and connect with the object of your attention. Even taking a few minutes to go through these seven points will help you enter your practice feeling relaxed yet uplifted.
Photo credit: JJ Jimenez