Meditation and the Body: Posture Basics

Meditation is said to be the practice of being nothing – essentially relaxing the body and mind so we can become impartial observers to our true nature. And this important practice starts with the body itself, beginning with our figure and posture – here are some basic concepts on the physical element of meditation!

Beginning Posture

Most people begin meditation by sitting on the floor with legs crossed or folded. This creates a low center of gravity and greater sense of balance. The head is held high, with shoulders relaxed, and back and neck straightened (without straining), enabling a clear breathing passage. The hands and arms can be cupped in the natural resting place created by the lap. The overall result here should be an effortless (but not over-relaxed) posture; this can take some time to perfect, so there is no reason be shy of trial and error!

Balance and Stability

The result of proper posture is the embodiment of the classic meditating figure found in many spiritual traditions. This image (best reflected by the meditating Buddha) usually depicts a single person seated on the ground, evoking mountain-like poise and stability – qualities that suggest immovability and strength. In meditation the aim is to ground ourselves in the physical world so we can move deeper within ourselves. Therefore it makes sense to find a position that lends support and stamina to our practice – and sitting on the ground is a great way to begin.

Support Structures

While there are no hard rules about meditation aides like cushions (zafus) floor mats, or ergonomic chairs, these items can be used to enhance physical comfort and support during practice. Even a folded towel placed under one’s seat can bring extra elevation and help eliminate any physical discomfort that might distract from practice.

Perfecting Posture

With or without meditative aides, meditation should always be performed with healthy alignment of the back, neck, and shoulders. Traditionally, this position was thought to serve as a channel between earth and heaven – the straighter one’s body, the greater one’s spiritual connectivity. And in modern times, of course, we recognize that properly aligned vertebrae can withstand longer periods of meditation practice, as opposed to hunching over and succumbing to gravity’s pull.

Advanced Techniques

Whether using physical aides or not, most meditation practitioners sit with legs crossed under them, in a way that is comfortable while still supportive. However, with experience, many practitioners strive to perfect the challenging lotus position (feet folded upwards on opposite thighs); the lotus position is the most stable and also the most demanding way of sitting in meditation, used by experts in different traditions for thousands of years! When you practice, use each session to concentrate on the union of body and mind together, remembering that mental calm and physical comfort go hand in hand.