A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a fellow blogger who asked me an interesting question in relation to how I meditate. We had been discussing the ability and opportunity to meditate in the midst of being at home with family, pretty much around the clock. This discussion led to a question about what posture I use and how I deal with comfort issues and positioning during meditation. Since I effectively never do anything the easy way, the answer is not as simple as one specific pose or position.
For the most part, I sit in a kneeling position during meditation. That doesn’t mean that this is always the OPTIMAL position, and I do tend to use a few different ones. But the position you see illustrated above is one that’s also associated with karate and some formal Japanese settings, so I’ve had most of my life to get used to it. Named “Seiza,” this position requires the person to kneel on the floor, placing their calves beneath their thighs and pointing the toes out behind them. The big toe on the right foot overlaps the left one, and the butt rests on the heels of the feet.
There’s a bunch of pomp and ceremony that goes into how to sit down and get up when using this posture, as well as when it’s appropriate and/or required to use it. But this post ain’t about all that. This is a posture that Sensei would often have us close out in, as it allows for a few moments of deep breathing and contemplation at the end of a workout. It also makes it significantly easier to bow respectfully when karate class closes. This posture is also used at the current karate school I train with, both at the beginning and the end of class.
From a meditation standpoint, I like this posture because it effectively forces me to sit up straight. I can breathe fully and unlike the lotus position, which I’ll cover off next, this posture doesn’t allow much room for me to slouch or slump. The downside is that sitting on one’s legs for more than about 20 or 30 minutes can lead to a condition called “paresthesia,” which is where some of the nerves and the blood flow in the legs become compromised resulting in the “pins and needles” sensation when a limb falls asleep. It’s never a good thing to block circulation, and since a Type-1 Diabetic’s circulation isn’t all that great to begin with, this can be a concern if you plan on meditating for a long period of time.
The next important posture is the lotus position. This is the classic and most recognizable posture in meditation. In fact, any time you see a statue of Buddha, he’s likely seated in the lotus position. This involves sitting with your butt on the floor with the left foot resting on top of the right thigh and the right foot resting on top of the left thigh in a cross-legged position. The hands are generally resting on top of the thighs, usually with the index and thumb of each hand joined together. This pose is not only used in meditation but is also used in forms of yoga, and is thought to promote the proper channeling of the body’s energy.
This can be a more comfortable posture to assume if you plan on meditating for a half hour or longer, as it won’t necessarily constrict blood circulation the way Seiza does. The problem I find with this posture is that unless I’m propped against a wall, I tend to let my shoulders slump or I start slouching at the upper back, which can become uncomfortable and damaging to the spine over long periods of time. Lotus has many variations to it and I usually favour the “half lotus,” which involves only setting one of the feet on top of the opposing knee with the other one simply being on the floor. This prevents the usual possible circulatory issues.
If you have Diabetes (or any other circulatory issues) there are a few things you can do to help facilitate meditation, regardless of what pose you use. You can get a meditation pillow. These are great as they keep your butt about four to six inches up off the ground, putting less stress on the knees, hips and various joints associated with meditative postures. The Japanese have special little folding stools that allow for the appearance of the kneeling position while taking the stress off of joints and allowing proper circulation.
Last but not least, you can try traditional postures, such as sitting in a chair. This is fine and I’d be lying if I said that I’ve NEVER done it. It just feels weird to me. Probably because I’ve spent my entire life using formal postures. Sitting in a chair just feels like it takes something away from the experience. You can also try lying flat, either on the floor, a yoga mat or on your bed. The only problem with this is if you lie on your bed and start breathing deeply with your eyes closed, you face the risk of falling asleep. Although I’m a big fan of naps and falling asleep isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it also usually isn’t my goal when I meditate. So I try to avoid this posture unless I’m having difficulty sleeping and I’m intentionally trying to meditate my way to dreamland.
Obviously, there are different types of meditation and postures that go along with them. Depending on what your goal is with meditation, you can’t really go wrong. The important thing is to find a posture that’s comfortable and suits YOU. It should accommodate your body and allow you to relax so that breathing, energy and blood flow are facilitated and you can focus on the mindfulness required for proper meditation. As I’ve often written, every person is different so it should be no surprise that each person’s needs and preference may be different from a meditative standpoint. ☯