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How to sit: Meditation 101

Students often ask me at the beginning of our time together: how do I sit in meditation? As you develop your own meditation practice and increase your length of sitting, you can see how your body’s comfort becomes important. One of the aims of meditation is to learn how to sit still for longer and longer periods of time so that your mind can also experience increased stillness.

Simple Seated Meditation Posture

  1. Eyes gaze slightly downward, 4 to 6 feet in front of you, or eyes closed.
  2. Chin slightly tucked to keep your spine aligned.
  3. Spine follows natural curvature—upright, yet natural.
  4. Sitting bones are centered and stable—not perched too far forward or spread too far back.
  5. Arms parallel to the torso, palms fall naturally on the thighs or lap.
  6. Knees below hips, with legs loosely crossed or straight

My teachers remind me to sit lightly on this earth and just allow the practice to teach me, no matter how I sit. I’m such a serious and intense person, so I know why they tell me that. But I’m making progress in this area. I love St. Francis of Assisi, a Catholic friar from the 13th Century. He reminds us: “Wear the world like a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly”.

Stay comfortable yet alert

So how do you find a way to be comfortable in your body, but not so relaxed that you’re going to fall asleep? Some postures support your ability to pay attention and be relaxed, and some are too comfortable and make you sleepy, while others might be uncomfortable or cause your body to ache. So you have to experiment and find the best posture for you.

If you have a physical disability, you really have to adjust and work with your own body. You might only be able to meditate lying down, for example. But it you’re someone who tends to fall asleep, then maybe keep your eyes open. If you’re too wired or anxious, you might need more ease.

Take your time to find what fits for you.

Sit lightly and softly

Sit lightly and softly means to be gentle in creating your space and how you sit. It can be a corner with a comfy chair or you can create an entire meditation space, if you have the physical room. You can add an altar, as I eventually did, that reminds me of significant things. My altar has a statue of the Buddha laughing that my mom had when she was alive and a beeswax candle – I so love the smell of them. These two things reminds me of light and love, as well as how temporary life is.

Beginner Meditation Postures

Easy, relaxed sitting

Sit upright and keep the spine straight; in this way, you allow for more alertness in the mind and you can breathe more deeply.

Aim for the knees to be below the hips, which doesn’t strain the body as much. You’ll find you can sit longer if you do this without discomfort. Allow the hands to rest softly in the lap or on the thighs, palms up or down. Let the shoulders be relaxed.

You can sit in a chair, on a meditation bench or on a cushion on the ground. You can always adapt any of your choices to suit your needs.

The goal of the sitting part is to be comfortable and at ease, to allow your awareness to come forward without being constantly tugged by your discomfort.

Use a chair

You may want to start meditating seated in a chair if you can. We are most used to this and it feels normal to us. If your feet don’t touch the ground, put a stool or cushion underneath your feet. Allow your hands to rest easily in your lap. If you want, you can lean against the back of the chair, but do it lightly, so you don’t get sleepy.

Sitting bench

Some people love sitting benches. If you want detailed instructions, Turiyar Moore (he also makes them, but I’m not in any way affiliated with him) describes in detail how to use a sitting bench here. They’re not for everyone (I have knee issues, so I can’t use one any more) but try and experiment.

The bench helps to support your body because they are angled downward with space underneath so your calves and ankles are placed under the bench and it allows easily for a straight spine.

With each option, ask yourself: Does this feel good to my body?

Zafu Cushion

I often use a Zafu Cushion with knee support. It puts me up higher than the ground, allows my back to be straight and eases my knees.

A zafu is a comfortable round meditation pillow or cushion that’s traditionally stuffed with either kapok or buckwheat hulls (although cotton is common these days). They’re usually about 14 inches wide by 5 – 8 inches high and constructed of heavy cloth such as cotton or hemp. Meditation practitioners sit on a zafu when participating in sitting meditation because it keeps their spine to be erect and their knees in a comfortable position.

The zafu makes sitting for longer periods of time much easier than sitting flat, especially for beginning meditators. You won’t have any problems with your legs going numb or any trouble keeping your spine in the correct alignment. 

Legs on Chair

If you experience chronic lower back pain, you can try lying down on the floor and place your calves on the seat of a chair. Allow your arms just to fall to your sides. You can also put a pillow under your head if you want to. If you find yourself getting sleepy in any way while doing this, then gently open your eyes. You’re fully supported in your legs. Your lower back is fully supported, and none of your muscles in your upper back are working to hold you up. 

Whatever you try, let me know how you’re doing and if you need help, don’t hesitate to ask!!


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