What are the best meditation positions for beginners? And do you need to use the traditional Buddhist meditation sitting position?
In my online meditation lessons, I always make sure my students have good posture. There is a reason for that.
Your meditation posture is incredibly important. Not just for your body, but for your mind too. Whether you’re meditating sitting on a meditation chair, a mat, or the floor, you need to have proper meditation posture. Otherwise, you may experience knee and back pain.
Yes, you can lie down to meditate instead. But even when lying down you still need proper meditation posture.
Here are the best meditation positions.
7 Best Meditation Positions For Proper Posture
These are the technical positions for meditating. Only use them if you can do so comfortably. Of course, you can choose to not sit at all and to do movement meditation instead.
1: Quarter Lotus
Yogapedia calls this the “quintessential seated meditation pose of the ancient yogis.”
Quarter Lotus is a crossed-legged sitting position in which your legs are gently crossed with feet underneath the opposite knee. Some people find that their knees hurt in the lotus position. If this is the case, it is not ideal for you.
To perform quarter lotus, sit on the floor. Allow your hips to open gently. Cross your legs in front of you. Comfortably position your feet so that one foot is on top of the opposite angle, and the other foot underneath the other ankle.
2: Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana)
Half Lotus is different to Quarter Lotus because one foot is on top of the opposite knee.
To do this position, sit on the ground comfortably. Let your hips open. Gently cross your legs. Position your right foot under your left ankle. Position your left foot on top of your right ankle.
3: Full Lotus (Padmasana)
Full Lotus has both feet on the knees. To do this, sit comfortably on the ground or on a cushion. Open your hips. Cross your legs. Position your left foot on top of your right ankle, and your right foot on top of your left ankle.
Note that research shows that Lotus position can damage the ankles and knees. However, serious harm is rare .
4: Burmese Position (Siddhasana / Muktasana)
Burmese position is a more comfortable position than Lotus. According to Sarah Powers [founder, Insight Yoga] it is done sitting with both feet on the floor in front of the pelvis (not crossed).
Sit comfortably on the ground or on a cushion. Bend your knees in front of you. Gently rotate your knees outwards with your legs crossed. Place your left heel just inside your right thigh. Place your right heel so that it is just touching the top of your left ankle or calf.
5: Seiza (Vajrasana)
Seiza is a kneeling position, usually on a cushion. Many people find this more comfortable than kneeling on the floor because the cushion offers support. Plus, kneeling helps with meditating. Srinivasan says “[one good thing about kneeling] is that your back is automatically straight.”
Writing for Yoga Journal, Sage Rountree [co-owner of the Carolina Yoga Company] calls this one of the best alternatives to Lotus and notes that it “gives the muscles along the front of the legs—the quadriceps, shins, and ankles—a stretch. “.
To perform Seiza, rest in a kneeling position with your heels propped up on the cushion. You can modify this position by placing the balls of your feet on the floor and extending your toes (this is Kiza position).
Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to sit on a chair or cushion. A good chair will improve your seated meditation posture.
To meditate in a chair, start by sitting comfortably with a relaxed pelvic region. Place your feet firmly on the floor or on a yoga block. Sit up so your back is straight but relaxed. Make sure your spine is in proper alignment. If your knees feel uncomfortable, add a cushion. Now gently tuck your chin downwards as you begin to meditate (this helps elongate the neck and spine).
Shavasana is performed lying down with the arms and hands at the side of the body, legs a little spread. Although do note that most mindfulness instructors, including Andy Puddicombe, state that sitting is the best position to meditate in.
The Art of Living Foundation states that “[Shavasana] pose gets its name from the recumbent posture of a dead body.”
To do this position, start by lying down on your back. Place your legs so that your feet are shoulder-width apart. Angle your feet outwards slightly. Place your arms so your palms are facing upwards. Make sure your neck and head are relaxed. Allow your weight to sink into the ground. Relax your pelvic region.
If you find it uncomfortable lying down, you can try using a yoga bolster. Yoga teacher Erin Michaela Sweeney says bolsters are a “great position for students who… have a condition like fibromyalgia”.
8: Standing Up
Yes, one of the best meditation positions for beginners is standing up. This is a good option, especially if you have injuries or arthritis. Standing up will help you to focus and to feel grounded when meditating.
Spiritual teacher Lewis Hamilton tells us that standing to meditate is popular in Japan and Korea. He calls it a “useful position for individuals who [find lengthy sitting uncomfortable].”
Meditation Posture Checklist
You’ll know you’ve found the best meditation position for you by checking the following points:
- Your back, neck, and head should be in proper alignment. Do not hunch. Do not lean your neck forward. Imagine a piece of string attached to the centre of the crown of your head. The string pulls you upwards gently so that your spine is elongated but relaxed. Buddhist texts state that your spine should be like a stack of coins.
- Relax your muscles. Make sure that the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and face are relaxed.
- Let your arms hang lightly
- Rest your hands (but feel free to use a mudra if you like)
- Make sure your knees are not locked
- Close your eyes gently. It’s best to position your eyes as though you are looking at an item on the ground at a 45-degree angle from your eyes.
- Breathe through the nostrils
The Problem with “Proper” Meditation Positions
Newsflash: No matter what any flexible yogi may try to tell you, it does not matter whether you sit with your legs crossed or uncrossed.
The traditional meditation sitting position with the legs crossed could be doing more damage than good. If it isn’t comfortable, it’s not the right position.
Ventkat Srinivasan, Ph.D. [Art of Living Foundation], says “To facilitate the state of [relaxed focus] you have to be relatively comfortable.” Forcing yourself to sit crossed-legged could cause health problems (read this article on the BBC).
Sitting crossed-legged can:
- Increase blood pressure
- Cause knee injury
- Cause problems in other areas of the body as you compensate for lack of balance in your legs
- Cause varicose veins
In other words: sitting cross-legged is probably not the best meditation position for beginners. On the other hand, sitting correctly and in a comfortable position will focus your mind, support your joints, and help you with the proper breathing exercises.
It Poses No Issue!
If you force yourself to sit in uncomfortable meditation positions, you are going to get knee and back pain when meditating.
Forcing your legs into an uncomfortable position is unsafe, especially if you have problems with your knees or joints. Or if you have a medical condition such as arthritis. Arthritic knees make it utterly impossible to sit for meditation in the lotus position.
Not only are these positions bad for your body, but they are also bad for your practice too. Forcing yourself into uncomfortable meditation sitting positions will impede your ability to concentrate. When you are uncomfortable, you cannot focus. If you sit in a painful way, you’ll be distracted by the pain.
That is why the right way how to sit for meditation is not necessarily in technical positions.
Yes, Buddhist monks sit with their legs cross as do yoga teachers. But they are trained to do so. They find it comfortable. If you do not find Lotus position or Burmese position comfortable, don’t do it.
Sitting with your legs crossed could be bad for you
You might think, “Buddhist monks sit in Lotus position, and they are the masters, so if they sit with legs crossed, I should too.”
Fair point. Except that Buddhist monks can sit comfortably with their legs crossed. Most adults in the west cannot. Plus, sitting with your legs crossed for too long can be bad for your health.
To prove this, go ahead and sit with your legs crossed for a few minutes, and try to focus on your breath. If you are not comfortable in this position, you will find that your mind continually focuses on the discomfort in your legs, preventing you from meditating. But then, why do Buddhists sit in Lotus?
The reasons behind the Buddhist meditation position
Have you ever wondered why monks meditate with their legs crossed? Why is Lotus position considered the best meditation position?
The reason we meditate in Lotus position is that it creates a sense of stability. And science proves this. In one scientific study, researchers found that sitting with your legs crossed increases stability in the pelvis. This stability in the pelvis supports the spine and, importantly, creates a sense of grounding in the mind. When the body is stable, and still, the mind is more likely to be so. And that is why the best way of sitting for meditation is the lotus position.
But: This is only true if you can sit comfortably with your legs crossed
Finding your best meditation positions
Here are my tips for finding the best meditation position. If you still struggle, you will definitely benefit from a good meditation cushion.
1: Good posture
Do you do yoga or tai chi? If so, you will know the feeling of intentionally adopting a pose. For instance, when you are in Warrior Position, you are in an energised, intentional, consciously aware position. There is a level of intent in the way you are holding your body. And that same intent must be present when you are meditating.
It doesn’t matter precisely which meditation position you are in. But when you meditate, sit with intent.
That doesn’t mean you should sit too rigidly though. In the essay Fuken Zazengi, Dogen explains that posture is important for mindset but that this is only one part of meditation.
2: Check For Stability
The primary reason Buddhist monks sit in the lotus position is that it creates a sense of stability in the pelvis and spine. You can get that same level of stability in other meditation positions.
Whether you’re in a chair, cushion or pillow, you can feel that level of stability when you sit correctly.
When sitting to meditate, ask yourself: Do you feel stable? It should be a kind of grounding stability that creates solidity in your body.
3: Tune-In To Your Mind
If you have followed steps one and two, you should feel a sense of focus and stability in your mind. If you have a good meditation sitting position, you will feel focused in your mind. If your current meditation position is not meeting the criteria above, change position and run through the steps above.
4: An Alternative Pose
In some instances, you will still find it uncomfortable sitting for meditation. If that’s you, the good news is this: There are still ways you can meditate. One of the most straightforward solutions is to get a high-quality meditation chair, cushion, or mat.
Another option is to do a more active form of meditation. Some meditations are not done sitting. For instance, Osho dynamic meditations use movement. These are perfect when you can’t sit comfortably for extended periods.
There are many ways how to sit for meditation and lots of techniques do not require you to sit at all. Therefore, if you’ve been finding meditation uncomfortable, try a different meditation pose or technique.
5: Are you comfortable?
You will know that you have a lousy meditation posture if you are uncomfortable.
6: Is it healthy?
It can be hard to know if you’re sitting with perfect posture when meditating. But you can quickly get a sense of whether your spine is in alignment or not. If you think you have bad posture, you probably do.
7: Are you fidgeting?
One way to know if you have good meditation posture is to notice whether you’re fidgeting. Meditation is about focusing. When we focus, we do not fidget. So, if your meditation posture is making you fidget, it’s probably wrong.
8: Are you trying to look cool?
If I had a dollar for every person who tried to do full lotus just because it looks cool… well, I’d probably donate it all to OXFAM. The point is: It doesn’t matter if you look good when you meditate. That’s not what the practice is about. All that matters is that you’re comfortable and not putting any strain on your body.
9: Wrong meditation positions cause pain
When you finish your session, do you have any muscle tension, numbness, or soreness? If so, it’s a sign you’re in the wrong position.
10: Do you have a health condition?
If you have a known medical condition that is interfering with your practice, ask a professional for advice. Your physiotherapist will be able to suggest the best meditation posture for you.
11: Would a meditation chair/mat/cushion help?
A high-quality seat will provide support for your spine and sitting muscles.
12: Are you forcing yourself to stay in one meditation position for too long?
The best meditation position for beginners might be a combination of different postures. Normally when practising, we do not move. We’re supposed to be still like a heron. But if you are genuinely uncomfortable, it is far better to get up and move for a few minutes than to continue and risk injuring yourself.
13: Take it easy
Remember, the practice is mostly for the mind, not the body. While you might push yourself physically when you exercise, you shouldn’t push yourself when you meditate. Chill. Go easy. Use the meditation posture that feels best for you.
There is no one best meditation position for beginners. It is entirely up to you and your body.
With these tips, you can find the best meditation position for you. This will help you to stay comfortable and safe when meditating.
1: Markus Muehlhan et.al, Department of Psychology, Institute of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Germany.
2: Holger Cramer, Carol Krucoff,, and Gustav Dobos at the Department of Internal and Integrative Medicine, University of Duisburg-Essen, (source)