Posture, Posture, Posture


In the Buddhist tradition, mind and body are considered
interdependent facets of our experience. A relaxed body helps relax the
mind. The traditional meditation posture is designed to create a
supportive physical structure for your awareness practice.

Many people experience some physical discomfort when they first
begin sitting meditation. This is due partly to the unfamiliarity of
the posture, and partly to the practice of awareness revealing more
deeply held tension. We recommend that you sit comfortably and
experiment until you find the posture that best supports your clarity
and mindfulness.

If you sit on a chair, try not to lean your back against the
backrest. Keep your spine as erect as possible without straining; your
feet should be flat on the floor in front of you. Traditionally,
Buddhist meditators have used a seven-point system to help them develop
an optimal sitting posture on a cushion:

1: legs

Cross your legs loosely in front of you, just at or above the
ankles. Your knees should be lower than your hips and on the ground. If
your legs go to sleep during meditation, try crossing them the other
way around--you can sit with one leg in front of the other without
crossing them at all. You can also kneel, turning your cushion on its
side and placing it between your thighs and calves.

2: arms

Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Now bend your elbows, and
let your hands fall naturally onto your thighs. Don’t use your arms to
support the weight of your torso, or “hang on” to your knees to keep
from falling backward. Some meditators prefer the so-called “cosmic
mudra,” a gesture that is formed by cupping your right hand in your
left, palms up, with the second knuckles of your right hand roughly
aligned with the first knuckles of your left. The tips of your thumbs
should just barely touch one another, forming a triangle with your
hands. If you’re feeling sleepy, it can be helpful to keep your thumbs
slightly apart, so that they warn you of an imminent nap attack by
colliding with each other. In this mudra, your hands are resting
loosely in your lap, close to your belly.

3: back

How you hold your back is the most important element of your
meditation posture. Imagine that your vertebrae are coins piled on top
of one another. Let your back find its natural erectness; don’t strain.
You’ll find that the innate concave curvature at the small of your back
helps to support your weight. As one teacher has suggested, “Imagine
that your spine is a strong oak tree. Now lean against it.” Experiment
with tipping your pelvis slightly forward and back to help find the
natural curve of your spine.

4: eyes

Let your eyelids fall closed without squeezing them shut. If you
find yourself dozing off, open your eyes slightly and let your gaze
drop to the ground about six feet in front of you. Resist the
temptation to let your eyes glaze--but at the same time, don’t focus
fiercely on whatever’s in your field of vision. Let your gaze be soft.

5: jaw

Relax your jaw and mouth, with your teeth slightly apart. It’s said
that your lips should be parted enough to admit a grain of rice.

6: tongue

Let the tip of your tongue rest behind your upper front teeth. This reduces the flow of saliva, and hence the urge to swallow.

7: head and shoulders

When you first take your seat, position your head by gazing levelly
in front of you. You’ll find that this drops your neck very slightly
forward. When you close your eyes, maintain this position. Be aware of
your shoulders, and keep them relaxed.

From "Commit to Sit," a meditation challenge that appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.