How to Sit in Meditation

Article by Lucas Rockwood

Seated meditation can be uncomfortable, and while you’ve no doubt experimented with lots of cross-legged variations, one the best ways to improve your comfort is through targeted stretching exercises. The most relevant stretches focus on lateral rotation of your hips, hip flexion, and the often-overlooked plantar flexion of your ankles.

In this article, we’ll show you three poses that target those specific ranges of motion. But first, we’ll look at different seated meditation positions and how you might make them more comfortable.

Seated Meditation Variations

You can meditate sitting in a chair, you can meditate sitting against a wall, you can even meditate lying down in bed. But since you’re reading this article, we’ll assume you prefer to practice in the middle of the room. With that in mind, here are some of the best postures for sitting on the floor.

School Style

The most obvious style – you simply cross your shins and sit. The problem is that your knees are too high, so try using a block to get your knees in line with your hips, then place your hands on top of your knees or your shins and relax. Keep your chin parallel to the floor, stack your bones and then soften.

Flat School Style

Flex one knee completely, flex your other knee completely, and try to squish everything in close, so there’s no space between your calves and your hamstrings. Your shins should be on the floor, the tops of your feet should be on the floor, your knees in line with your hips, or prop up, with your hands around your legs. From here, keep your chin parallel to the floor, stack your bones, then soften.

Stacked School Style

This pose is similar to flat school style, but you need to pull your feet in a little closer and click one foot on top of the other, so everything is really tight. This pose requires a great deal of hip mobility and very often you’ll need a block or prop so that your knees can either be in line or lower than your hips. Put your hands on your legs, chin parallel to the floor, stack and soften.

Lotus Variations

Although most advanced meditators can do a full lotus, many don’t. A half lotus pose has one foot tucked into your hip crease, one foot under. The problem here is that you’re asymmetrical in this position, so you’ll need a block or prop underneath your knee. A full lotus may look symmetrical, but it’s still lopsided, and there is lot of leverage on your knees and ankles, which usually isn’t the best long term.

Best Practice

Whichever seated meditation variation you choose, you should try to always come back to these four things: knees in line with your hips, hands on your legs relaxed, chin parallel to the floor, stack and then relax your spine.

When you’re doing any kind of meditation you also need to be aware of numbness and tingling, or dead leg. This is a normal part of practice. Sometimes it’s your mind trying to get you to do anything except sit still. The way to know if you’ve pushed too far is to utilize the 30 second rule. If you’re sat like this for 20 or 30 minutes and your legs start to fall asleep, finish your practice, punch out your legs and if all those sensations pass within 30 seconds all is good. If they linger longer, you know you’ve pushed too far.

What’s the risk of pushing too far? There’s a condition known as meditator’s leg. You’ll see some meditation instructors limping around. For casual meditators, like us, it’s very unlikely that we’re going to develop meditator’s leg, but keep utilizing the 30 second rule to make sure that you don’t push too far.

3 Corrective exercises

When you are learning to sit on the floor, of course simply sitting more will help you to gain mobility, but when you use targeted stretching exercises you can accelerate your progress. These poses work on lateral rotation of your hips, hip flexion, and lastly, plantar flexion of your ankles. These three ranges of motion are very helpful, for a more comfortable seated practice.

The most important thing to remember when practicing is to hold each of these poses for at least two minutes to trigger an adaptation response in your soft tissues.

Download PDF pose chart

1) Seated Pigeon

This pose helps improve lateral hip rotation, the range of motion needed to relax your knees down toward the floor in all cross-legged positions.

  • In a chair, place your right ankle on top of your left knee
  • Slide your ankle bone and heel until they notch on top of your knee like a Lego block
  • Rest one hand on your knee and one hand on your ankle
  • Inhale 1-2-3-4 through your nose
  • Exhale 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 through your mouth
  • Hold for 2 minutes on each side
  • If this pose isn’t accessible, straighten your legs to find a place where you can balance. Lopsided poses are ok. You can place one hand behind your back on the chair if needed for balance.

2) Passive Squat

Even though we don’t sit with our knees close to our chest in meditation, even a straight-back, 90-degree sitting position is beyond the hip flexion range for many people. Squatting is a great way to free up your spine.

  • Roll up a yoga mat
  • Step your feet as wide as the mat and turn them out at 10-12 degrees
  • Squat down with your elbows inside your knees
  • Press your weight into your heels
  • Turn your hands face up on the ground
  • Drop your head
  • Inhale 1-2-3-4 through your nose
  • Exhale 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 through your mouth
  • Hold for 2 minutes

3) Lightning Bolt

This pose helps to increase plantar flexion in your ankles. Many people don’t realize that good range of motion in the ankles is important for seated mediation positions since your toes are pointed in most positions. You’ll also get a good stretch in your quads.

  • Sit on your knees, knees together and feet apart
  • Place as many blocks / pillows under your hips as needed to relieve pressure on your knees
  • Rest your hands on your legs, relax
  • Inhale 1-2-3-4 through your nose
  • Exhale 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 through your mouth
  • Hold for 2 minutes
  • Too intense? Try practicing on top of your bed – a mattress can be very forgiving

Instructor’s Tips

These poses can be done as a sequence or squeezed separately into your day. However, they should never be done before a workout. This is intense stretching, designed to affect change in your soft tissues.

If you’re consistent and diligent, you should see results in a couple of weeks, and significant gains within a month or two. Hopefully, this will translate into longer, pain-free sitting time on the cushion.

If you’re injured or feel pain when performing any of these poses, please see a doctor.

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