Establishing a Meditation Posture
There are many different forms of meditation taught in a variety of traditions, and similarly, a range of guidance on how to establish a posture. Of course, we can meditate on the move, but traditionally most forms of meditation involve sitting in some way or other. Here, we will introduce you to the basics of finding a suitable posture.
In finding a posture that feels right for you, you may wish to experiment. Fundamentally however, aim to establish a sitting position that enables you to feel both relaxed (and thus able to sustain the position for a length of time), but alert. So, rather than lying back as one would do in an armchair, sit upright with a sense of positive intention. Finding a balance between relaxation, comfort and alertness should set you up for your meditation well.
There are good reasons for this. The teachings of mindfulness tell us that the mind can affect the body and vice versa. So, if we find ourselves slouching, we may notice that we begin to feel sleepy quite quickly. Conversely, if we are too rigid in our posture, our mind may also feel rigid and even uptight. Therefore, the relaxed but alert position is a good foundation for a steady but open and relaxed mind - not too wound up and not too relaxed; much like a fine-tuned string on a guitar.
You may choose to sit on a chair, a stool, cushions or even cross-legged in the traditional lotus or half-lotus position. If on a chair, push yourself to the back of the chair so that you are not reclining back, and so that your back is naturally straight. Sitting on a meditation stool will naturally place you into this position. Place you hands either in your lap or on your legs, and keep your feet firmly on the floor. This position ensures that you are steady and grounded, providing a good foundation for the meditation practice.
You may have noticed images of people meditating showing them with their eyes shut. Many people do of course keep them shut during the whole meditation practice. However, there are various different teachings on whether to keep them open or shut and for very specific reasons. Some practitioners like to keep their eyes wide open, or half open for duration of the practice. Feel free to experiment with this in your own practice.
To begin your meditation it can be helpful to take a few deep but soft breaths to mark the transition into the meditation and connect with the breath. The following sequence which is based on a typical breathing meditation, can help secure a foundation as well as bring closure to the practice:
1. Establish posture.
2. Bring awareness to your environment such as the near and distant sounds around you. Notice your reactions to the sounds.
3. Check in with general states of mind such as your current mood, asking yourself ‘how do I feel right now?’.
4. Similarly, check your state of mind - is your mind busy, quiet, etc.?
5. Scan the body from toe to head or vice versa, noting any physical sensations. You can take as long as you wish for this, but make sure you maintain the intention to complete the whole practice, as it can be easy to drift off after a while.
6. Connect with the breath. Breathing naturally, follow the breath. You may wish to drop in a count before or after each breath (up to 10 then beginning at 1 again).
7. If you notice any arising sensations or thoughts, just acknowledge them as such and then gently guide your attention back to the breath. If you feel any discomfort in your posture, of course change position if you need to, but if you can, make this also part of the practice. Observe, for example, the bodily movement, stretch of the muscles, etc.
8. You may wish to just sit for a while, observing whatever is going on in the body and mind and in your environment.
9. Before you bring the session to a close, check in with your body, emotional state, state of mind, etc. as you did at the beginning, and then sit for a minute or two just noticing how you are. There can be a tendency at this point for the mind to want to re-engage with tasks that need doing, but just notice this urge, and then gently and slowly ease yourself out of the practice.
10. For experienced meditators, practice does not just occur during the meditation itself, it can be in everything that one does. Bringing such an attitude to the transition from the chair, stool or cushions to your daly life can help you to maintain a greater sense of mindfulness. So, when ending the practice, try not to immediately pick the phone up or get involved with tasks. Observe any physical sensations, your mental attitude, mood etc, as you stand up and walk around. If required to work, pay conscious attention to the tasks that you are doing. This way, you find that your mindful awareness impacts positively on the rest of your day.