Correct posture is crucial in meditation because the body and the mind are intimately connected. Usually, we see people meditating while sitting cross-legged, but it’s not the only possible position. Nowadays, many meditation teachers are also suggesting to practice meditation while lying down.
It’s possible to meditate lying down, but it’s not recommended. Lying down relaxes your entire body, and you lose the attention required to maintain mindfulness. It provides excellent relaxation, but it can never be a substitute for sitting meditation. However, in certain situations, it may be best to meditate on your back instead of sitting upright.
But why does lying dull our attention? When should you meditate on your back? And what’s the best way to lie down for meditation? Read on to answer these questions in detail.
Meditation: sitting vs lying down
Meditation can be done in four postures: sitting, lying, standing, and walking. Standing makes our body tense only after a few minutes. So it’s not suitable for prolonged meditation. Sitting down relaxes the body and we’re able to loosen up. By keeping the body upright, we can also maintain alertness and focus while sitting. Lying down usually relaxes the whole body and we end up falling asleep. Lastly, walking is an entirely different thing.
So out of these four, sitting is considered the best position for meditation. It creates the perfect balance of relaxation and alertness. You can sit on the ground or a chair. Sitting cross-legged on the ground is ideal, but it’s okay to sit on a chair if you’re having problems.
The simple issue with meditating lying down is that you’ll likely fall asleep. Practicing this way results in deep relaxation. This is nice and calming, but don’t confuse it with meditation. You may be awake, but you’ll get dreamy and woozy. People might say that they go into some deep meditative state when doing it on their back, but trust me, that’s never the case. Either you doze off or become subconscious.
I get it, meditating lying down feels good and is easier to do. And you can certainly do it in addition to your sitting practice—that would be wonderful. But you can’t only meditate in a supine position and be done with it. All the great yogis and Buddhist masters recommend sitting upright in a proper posture.
If you want to learn more about the proper sitting position, check out the complete illustrated guide to meditation posture.
When is it okay to meditate lying down?
Sitting cross-legged is always preferred over lying down. But an upright posture may not be the best for everyone all the time. So in certain conditions, it’s okay to lie down and meditate on your back.
If you’re physically unable to sit, you can try to find a comfortable upright (or semi-upright) position for yourself. Usually, you’ll be able to find a way if you work for it (more on that later). But if you’ve genuinely tried and failed, then you may lie down to meditate. If you do, I suggest bending your legs so that your feet are flat on the ground (see the next section).
Second, if you’re having difficulties falling asleep, meditation can help you with that. Meditating in bed immediately calms the mind and stops the flow of random thoughts keeping you awake. Try focusing on your breath or releasing tension from every part of your body while lying in bed.
As we’ve said, meditating in a supine position can be good relaxation, but it’s not really meditation. (To understand the difference between the two, read this article.) So if you’re feeling overwhelmed on a particular day, meditating this way can help you relax and de-stress.
There are various techniques you can use to meditate lying down. I’ve written a full article discussing some of them. Read it here: How to Meditate in Bed: Complete Guide for Beginners.
How to lie down for meditation
Even with lying down, you have to follow some guidelines. You can’t just throw yourself on the bed and start meditating or relaxing. The goal here is to lie down such that your body is relaxed and symmetrical. For this purpose, the corpse position works best. Here’s how you do it:
- Choose a broad surface where you can lie down and spread your arms if needed. It helps if the surface is hard.
- Lie down so that your back is in a straight line.
- Your legs can be hip-distance apart or slightly wider.
- Spread your arms about a foot away from each hip, palms facing upward.
- Touch the roof of your mouth lightly with the tip of your tongue. Place it right behind the upper row of teeth.
- You can place a pillow under your head to align your neck properly.
- You can also bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the ground. It’s optional, but it may help you stay awake and reduce the strain on your lower back.
How to avoid pain during sitting meditation
Back pain and numbness of the legs are the biggest reason people believe they can’t sit cross-legged. If this is the case with you, continue to sit cross-legged and follow the tips discussed here.
Usually, these things go away with practice, so keep going. You’ve rarely crossed your legs for more than a few moments in your entire life. So it’s going to take a few months to adjust to this posture.
What?? It’ll take me months to master it?
Oops, sorry about that. It actually takes years to master a meditation posture. But hey, don’t get discouraged. In about a month, you should be able to sit comfortably for 10-20 minutes at least. Then, you can gradually increase the duration, say 5 minutes every week, until you reach your desired goal.
With that said, you can also use some accessories to make things easier for your back and knees. The best thing for your back would be to get a meditation chair. It need not be anything fancy; a simple legless chair—maybe a padded one—will do. It’ll help you keep your spine straight and prevent some back pain.
Also, your knees should be touching the ground when you sit cross-legged. If they’re not, you should sit on a meditation cushion. It’ll help your knees rest on the floor, providing stability to the posture and making it easier to keep the back straight.
You can also put the cushions or blocks under your knees, but I’m not a fan of that approach. It brings your knees higher than the hips, and the edges of the blocks will hurt after some time.
There are many ways to cross your legs, and not all of them allow your knees to touch the ground. Check out the complete tutorial on meditation posture to learn how to properly cross your legs.
Lastly, I highly recommend you read the article on how to sit longer in meditation. It answers a lot of questions about sitting comfortably in your posture.
Meditation can be done in four positions, and sitting cross-legged is the best among them. The next best thing after crossing your legs is to sit on a chair. Standing or lying down is not very suitable for formal meditation practice.
Lying down is more of a relaxation technique than meditation. It allows the body to let go, causing us to fall asleep or become subconscious. It’s good to be mindful when you’re lying in bed, but meditating while lying down can never be a replacement for sitting meditation.
Usually, people try to meditate lying down because of the pain involved in sitting upright. It mostly goes away as you keep practicing, but you can use a meditation chair or cushion to make things easier.