Question: Can we lie down for meditation?
This question is frequently asked in meditation classes. Even people just starting to learn meditation are wondering why some systems are so strict in how you sit (Himalayan Tradition) and others fairly casual (Transcendental Meditation).
We usually associate sitting with paying more attention. If most of us were in a class (let’s say an online video class at home)–don’t we start off sitting. Sometimes we decide-“Hey let’s just relax a bit lying down and we can listen more comfortably.” Well you know what the rest of the story is–we wake up suddenly and the find the screen is blank–having slept comfortably but missed the class.
Lying or Supine Position
Some of us can sleep sitting and even standing. Lying down seems to be a big trigger to relax and often we move into sleep very easily. This habit of falling asleep when lying down serves us well at night. It doesn’t work for many of us at other times. Many of the advanced subtle body relaxation techniques in Hatha Yoga are taught in this supine or Shavasana position (as pictured above). For a practicing spiritual seeker, they cultivate the capacity to delay/control sleep in this shavasana position in order to complete these deeper relaxation practices consciously.
Still meditation is not recommended for us in this supine position. Why?
One of the prime reasons to use proper alignment and balance in upright sitting for meditation is the proper establishment and flow of the diaphragmatic breath. A posture that doesn’t have the spine erect in neutral and balanced dimension and tensions will utilize upper chest breathing frequently.
A neutral spine here means that the spine is straight from the head, neck and trunk while maintaining ones three normal curves of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.
A balance of the head neck and trunk means there an evenness to several parameters. The orientation, dimensions and tensions on the front/back/sides top and bottom of the trunk container are in proper equilibrium to support this neutral erect posture.
Many are familiar with this building block example of stacking the body parts like blocks into proper alignment. The bodywork systems and others utilize this incomplete paradigm of alignment. Here is a picture from the Rolfe Institute.
Neurological and Pranic Contribution
Here is an important rationale for sitting vs lying for meditation as well as any event requiring greater focus and attention. When we sit we elicit a variety of neurological/pranic reflex activity. We have certain postural reflexes that keep us more or less upright. These include other righting and equilibrium reactions. If our eyes are open we often also try to keep the visual field oriented properly to the horizon–so there are ocular reflexes too. There are many more reflex activities throughout the flows of movement in the body, breath and mind. Here are some simple ideas first.
Sitting well for meditation means besides alignment of the body, that there is this balance of tension and dimension of the body. Creating this balance of activity of the movement of the information/prana of the body is what enhances centering in this position.
This level of upright centering creates (just in looking in the sagittal plane, i.e. front to back) an interiorization of these flows that maintain this upright aligned/balanced nature. If we sit mis-using the alignment concept and therefore popularly overuse the back (vs the front), we are in too much extension often where we have these common complaints of discomfort/pain. When balancing the muscular tension of BOTH the front and back (and all the others) along with the dimensions and weight/forces, etc.–we arrive at a focus that takes us inward. (Not enough of us activate this front of the lower trunk (ie belly) nor the back of the upper back nor the front of the neck. These points are barely accepted intellectually and mostly absent in ones “sensory” practice.)
No longer are we facilitating too much extension energy/forces or starting to slump forward in flexion energy/forces–but we create a equilibrium. This equilibrium will automatically elicit these bandhas that everyone is trying to do and make happen. These bandhas and mudras will spontaneously occur.
The mind subtly that let’s say had 2 foci of attention on the front and back now can collapse those two into one. This subtlety is not popularly appreciated nor trained for properly.
Also as mentioned in previous posts the style of diaphragmatic breathing that uses the belly mainly places the diaphragm to face more anteriorly. This belly aspect of the diaphragm lacks the postural stability of the trunk that the diaphragm can provide (when used this way). Belly breathing over activates the extensors of the spine/back, etc.
When you place the lower ribs which the diaphragm attaches (in part) to face the pelvis you have an opportunity to use more three dimensional breathing. When you breathe diaphragmatically more from the lower rib cage rather than using the diaphragm of the belly–you have centrated this huge/forceful, very repetitive motion of life. You now sit with greater stability and ease. This aspect of the diaphragm of the lower ribs is also poorly understood and not properly trained. This type of centrated breathing more easily facilitates the centering of the mind also.
Can we lie for meditation or should we sit?
- Lying implies resting and sleeping of both the body and mind for the average person
- Sitting erect is both an advantage for proper breathing and alignment of the spine
- Proper sitting includes centrating both the diaphragm and tensions/dimension of the body to create an automatic/spontaneous interior response
- One must properly practice the steps in preparation
- These steps must include specific drills of linking ones attention at these different foci
- Developing concentration that is stabilized then increase these deeper flows and movements towards absorption and silence