By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts
Whether you’re new to meditation or you’ve been meditating for a while, the first step in setting yourself up to practice is finding a comfortable position. This makes perfect sense: if the goal of meditation is to guide your mind toward increased focus, awareness, and compassion for yourself and others, your body positioning should reflect that. You don’t want to feel fidgety or uncomfortable or in any pain.
As with most things in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best meditation position. From a purist’s perspective, a mindfulness practice can be done in one of four postures: sitting, standing, lying down, and walking. Many teachers (including Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe) believe that sitting is the optimal position as it provides a balance of focus and relaxation. When the body is upright, both the body and mind tend to be alert and attentive. At the same time, when we’re seated there’s a degree of letting go and relaxation that takes place.
In order to make meditation as available and accessible to everyone, we encourage you to explore the options, especially if you’re just beginning a meditation practice or you have any limitations or restrictions, to find what feels best for you. Here are 4 positions to try, along with the proper meditation posture for each one.
Good posture is really important for meditation, but that doesn’t have to mean sitting on the floor and turning yourself into a human pretzel in a cross-legged pose.
In a chair, or on a sofa
Unless you’ve done a lot of yoga, or you’ve grown up practicing meditation in a cross-legged seated or lotus position and you’re really comfortable with it, we recommend sitting in an upright chair with your legs uncrossed, feet on the floor, and your arms and hands resting either on the legs or in the lap.
If possible try not to lean against the back of the chair. Scooch to the middle of the chair, and, if it helps, place a cushion or folded blanket under your sitting bones to tilt your hips forward. You can also put a pillow behind your lower back for support to help keep your back naturally straight (not arched or hunched) and your head and neck aligned with your spine. The idea is to set yourself up so you’re alert, yet maintaining your posture feels effortless. Here’s a step by step video to guide you on how to sit for meditation.
On a cushion or blanket on the floor
Of course, if you prefer sitting cross-legged on the floor, that’s fine too! Sit on a cushion or a folded blanket so your knees are lower than your hips. If you’re sitting on a hard floor, a rug or blanket under your feet will cushion your ankles.
If it helps, you can lean against the wall or a sturdy piece of furniture. Put a soft pillow or two behind your lower back to make sure your spine is straight, in an upright position. If sitting cross-legged bothers your knees, stretch your legs out in front of you.
Whichever sitting meditation position you choose, the posture pointers are the same: the back is straight yet relaxed, the head and neck are aligned over the spine, and the arms rest on the legs or in the lap. When it comes to your hand positions during meditation, you can either place them on the legs, palms down, or in your lap, palms up, one hand resting in the other. Practitioner’s choice.
Remember, if your seat isn’t comfortable the rest of your body will tense up, and that will make meditating difficult.
Can I meditate lying down? Well, because the mind tends to be more alert and attentive when we’re seated and upright, most teachers agree that sitting to meditate is best whenever possible. However, if you’re wondering whether you can meditate lying down, the answer is yes.
If sitting causes any discomfort — if you have back pain or sciatica, or maybe your foot is in a cast, which makes it hard to sit — or you don’t feel well and you need to lie down, of course, it’s OK to lie flat on the floor as an alternative. Lying down is also an option as a meditation position for beginners if it helps you feel more comfortable while you’re learning a new skill.
To set yourself up, lie on your back with your legs about hip-width apart, toes relaxed out to the side, arms extended alongside your body, palms turned up. (If you’re familiar with yoga, this is savasana, or corpse pose, that comes at the end of class.)
If it feels more comfortable, try placing a thin pillow under your head and bending your knees to 90 degrees so your feet are flat on the floor, or put a pillow underneath your knees to elevate them. This will help to protect your lower back and prevent any additional strain.
Assuming you’re not trying to drift off to sleep you’ll probably want to lie on a mat or a blanket on the floor so you don’t get drowsy. If you’re practicing a sleep meditation then, by all means, lie down in your comfy bed, take a few deep breaths, and close your eyes!
The whole point of a meditation practice is to learn to bring the quality of mindfulness into our daily life. As it is, most of us probably spend too much time sitting, hunched over our computers, so how nice that we can also practice meditation standing up!
According to Yang Yang, founder of the Center For Taiji And Qigong Studies and clinician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, standing meditation is one of the fundamental training methods of Chinese martial arts. “Practitioners hold standing postures to cultivate mental and physical relaxation, tranquility, awareness, and power.”
Standing up to meditate is probably not as familiar to most of us as other positions (unless you practice tai chi or qigong), but here are a few ways to try it.
Standing Option 1
Stand comfortably with your feet hip-to-shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent (not locked), hips and spine relaxed. Gently raise your arms to mid-chest height as if you were holding a large beach ball in front of you, with the hands relaxed and fingers lightly extended. Imagine your head is suspended by a piece of string. Breathe normally, preferably through the nose. Feel and observe the body and mind, encouraging the whole body to soften without letting the posture collapse or becoming rigid or tense. Hold for 2 to 3 minutes, gradually building up to 10 to 15 minutes a day.
Standing Option 2
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Position your feet so your heels are slightly closer together than your big toes. Don’t lock your knees; a soft bend in them is fine. Place your hands over your belly, right hand over left, to feel the breath moving through your body. Allow your body to root down through your feet with each exhale. Imagine your energy lifting out through the crown of your head with each inhale.
Standing Option 3
Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, feet parallel, knees soft. Relax your neck and shoulders, and let your arms hang by your sides. Take a moment to rest your attention on the sensations at the base of your feet (at the point of contact with the ground) and on the crown of your head. On an inhale, picture your breath rising from your feet up through your body, and out through the crown of your head. On the exhale, feel your breath moving from your head, down through your body and out through your feet into the ground. You can visualize the breath in any way you want: as a ray of light, a stream of water, or just experience the sensations. Be aware of feelings along your spine. Repeat this as many times as you want. You can do this exercise anywhere — even while waiting in line at the grocery store, or any other public place.
It might seem strange at first, but meditating while walking is a way to bring a relaxed focus to this everyday activity. It’s amazing how different we feel when paying attention to what’s going on around us while taking a walk rather than what’s swirling in our head.
Though we're doing a walking meditation, that doesn’t mean we’re walking around like zombies with our eyes closed. Instead, we are mindfully walking using a meditative technique, with eyes wide open, a pace that suits us, and our attention on whichever environment we find ourselves in.
There are different types of approaches to walking meditation, most of which depend on your location. A stroll in the countryside, for example, is different from a quick-paced walk through the city. But a meditative walk — perfectly suited for people who live a busy life — can be done anywhere and at whatever pace you like. Here's how to get started.
As you start to walk, notice how the body feels. Heavy or light, stiff or relaxed? Take a few seconds to become aware of your posture and the way you’re carrying yourself.
Without trying to change the way you’re walking, simply observe your gait. Bring your attention to it. This can sometimes make you feel self-conscious, but that feeling usually passes.
And, if you're a runner or want to be, there are even Headspace running meditations.
No matter which meditation position works best for you — seated, lying down, or standing — the Headspace app assists you in dealing with the stresses and strains of 21st-century life. Our convenient online sessions can help you find increased compassion, greater focus, less stress, and improved feelings of well-being and happiness.
If you’re looking for an introduction to different types of meditation, check out the 10-day beginner’s course on the essentials of meditation — available with your membership or free trial. From there, once you gain more experience and confidence, you can explore the whole library of meditations and exercises, covering everything from sleep, compassion, and sports to anger, stress, focus, and more. Get started today! Sign up for Headspace for free, and start reaping the benefits of meditation practice.
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