Some folks say that we can meditate anytime and anywhere, while others insist that you must sit like a rock if you wish to progress. Chances are, you’ve read how important it is to sit perfectly straight during meditation. But why exactly are meditation positions so important? Do meditation postures and techniques go hand-in-hand?
Meditation posture is important because it calms the mind. When we sit cross-legged and straighten our back, we allow the vital energies of our body to flow freely. Maintaining a perfect meditation posture helps us stay alert, concentrate on our object of meditation, and meditate for longer periods.
What is meant by vital energies, and how does the body influence the mind? Read on to discover the importance and benefits of meditation posture and what happens if you do it wrong.
The body directly affects the mind
If we can be mindful of our actions anytime, why are we supposed to choose a quiet place and sit straight during meditation?
You’ll often hear experienced meditators telling us that we can meditate anytime, anywhere. While technically it’s possible to be mindful of our thoughts and actions anytime we want, it’s important to practice sitting meditation regularly in a quiet room.
You don’t have to jump straight into a full lotus position, but crossing your legs and keeping your back straight will lead to a superior meditation experience.
Want to see for yourself how body posture affects the mind? Whenever you find yourself daydreaming, still your gaze on any point in front of you. Don’t move your eyeballs and keep staring at that object. Your thoughts will cease, and everything will stand still. Try it right now, and you’ll notice the difference immediately.
Just keeping your eyes fixed affects the mind instantly. Imagine what a rock-solid posture would do!
Correct mindfulness meditation posture allows the mind to become calm. When the body is perfectly still, the mind can settle on the breath and go deep into meditation. Thoughts may still arise, but they’ll be less likely to carry you away.
The most important point is to own your own physical body. If you slump, you will lose yourself. Your mind will be wondering about somewhere else; you will not be in your body.Shunryu Suzuki – Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Meditation posture and the 10 vital energies
In the Yogic system, Prana or vital energy constitutes the whole of life on this planet. The 10 types of Prana control all our voluntary and involuntary actions, reactions, and habits.
Controlling and strengthening the vital energies of our body leads to higher states of awareness and health. These energies are divided into five primary and five secondary energies. The Sanskrit word is vāyu, whose root ‘Va’ means ‘that which flows.’
Here are the five primary energies, their functions, and what part of our posture controls them:
- Prana Vayu (Vital life energy): This energy nourishes your brain and body, governing the intake of all things: sensory experiences, air, food, and thoughts. It is the basis of your life and has a direct effect on your mood, emotions, and state of mind. You can control Prana Vayu by straightening the arms and shoulders during meditation.
- Apana Vayu (Descending energy): This energy nourishes the organs of reproduction, elimination, and digestion. It controls seminal fluid, urine, and defecation. You can control Apana Vayu by sitting on the ground with your legs crossed.
- Udana Vayu (Ascending energy): It is situated in your throat and controls your speech and growth. Speech difficulties, throat diseases, and shortness of breath are associated with weak Udana Vayu. To control it, maintain the natural curve of your neck and touch the palate with your tongue while meditating.
- Vyana Vayu (Diffusive energy): This energy flows through your entire body. It controls the circulation of all substances to all parts of the body. Hold your body erect and keep your spine straight during meditation to control Vyana Vayu.
- Samana Vayu (Thermal energy): It resides in your stomach and governs the digestion and assimilation of food. If you want to control Samana Vayu, press lightly on your navel while meditating.
As you can see, correct body posture allows you to strengthen the primary vital energies. When you control the primary energies, you automatically gain control over the secondary energies. Having a still gaze (i.e. not moving your eyes during meditation) also helps in controlling the secondary energies.
Benefits of good meditation posture
A perfectly still body contributes to having a perfectly still mind during your meditation session. We can control the five primary energies by sitting straight and the five secondary energies by having a still gaze. There are a few more practical benefits of having a good Buddhist meditation posture.
A perfect meditation posture:
- Keeps you alert: You risk falling asleep when lying down to meditate, and the same goes for slouching in a chair. Sitting cross-legged with an upright spine keeps you awake and alert. It creates the perfect balance of relaxation and alertness.
- Prevents physical exhaustion: Sitting on a chair is fine if you want to meditate for 10-20 minutes, but if you wish to extend your session to an hour or two, crossing your legs is the way to go. Once you accustom yourself to the cross-legged posture, you’ll be able to meditate for longer periods without getting tired.
- Stills the mind: As we’ve discussed, perfect stillness of the body aids in calming the mind. When you cross your legs and sit in a rock-solid posture, you have fewer discursive thoughts and are more able to concentrate on your object of meditation.
Negative effects of bad meditation posture
The stillness of the mind and body go hand-in-hand. If your meditation posture is defective, you’ll have difficulty concentrating. Ancient sages have also identified what part of our posture affects which patterns of thought.
Here are some effects of having a poor meditation position:
- Leaning backward: If you lean backward while meditating, you’ll face restlessness and mental affliction. Lots of thoughts will flood your mind, and it’ll become harder to concentrate on your object of meditation.
- Leaning forward: Just as leaning backward leads to restlessness, leaning forward leads to stupor. You may feel unhappy, jealous, or sleepy.
- Leaning to the right: If you lean to your right, the mind will be drawn to sensory objects. Sensual or lustful thoughts may arise.
- Leaning to the left: If your body leans to the left, you’ll experience strong desires, i.e. sexual or ambitious thoughts. Discursive thoughts will flood the mind.
- Moving your eyeballs: When the focus of your eyes shifts, form consciousness is aroused, i.e. you become aware of your body. This is considered a hurdle because you’re trying to go beyond the mind in meditation. The stillness of our eyes is directly proportional to the stillness of the mind.
Related: Is Meditation a Religious Practice?
How to sit during meditation
Now that you know the importance of meditation posture, you’re probably wondering what the proper posture for meditation is.
Here’s a short guide to help you sit straight during meditation with a proper posture:
- Cross your legs. If you can’t sit on the ground because of a medical condition, that’s okay. You can sit on a chair and meditate in the same way. But ideally, one should sit on the ground with legs crossed.
- Hold your hands in your lap. Put one hand on top of the other, with palms upward. Cup your hands and align your fingers. The tips of your thumbs should ideally meet to form a circle. Alternatively, you can just cross your fingers and drop the hands in front of you, almost touching the ground.
- Keep your back straight. Don’t overarch or slouch. Find your sweet spot. Your spine should be firm but not stiff.
- Keep your eyes closed or half-opened. You can either close your eyes fully or keep them slightly open to admit a little light. If your eyes are half-open, direct your gaze downward.
- Relax your jaw. Your teeth should be slightly apart, not clenched. Relax your mouth and put your lips together lightly.
- Touch your palate with your tongue. The tip of your tongue should touch the part just behind your upper teeth. It’ll reduce the flow of saliva, and you won’t need to swallow a lot.
- Keep your head straight. Maintain the natural hook of your neck. Don’t pull it backward to “make it straight.” Relax your neck and maintain its natural position.
As you may have noticed, we’re trying to keep everything natural. The idea is that your body should be relaxed yet alert.
If you’re straining any part of your body, you’re doing something wrong. That doesn’t mean you won’t experience stiffness or pain when you first try to sit in this posture for more than a few minutes. This pain or numbness is natural and will go away as you progress.
Although experts tell us that meditation can be done anytime and anywhere, the importance of traditional sitting meditation cannot be neglected. It builds the foundation of a meditative life and introduces us to our inner peace.
In the beginning, you’ll have much difficulty maintaining a perfect posture. But with practice, your sitting capacity will increase steadily.
Good luck and happy meditating! 😊