Since the foundation of our inner work is in our sitting meditation, it is important to develop a comfortable sitting posture. The body should be fully relaxed and grounded, the spine erect, and the belly and chest open so that energy and breath can move and flow freely.
If you are not used to sitting in the traditional cross-legged sitting position, you may find that when you begin sitting that way, you need to develop and increase flexibility in different muscles that you are not used to using. Therefore it usually takes practice and time to feel fully comfortable, and a certain amount of muscular pain has to just be endured while this happens. It is up to you to find the balance. It is best to keep the body completely still during meditation practice, but when too much pain is present, you can slowly, gently, and mindfully adjust or change your position, integrating the movement with your inner focus and avoiding sharp, reactive movements.
To help develop and stretch the necessary muscles, and to open the subtle energy channels in your body, you may also consider learning a bit of yoga or chi gong.
Most people find this to be the most comfortable way to sit cross-legged (#1 + 2)
The best way to enter this position is by placing one hand under your inner thigh (just above the knee) and one hand around your heel, and drawing the legs in one at a time (#3). Ideally the top of the feet should rest on the floor in one line with the knees, and the heels should point up towards the ceiling. To ground yourself more, it is helpful if once you are seated, you lean forward, pulling the flesh of the buttocks out so that both sitting bones have firm contact with the pillow, and then you sit up straight. To open your chest, lift your shoulders up towards the ears, rolling the shoulder blades together and then grounding the shoulders down, relaxing your arms and hands. (#4 + 5)
You can rest your hands either on your thighs or in your lap. You may find it helpful for your shoulders to place a cushion in your lap on which to rest your hands or to wrap a shawl around your waist and tuck your hands inside of it. (#6)
It is common to be more flexible on one side of the body than the other, so you may find that it is easier to sit with either your right or left foot on the inside. But by alternating which foot is in – even though it may be more difficult initially – you will stretch and strengthen both legs equally. Therefore, if you alternate, you may find that it is less painful to sit for long periods like in a retreat.
A variation of the basic posture is to bring one foot up on the other calf in ‘quarter lotus’ (#7) or to ‘half lotus’ (where one foot rests on the thigh) or ‘full lotus’ (#8), which you can try if your hips are very open and flexible. However, these postures should only be used if you can keep your ankles straight so as not to put strain on any ligaments or your knees.
It is important to be grounded physically in your sitting posture. Your knees should not be elevated above the ground. (#9)
Initially you may find that sitting on a higher cushion will help you to achieve this without straining your hips and inner thigh muscles as much, and slowly over time, as you become more flexible, you can reduce the height until it is optimal for you.
If, even after adjusting the height of your cushion, you find that you are physically incapable of reaching the ground with your knees, you can use cushions or a folded blanket to support your knees (#10). This will create less of a stretch in your inner thigh muscles and hips. If you do this, put a cushion underneath both knees so that your hips open equally on both sides.
Or you may find that a kneeling posture is more comfortable for you initially. Those who are able to sit cross-legged, but find it is too painful for long periods or on retreat, can also alternate between sitting cross-legged and kneeling. You can either use a meditation-bench (these are not provided in our retreats, but can easily be purchased online). (#11) or you can sit on a few cushions or a bolster. (#12) To support your knees in an optimum way in these poses, the top of your feet should rest on the ground and your toes should be in line with your ankle and knee (in other words, your knees and feet should not be spread farther or less apart than your ankles, but should all be in a straight line).
And if none of these variations work for you because of flexibility or due to an injury, you can sit on a chair. Since leaning back in a comfortable chair is less supportive for alertness, it is recommended to sit farther forward on the chair with the spine fully erect. (#13) Your legs should be hip width apart, and your feet should be firmly grounded on the floor. You may find it helpful to sit on the edge of a low cushion so that your pelvis is tilted slightly forward to encourage the natural curve in the lower spine. Sitting without support behind your back will also require you to develop new muscles, and initially you may feel some muscular strain as the muscles develop, but you will find that this greatly supports your alertness, which is crucial in work with consciousness, especially in the beginning.
Keeping your spine and neck straight (while allowing their natural curve) and not leaning to one side or the other is very important in every posture. It is easier to prevent bad habits in your posture from the beginning. Otherwise, you may actually become used to sitting in a bent way, and it may feel unnatural to sit straight. It is recommended to observe yourself occasionally sitting in front of a mirror in order to check and correct your posture, and/or to ask a friend to look at your sitting posture and help you to correct any misalignment in order to find the best posture you are capable of.
Whatever posture you choose, your intention should always be to be firmly grounded, finding the balance between strength and gentleness, alertness and relaxation – feeling so comfortable in your body that you could almost forget about it.