Archive for Sitting

Sitting vs Lying in Meditation


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?

Sitting Position

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 in Meditation

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?

  1. Lying implies resting and sleeping of both the body and mind for the average person
  2. Sitting erect is both an advantage for proper breathing and alignment of the spine
  3. Proper sitting includes centrating both the diaphragm and tensions/dimension of the body to create an automatic/spontaneous interior response
  4. One must properly practice the steps in preparation
  5. These steps must include specific drills of linking ones attention at these different foci
  6. Developing concentration that is stabilized then increase these deeper flows and movements towards absorption and silence







Exercise in the Office


The Office Slump

OK, so we all don’t look that bad (or cute) sitting in the office.  But isn’t sitting pretty different from moving?  Of course it is–and this is one of the great problems in sitting.  The side effects of how we sit and and the amount of sitting that many of us at the office do is very detrimental to our health.

Problems with Sitting

First of all we are sitting too much and moving too little.  So one way to deal with this problem is to change positions frequently and go take a break.  (There is an excellent video on how to sit that was posted in the past.  We will not cover that topic here.)

Also sitting often in a slumped position changes our breathing options.  We breathe in a more shallow and irregular manner.  We don’t energize our system with proper deep diaphragmatic breathing like we would if we were moving more.

Sitting in a chair all day or a good number of hours shortens our joints and surrounding tissues so that our body starts to resemble this fairly bent or flexed posture.

Most important here is that our nervous system adapts to this static posture and we actually loose options to move and feel.  This effect bores through many more systems than just the so called musculoskeletal system.

Sounds terrible, yet why don’t we change our behavior?  We naturally resist change.  We really operate and behave based on habits.  Changing habits is not easy as we all know.  Without a good reason and without a practice–we just will continue in our habit.

There is nothing another person can do for us.  We have to make our own assessment of ourselves.  Ask ourselves if we want something different.  If we do, then discover a deeper reason for change and then start a practice that supports these differences.

Office 5 Exercise

You will feel better and be more alert at work if you body, breath and mind are doing their full job.

Here is a video that shows you several simple exercises you can do without leaving your chair.  How easy is that!

Explanation of Some of the Exercises

Are you still sitting while reading–I’m sure sitting while writing.  How long has it been since we changed our position and took a break.

These movements are very effective in creating the difference our system needs to reset itself and receive the benefits of movement (and decrease the negative sitting effects).  Feel free to modify them

  1. The first movement stretches the spine like a cat.  It uses deeper breathing as a focus that follows or leads the movement.  This forward and backward arching of the spine is a primary direction that is strongly embedded in the nervous system.  By altering in a rhythmical way this powerful direction, you will strongly turn up the nervous system while you counteract the forward posturing from sitting.
  2. The second exercise opens up our hips–which is so important in establishing a proper sitting foundation.  These split leg movements done on the chair are very accessible to all (unless there are arm rests, oh well).  The extension and stretching of the rear hip is very helpful to balance out the prolonged hip flexion that is required by sitting.
  3. The third is simple a progression of the second.  You add a bowing of the body to the side.  This sideways direction is quite stimulating as we are often just stuck in a forward direction in sitting.  If you again work with the breath as you expand the lateral/side wall of the chest, you will also expand the breath.  Remember deeper breathing is better breathing.
  4. The fourth exercise uses twisting.  Now we all have heard of the dangers of twisting the spine while it is bent and flexed.  This is very true in overstretching of the lower back or lumbar spine.  Here the split leg position will often counter rotate the pelvis and you should try to work on twisting from the chest and not the waist.
  5. The last exercise is just fun.  If you do it so that you keep your chest (and weight) over your hands and bend your elbow a bit, it will really exercise your trunk and upper body.  In sitting we don’t do anything to express the upper bodies system–keypading and mousing do not count  : o )

Some times you will find yourself just stretching in you chair.  Great idea.  Try just turning in your chair if doesn’t have arm rests and go into that split leg position.

I’m sure you can figure out other variations you could do as well.

Key point here is to do.  So right now try out these movements and see if you don’t feel better.

Sitting Lesson

Sitting Better

Oh-Oh, another thing to do!  Wait, this can be a bit painless.  I have just made a short video that gives you some of the basic information you need to sit smart.  This means that it is the very basic information you can use to make sitting a bit more comfortable.  Now it does take some work.  Most of us are working way too much.  Some of us would love to get some work–(and get paid for it).  Either way we are all sitting around.  In fact as I type I’m sitting.  So it’s pretty universal.  Proper sitting is essential for those of us who are in pain due to improper sitting.   How do you know that this means you?  Just try it out!

View this video and see if it doesn’t help give you some things to work on.  Remember the work is in the practice, practice, practice–doing it well.  Of course doing it well means slowly coming to be able to feel what you are doing and then feeling how to change it.  Remember the key is finding out what you do by creating an ability to actually sense these movements and postures.  Then changing them becomes easier.  The repetition of the change helps then change the previous habit.

Note the details of sitting here pertain to sitting without the back of a chair.  The main lesson is especially pertinent for those of us doing a forward oriented tasks.  These would include writing, actively speaking or other table/desk type of tasks that focus us to the space in front of ourselves.

Video on Sitting


I want to thank my teachers who have taught me.  I simply have “stolen” their ideas and given them to you here.  Of course I must mention Swami Veda Bharati, who is the Michelangelo of sitting for meditation.  This video is only the introduction to learning how to mechanically sit better.  It is not a treatise on meditation or sitting for meditation.

The introductory course that is taught by me on sitting for meditation is at least 6 hours.  We break that up into two days of three hours each.  Much more is taught than just the mechanics, so this is only a start.

This sitting lesson is for all of us who sit–especially in the unsupported sitting position.  Sitting against the back of a chair–or oh my god, against the back of a sofa or pillow–is quite different.

Good luck in your practice and feel free to comment below–thank you–peter