Everything You Need to Know About Meditation Posture

Do you sit down for meditation and wonder if you're doing it right? Learn all about the universal meditation posture here.

There are a million forms of meditation in the world, but if you went around the world taking photographs of people meditating many of them would look quite similar. Why? Because there are some basic elements of the meditation posture that are employed across the globe in order to calm the mind and align the body.

Seven-Point Meditation Posture

I come from a Tibetan Buddhist background, so the framework I typically employ is the seven points of Vairocana. The Buddha Vairocana is often represented sitting in this posture at the center of a mandala of the five principle Buddhas. He is the lord of the buddha family, all white representing the wisdom of all-encompassing space, as well as it’s exact opposite, the very ignorance that is the driving force behind our cycle of suffering. He represents, in part, the idea that our ignorance can be transformed into vast spaciousness, which can accommodate everything. Not a bad role model, right?

First Point of Posture: Sitting Down

For those of us who are accustomed to sitting in a chair, you might be a bit intimidated by the notion of sitting on the ground in a cross-legged fashion. This is a good time to give it a try. If you find that it is difficult, you can assume one of the simpler cross-legged postures I mention below.

There are a few variations on sitting cross-legged on the ground, but all of them are best supported by having a formal meditation cushion. I’m partial to those sold at Samadhi Cushions as their seats are well-made and firm. It is worth the investment to purchase a cushion if you’re going to launch a consistent meditation practice. And if you are going to use pillows from your couch or bed that’s okay, but it takes a lot of adjustment to get you sitting high enough so that it’s not painful. That said, if you want to grab some sturdy cushions and sit on those to get going, go for it.

Six Ways to Sit for Meditation

1. The Quarter Lotus

Here you can sit on your meditation seat with your legs loosely crossed and both feet resting below the opposite thigh or knee. I recommend this method.

2. The Half Lotus

This is a variation on the above. Your legs are crossed with one foot resting on the opposite thigh. The other foot can fold underneath the top leg and rest below the knee or thigh.

3. The Full Lotus

Your legs are crossed with both feet resting on top of your opposite thighs in Padmasana (Lotus Pose).

4. The Burmese Position

If you cannot sit with your legs crossed, that’s fine. Just sit with both feet laying on the floor in this relaxed position, aka Sukhasana (Easy Pose).

5. Seiza

Instead of sitting with your legs crossed you can also kneel and place a cushion or yoga props between your legs. This traditional meditation posture is essentially a propped-up Virasana (Hero Pose) or Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose).

6. Chair

Finally, yes, you can use a chair if you need to. No shame in it. Just be sure to sit away from the back of the chair and place your feet firmly on the floor, aligned with your hips and knees.

Sometimes people ask if they can meditate lying down. You can, but you’re more likely to fall asleep. If you’re going to do that you could place your feet on the ground with your knees up in order to maintain a sense of wakefulness.

Second Point of Posture: Elongate the Spine

Having established this firm foundation it is important to lift yourself up through your spine. Traditional analogies say that your spine should be like an arrow or a stack of coins, one on top of the other. It is as if a rod could go through the top of your head and down through your bottom. You want to feel uplifted when you sit down to meditate.

Third Point of Posture: Resting Your Hands

The simplest thing to do with your hands is to rest them on your lap. You can drop your hands at your sides and pick them up at the elbow then drop them palms down on your thighs. This is a natural axis point on which to rest them, providing better support for your upright spine. In his new book The Relaxed Mind, Kilung Rinpoche mentions that sitting with your palms down tends 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. Kilung Rinpoche has remarked that this creates more heat and energy in the body, which can be useful if you are feeling sleepy. Symbolically, the left hand represents wisdom and the right compassion. In this gesture you are bringing the two together.

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