There is a myth that you have to sit in full lotus pose or look like a human pretzel to meditate. The reality is that you can meditate in any position as long as you’re comfortable. With that said, there are some important guidelines when you’re finding a seat for meditation.
The first thing is simply to sit up straight—on the floor, on a cushion or in a chair—it doesn’t really matter where, but a straight spine will help you to stay alert for your meditations. You want to feel alive and energetic while you meditate—physically and mentally—and sitting in a physical position that is upright encourages that alert state of being.
Try it out so you can experience the difference. You’ll likely find it’s actually much easier to sit for longer periods of time when your spine is stacked properly, as opposed to slouching. When you’re hunched over, not only will that promote a tired feeling, it’s hard to maintain for longer stints of time and you can hurt yourself, causing pain in the back and neck as gravity pulls you down.
If sitting up straight is painful or uncomfortable in any way, lean against a wall or piece of furniture for support to encourage your vertebrae to be stacked. Remember, your number one rule for meditation is to be comfortable, so feel no shame for using props.
If your hips are tight or your knees feel achy when you sit on the floor, you have options. Sitting in a chair is a great place to start meditating, just find a chair that doesn’t invite you to slouch. Notice if your favorite love seat encourages you to sink, and make a choice that will better support your upright position. Over time, you may find that you become more flexible and may want to explore other positions.
Laying down is not the best option for meditation, but if you are in pain or there is some reason where you cannot sit comfortably, it’s absolutely fine to lie down. There are some meditations that actually call for lying down, such as the body scan. But typically, this is not the position you’ll use for your consistent practice.
Check out these eight variations for seated meditations. The list starts with the easiest variation and gradually gets more difficult. Remember that everyone has a different body—you may find that crossing your legs for more than five minutes at a time makes your right shin fall asleep or your big toe go numb. You may find that one variation allows for a straighter spine. Try them all to find out what will work best for you.
8 Ways to Sit for Meditation
In all of these variations, make sure your head is directly over your heart, and your heart is right over your hips, so your vertebrae are stacked. I recommend that you sit on the front edge of a rolled-up blanket, pillow, or cushion; this supports proper alignment—bringing the hips slightly above the knees and allowing the pelvis to tilt forward. Positioning in this way will emphasize the natural curvature in your lumbar spine, bringing stability to support a straight spine for extended periods. Plus, cushions also make your seat more comfortable, which is the #1 rule.
In a Chair
Chairs make it easier for most people to sit still for longer periods of time, especially those with knee issues who have trouble in some of the floor-bound postures. If you choose to sit in a chair, make sure both feet are firmly on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor, you can use a blanket or blocks under the feet, so they feel supported. You can either sit up straight toward the edge of your seat, or use the back of your chair for support if you need it. In either case, pay attention to the alignment of your spine, and note that it can be easier to sit up straight without using the back of your chair. A cushion or pillow under you may provide more comfort, and will bring your hips slightly over the knees so you’re well-stacked and supported.
Against a Wall
You can use the wall or a piece of sturdy furniture to help you sit up straight. Cross your legs or extend them out in front of you, whatever feels most comfortable. A cushion (zafu) or blanket under you works well here, too.
Kneeling with Support Between Knees
While you don’t need to use a prop between your knees when you’re kneeling, it takes the pressure off your knees and ankles, and is quite comfortable. You can use a pillow, a zafu cushion turned on its side, a rolled-up blanket, or a yoga block, and place it right between the knees and under your buttocks.
*For the following cross-legged variations, I’ll use references to “right foot” and “left foot,” to make instructions easy to understand. Feel free to swap right and left in any cases to meet your optimal comfort level.
Easy pose is a simple cross-legged position, where your knees are wide, your shins are crossed, and each of your feet is below the opposite knee. You probably loved this pose when you were a kid. I don’t recommend easy pose for meditations over a few minutes, it isn’t an incredibly stable seat, and it can be easier to round the spine in this position. Plus, I’ve found that my feet tend to fall asleep faster in easy pose than any other meditation posture.
If you want to try it out for shorter meditations, it’s great for stretching the knees and ankles, and opening the hips. Make sure to use a prop under you to elevate the hips.
This is a variation of sitting cross-legged. If you’re just starting out, use a meditation cushion or pillow. Sit on the front half of the cushion or pillow, bend your knees in front of you, then rotate your knees out to either side, sitting in a cross-legged position. Bring your left heel to the inside of your right thigh, and your right heel to lightly touch the top of your left foot, ankle, or calf, so it sits slightly in front of you. The sides of your knees may touch the ground and if they don’t, you can use pillows or blankets under your knees for extra support.
Quarter Lotus Pose
Use a zafu or pillow here as well, and set yourself up in the same way as described for Burmese position, sitting on the front edge of your cushion, allowing your hips to open and legs to cross in front of you. Keep your left foot on the floor to the inside or below your right thigh, and your right foot to rest on the calf of the left leg.
Half Lotus Pose
Full Lotus Pose
Full lotus is the most stable and symmetrical of meditation postures, but only if you’re flexible and it feels comfortable for you. If you force yourself into full lotus, you can injure your knees. To come into full lotus, begin in the same way you set up for quarter or half lotus, but this time you’ll bring your left foot to rest on your right thigh and your right foot to rest on your left thigh.
If you meditate in half or full lotus, make sure you’re able to sit with a straight spine and with your knees close to the floor. If that isn’t the case, take a modified meditation seat until you’re open enough to maintain proper alignment in lotus. I also recommend alternating legs, from day to day or half-way through your meditations—so that the bottom foot spends some time on top—to create an even stretch and weight distribution.
Try them all before deciding which variation is best for you. Happy meditating!
*This post was adapted from the book, The Type A’s Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People.