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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Padmatara, San Francisco, USA
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Candradasa, FBA Team
Colum, London, UK
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
... the imbalances and not "build them in" to
Meditation Posture: Lotus and Half-lotus
These postures are only suitable for those who are very flexible. I have a friend who had to
have the cartilage removed from his knees after years of forcing himself into lotus. If you feel
any pain in your knees, or this posture becomes very uncomfortable, then try one of the earlier
postures that we looked at.
In the full lotus, the feet rest on the opposite thighs, with the soles pointing upwards (if you
have pain in your ankles then stop! and find an easier posture). In the half-lotus, one foot is on
the opposite thigh with the sole pointing upwards, while the other rests on the floor, as in the
Full lotus is said to be the best position for meditating. The meditator who is able to sit
comfortably in full lotus is close to the ground (which, for some reason, seems to be helpful in
feeling "grounded"), and is also in a very balanced and symmetrical posture.
Sitting on a chair or kneeling with cushions or on a bench are even more symmetrical postures,
but there's less contact with the floor. (If this business of not being on the floor puzzles you,
then you need to experience the difference between meditating on a chair and meditating on the
Posture Issues: Slumping
A slumped posture does not allow us to be alert and to remain aware while meditating. When
you slump, you may also experience tension in the neck and shoulders (look at how the back of
the neck is short and compressed, rather than long and open).
There are three causes of slumping:
Sitting too low
Having insufficient tilt in your seat
In the photograph, the meditator is sitting too low. When you sit too low, this tilts the pelvis
backwards, and so the upper back has to slump forwards so that you can stay in balance. This
has the effect of closing the chest and reduces your ability to breathe freely. If you sit in this
posture you'll tend to feel rather dull and may even fall asleep because of the constriction in
Having your seat at the right height, but having a flat or insufficiently tilted seat, is also a cause
of slumping. And sometimes slumping is just a habit.
After we've had a look at over-arching we'll look more closely at how to deal with slumping.
But what we most often do is to try to hold ourselves upright by force of will. This can result in
a posture that "looks" okay. If you slump, and then force yourself to sit upright, your posture
might look okay from the outside, but before long those clenched muscles will start to feel
pretty painful from the inside.
Posture Issues: Over-arching
Over-arching can result from:
sitting too high
having too much of a slope on your seat
The meditator in this photograph is sitting too high (notice the exaggerated height of his seat).
What results from this is that the pelvis tilts forwards. In order to avoid falling flat on his face,
the meditator leans back, causing an exaggerated hollowing in the lower back.
There should, of course, be a normal, gentle hollowing in the lumbar region (it's called the
lordotic curve) but exaggerating this will cause a painful "pinching" in the lower back. Over-
arching can also occur when the angle of the seat is too steep (this also throws the weight
forwards, so that the meditator has to lean back, causing excessive hollowing). And over-
arching can also be a simple postural habit.
The solution for over-arching is generally to adjust the angle of the seat or (and this is more
common) find a lower seat, or to make an adjustment to the angle of the pelvis.
Posture Issues: Finding the Right Height of Seat
To avoid either slumping or overarching, you need to get the height of your stool or cushion
right. But how do you know when you've found the correct height for you? There is no one
right height that suits everyone. Your own body height and flexibility will have a big effect on
the height that is right for you.
The best way to find the right height is having an experienced person on hand to adjust your
posture and give you feedback. It's very hard to judge from the inside whether your posture
needs to be changed. But here are some checks you can carry out yourself to see whether you
are sitting too high or too low:
Set up your posture, and make sure you are comfortable and relaxed.
Make sure you aren't holding yourself forcibly in what you think is a "good" posture.
How does it feel?
When you relax, do you find that you slump?
Take your hands round to the back of your lumbar spine.
Is the lordotic curve exaggerated (over-arching)?
Or is your lower back flattened or even convex (slumping)?
Or do you have a normal lordotic curve when in a relaxed position (good posture)?
Posture Issues: The Angle of Your Seat
If your seat (whether that's a chair or bench) is flat, then this will cause you to slump, with all
of the problems that follow from slumping. Your seat should have a slight forward angle, to
allow you to be able to sit upright with no effort. As explained earlier, you can achieve a good
angle when sitting on a chair by having a 1" (2- 2.5cm) block under each of the back legs.
This principle still applies when sitting on cushions. If you sit towards the back of your
cushion, your pelvis will tilt backwards, and you will end up slumping. In order to have a slight
forward tilt to your cushion, your weight needs to be to the front of the cushion.
If your chair or stool is too steeply angled, however, then this will tend to throw your weight
forward and cause over-arching.
It's ideal if you can actually try out a stool for a while. Once you've done a few 30-minute
meditations on a stool, you have a good idea whether it's right for you.
An excellent solution to help you find the right angle on your seat is to use a meditation stool
with rounded legs, as in the one illustrated below, which is available through our online
meditation supplies store. When you sit on such a stool it automatically adjusts to the right
angle for your body size, although you may still have to play around with cushions between
your bottom and the stool in order to get the right height.
Posture Issues: Spotting Bad Habits
A lot of slumping and over-arching results from holding the pelvis at the wrong angle. So some
slumping and over-arching can be corrected quite simply by changing your posture. Again, it's
best to have an experienced meditation teacher check your posture, but if you can't manage that
then there are some self-tests you can do.
Slip your hand under your buttocks (I bet you never thought meditation was going to be so
much fun!). There are two little bones that protrude downwards through your buttocks. We
meditation teachers have a technical term for them: we call them the "sitting bones". There's
probably a more anatomically correct term, but we get by calling them sitting bones. If the top
of your pelvis tilts forwards (causing your back to over-arch), then the sitting bones slide off
the back of your hands. If you tilt your pelvis backwards (causing the back to slump), then the
sitting bones slide off the front of your hands. When your pelvis is perfectly aligned, then the
sitting bones point straight down into your hands (or your seat, once you've removed your
So, what you want is to have those sitting bones pointing straight down while your back is
relaxed and at ease. This can be achieved when you have your seat at the right height for you,
so play around with different heights of cushions or whatever, and see when your back is
relaxed and your sitting bones are pointing straight down.
Another check is to repeat the exercise of tilting your pelvis back and forwards, but put your
hands on the small of your back, noticing how it slumps when you tilt your pelvis back, and
over-arches when you tilt your pelvis forward. When your sitting bones are pointing straight
down, and when you have the right height and angle of seat, then the small of your back should
have a gentle hollow, which is perfectly comfortable.
Meditation Posture: Shoulders
In order to create good conditions for being aware, you need to have an open chest, with a
sense of spaciousness across the front of your chest between your shoulders. You can
encourage this sense of spaciousness by taking a few deep breaths and filling your upper chest.
As you breathe in, the front of your body with rise (see the arrow on the photograph). Feel the
openness across the front of your upper chest and, at the same time, relax your shoulders,
letting them fall and roll back (like the arrow behind this meditator).
If, while sitting, you feel any stretching in your shoulders, it probably means that you need to
have you hands supported higher.
While meditating, you may have the sensation that your shoulders are rising and falling as you
breath in and out. If you tune into the sensation of your shoulders falling on the outbreath, you
can encourage your shoulders to relax more deeply.
Meditation Posture: Hands
Your arms weigh ...