How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Artem Zen, modified 1 Month ago.

How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Posts: 16 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Hello Fellow Dharmanites, 

Lately, I have realized that there are some problems with my meditation posture. Since starting to meditate I have always used a chair. 
When I did try to meditate on a cushion I found it too uncomfortable in particular due to tight hips. 

I have heard that if meditating on a chair you should not lean back on it. However, I always found that not leaning back was also uncomfortable and created a lot of tension in my back. I use a chair with an upright straight back so I figured if I lean back against it but maintain a straight spine that is ok. 

Recently, I found out that the pelvis should be tilted forward in meditation because otherwise the lower back caves backward and creates misalignment in the spine. Basically, you can't tilt your pelvis forward if you are leaning back against a chair hence why it is recommended not to lean back. Once again if I don't lean back I find I have a lot of tension in my upper back. 


I have been trying to sit on a cushion again but find that I have pain in my hips and in my ankle. Part of me also feels like I should be meditating on a cushion because:

  1. That's how most yogis did it since the beginning of the great traditions
  2. Besides for some tight hips I'm a healthy and fit 33-year-old man 

The reason I am so concerned with my posture is because I recently heard that having a misaligned posture can cause excessive mind wandering and dullness to occur. I have been experiencing a lot of this lately. Hence I am trying to find/develop a new posture that will be more conducive to my practice


I'm in the process of reading "The Posture of meditation" but looking for any other resources/tips/advice on how to find a comfortable position to meditate in. Do I just have to go through the pain of sitting on a cushion or on a chair while not leaning back? Or is there a way I can find/create a more comfortable position that is also conducive to cultivating an awakened mind/?

TIA
Eudoxos ., modified 1 Month ago.

RE: How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Posts: 87 Join Date: 4/6/14 Recent Posts
Hi Artem,

when sitting on cushion, I'd recommend the "Burmese posture" (google that out; not half-lotus or full lotus... unless you are sure it is what you need) but you might need to support your knees with extra cusions (even two for each knee; so that knees can rest on them). It is possible (that was my case but YMMV) that hips adjusts gradually and in a few years you will sit comfortably with knees resting on the floor. The cushion under the bum should be a bit behind you (supporting mainly the spine), not centered under the torso, so that it tilts the pelvis forward, as you say.

In chair, don't lean, just support the spine (coccyx) by something to prevent the pelvis from rolling backwards; I used rolled towel for that.

Could you perhaps say more about what your practice is?

From vipassana perspective, as I know it, forget about meditation without pain, really emoticon I don't mean to inflict pain on purpose, but if the pain comes, and it does sometimes, make it your meditation object (know about it in that moment), and see how the mind reacts to it (restless? fear? drama? analyzing? resistance? doubt? ...); go back to breathing, go to the pain again if it grabs your attention again, back to breath, and so on. If the pain (or itching, for example) is unbearable, decide to adjust the posture (or scratch) and slowly move; don't adjust automatically.

It is the same with dullness and mind wandering. Your judgements about it destroying your practice are, you know, just another thing to see more clearly. Knowing about these things happening, as they happen, are moments of awakeness to your experience. Are you looking for something more?

This is from vipassana handbook "Path to Nibbana" (I suspect Thai monks have a secret agreement to call their books all the same way...) by Ajahn Tong; it is in terse and traditional language, but you get the idea:
What obscures the three characteristics?

There are three phenomena which obscure the three characteristics:
  1. Continuity conceals impermanence and misleads us to see the body-mind as permanent.
  2. Postures conceal suffering. All postures such as sitting, standing, walking and sleeping are suffering, but changes of posture obscure them.
  3. Perception of unity conceals non-self. Thus we have the illusion of animals, persons, and selves which caus the arision of love and craving. In fact, when we analyze what we take as animals and persons, they are impure and decaying.
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Balint Pinczes, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Posts: 61 Join Date: 8/3/18 Recent Posts
I would recommend taking a look at foundation training to everyone who has a sitting practice or a sedentary lifestyle. It might help your pelvis and lower back to find  their natural alignment, help prevent any existing condition from deteriorating and hopefully help you find the way to recovery, less pain and also finding a relaxed posture for your sits. (I am not qualified in this field. The basis for my recommendation is that I have used the program and found it beneficial.)

https://www.foundationtraining.com/
1041952922960610

They have put out a number of freely available youtube videos as well.

Furthermore, you might also check out the following resources: 

22557522. sx318 28633985

None of these resources have anything particular to say about sitting for meditation, however. There is one book I really like that does: 

1833875
[EDIT: I apologise for not realising that you referred to this book already in your OP. I'll leave my reference to it as it stands in the hope that it might be helpful for others.]

Though the you'll find the words "practical manual" on the cover, much of it is poetic and is more about the "right view" and "right attitude" involved in sitting than how to place certain parts of the body etc. (If my memory serves me well.) It is a beautiful book though and I've also found it helpful in my practice.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the authors/companies involved, of course.

If you (or anyone on DHO) PM me, I have a number of related resources I am happy to share.

May you be free of suffering (and specifically, preventable lower back pain)! 
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Pepe ·, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Posts: 441 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Check Steph Nash's Posture-Pedia attached below for some good pointers.

Regarding the pelvis, not only it should be some degrees forward but also fully open (like a butterfly's wings / book pages fully open) so that you feel like the lower belly is stretched to both sides. That stretching allows the energy to sink to the zone. It can be achieved by a number of ways:

(1) opening the lower belly just like you would open your chest;
(2) trying to open your legs to the sides but really not doing it,
(3) trying to turn your femurs along its axis (left femur anticlockwise, right femur clockwise)

Hope this helps,
​​​​​​​       
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Posts: 2173 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Let me also add my take on this in hope to confuse you some more emoticon (just kidding)

Back in 2011 my local zen center told me not to sit in half or full lotus after seeing me trying to do it. Then they told me to just sit cross legged but place pillows under each knee. Even that was not for me according to the teacher (and these Tree Pillar Zen folks are serious about thier posture). So they told me to sit in seiza position but with the pillow between my legs. That was perfect for me, the teacher said. Back in those years I useed to sit anyway in Seiza position since 2009 and even made my own seiza bench.

However for pragmatic insight meditation matters not how you sit or stand or walk or what ever, but indeed sitting does aid concentraton much better than any otehr position and is also best for not falling a sleep as it can be the case in the laying down posture.

I think sitting on the chair by placing some sort of wood block 2-5cm thick (you determine the height) under the hind legs will help as most chairs these days tend to fall backwards. I pace two pieces of plywood scrap under each hind leg which is around 4-5cm and that tilts the chair forward. Then I place a cushion of my choosing on the chair but I push it a bit more towards the lean so my upper butt presses against it. This way I get a very nice "nest" for the butt emoticon 

feet on the floor placed not too far out and not too far in. Find the balance yourself. 
Hands are either in zen position joined infront of the lower belly or each hand just resting on each leg. Matters little I find.

Slouching is normal and will get better or worse depending on the Insight stage. Every so often scan the body and relax parts which are tense and streigten the back and head if slouching. These things change and are part of the meditation. Nothing worng with it.

Here is how I used to practice Noting + Open Eyes Kasina, sitting on a chair with eyes open so to keep alertness as alert as possible for the duration of the 45-60 minute sit.
Important is not to foget to relax the body tensions every so often, no matter if you practice shamatha or vipassana. Note; this is just one way to go about meditation. Gotta test for yourself (give any method at least 6 months before giving up on it) and find which works well for you at this time. Best wishes!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T35sFpGsQzM
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Jim Smith, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Posts: 1014 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Artem Zen
Hello Fellow Dharmanites, 

Lately, I have realized that there are some problems with my meditation posture. Since starting to meditate I have always used a chair. 
When I did try to meditate on a cushion I found it too uncomfortable in particular due to tight hips. 

I have heard that if meditating on a chair you should not lean back on it. However, I always found that not leaning back was also uncomfortable and created a lot of tension in my back. I use a chair with an upright straight back so I figured if I lean back against it but maintain a straight spine that is ok. 

Recently, I found out that the pelvis should be tilted forward in meditation because otherwise the lower back caves backward and creates misalignment in the spine. Basically, you can't tilt your pelvis forward if you are leaning back against a chair hence why it is recommended not to lean back. Once again if I don't lean back I find I have a lot of tension in my upper back. 


I have been trying to sit on a cushion again but find that I have pain in my hips and in my ankle. Part of me also feels like I should be meditating on a cushion because:

  1. That's how most yogis did it since the beginning of the great traditions
  2. Besides for some tight hips I'm a healthy and fit 33-year-old man 

The yogi's lived a life of poverty and couldn't afford a chair if any such thing even existed in their culture and time.
You can meditate any posture you like.

In some systems you need to stay still either to enter deep stages of meditation or to learn to be non-attached to discomfort. In that case, sitting on the floor might be best. Otherwise in my opinion you should sit the way you are most comfortable.

Personally I get the best meditation lying down doing relaxation (exercises) meditation, doing walking meditation,  and from mindfulness daily life (which is where the dukkha is). Sitting meditation is good too - maybe it's best for a beginner or if you are learning a new technique.


The reason I am so concerned with my posture is because I recently heard that having a misaligned posture can cause excessive mind wandering and dullness to occur. I have been experiencing a lot of this lately. Hence I am trying to find/develop a new posture that will be more conducive to my practice


I think there is a lot of truth to this, and the most common instance of it is people who can't concentrate because they have injured their spine or knees trying to sit on the floor when they should be using a chair with a backrest instead.

Also mind wandering is often caused by stress or mental fatigue for which the best antidote, in my opinion, is relaxation exercises.



I'm in the process of reading "The Posture of meditation" but looking for any other resources/tips/advice on how to find a comfortable position to meditate in. Do I just have to go through the pain of sitting on a cushion or on a chair while not leaning back? Or is there a way I can find/create a more comfortable position that is also conducive to cultivating an awakened mind/?

TIA

If you sit without a backrest on the floor or on a chair I think the main issue is to try to be balanced so you don't need a lot of muscle tension to keep upright. That means being flexible. It might help to do stretches that loosen the spine and hips.

Another option is to sit on the floor for part of your meditation session and move to a chair for part of your session.

Also sitting on the floor without paying too much attention to it, just trying to be comfortable, when you watch tv, read a book,  or do other things can help you adapt your body and learn comfortable postures more naturally than trying to force your body into a discplined posture during meditation.  This lets your body find its own way without your conscious mind screwing things up.

(I am not an advocate of sitting on the floor because I know too many people who injured their knees or spine from it. However in my experience if you are able to do it with a posture that does not lead to injuries it is conducive to better meditation. It's harder to get up which reduces cutting the session short, and you can't fidget your legs which can be distracting, and there is also some additional je ne sais quoi that makes better meditation.)
Ben Sulsky, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: How to develop a comfortable posture for meditation

Posts: 129 Join Date: 11/5/19 Recent Posts
Hi Artem,

I'm also a healthy 33 year old man who has had "issues" with posture so I figured I'd chime in!

Posture isn't very important.  I try for a posture that suits my mood.  A pithy heuristic is try for a posture that's as relaxed as possible without falling asleep.  Because I have an active mind, that can be lying down or reclining a lot of the time.  If I'm reclining and there's a lot of dullness or wandering I might sit up, or I might not.  Falling asleep is also a totally fine result of a meditation session.

But Ok you want to sit like a cool guy, I get it.  Sitting is an awesome posture, it's very stable and also quite energetic.  I started out on a seiza bench.  It didn't work for me; there's a joint in my knee that hates it, or my feet fall asleep quickly.  I don't like chair sitting much either; though other than feeling tight and uncomfortable there's nothing scary painful about it. 

A good one is reclining on a bench with back support while sitting cross legged with pillows to your heart's content under each knee.  A good place to recline is your couch. You can adjust these pillows over time and your hips will very slowly open over a period of years.  The reason this works is that even if your hips are so tight they're halfway to your ears, you won't fall over backwards because of the back support, and you should be able to sit comfortably. 

Eventually as the hips open (this will take months or years) your center of gravity will drop forward enough that you'll find it comfortable to sit cross legged on a meditation pillow.  Get a HUGE meditation pillow, so you can get very far off the ground.  Get your hips high up and put pillows under each knee so that you aren't in pain. 

Once sitting cross legged on a meditation pillow is comfortable, you can experiment with the "friendly" position, which is a bit more open and slightly more energetic.  

Yoga is good too, but even with a pretty regular yoga practice and this multi year sitting strategy I've outlined above, I still suspect I have a lot more pain and general uncomfortableness sitting than the average yogi.  Don't be afraid to lie down or recline!  I've noticed tightness and pain is a lot worse for my practice than a bit of extra reverie caused by a slacker posture.

Best,

Ben

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