Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Should You Lie Down or Sit Up to Meditate?

No doubt, life can be stressful and tiring these days. So, it should be no surprise that a common question I receive from my meditation students is this: "Is it O.K. for me to meditate lying down?" While you certainly can get benefits from meditating lying down, there are several important reasons why I encourage sitting upright. In this article, we'll explore the often-overlooked, powerful benefits of upright, seated, meditation posture.

Now, before we begin, let me say that I recognize that, for some people, sitting upright is not an option. Because of illness or disability you must lay down. Let me be clear that I advocate meditation first and foremost as internal training that can be done lying down with many positive results.

However, for those able to sit upright, I highly recommend it for a variety of reasons. Not only do I recommend sitting upright, but I recommend doing so without back support-at least for as long as you can without strong discomfort. Here's the posture I recommend and why:

I suggest sitting on the front edge of a chair, couch, or bed with the soles of your feet firmly on the ground and parallel to each other. In other words, you'll be sitting upright without back support with your feet flat on the ground. You can then rest your hands on your thighs or cupped in your lap.

Imagine a string attached to the top of your head gently drawing your spine upright. Tuck your chin slightly to lengthen the back of your neck. Place the tip of your tongue up to touch the roof of your mouth or touch it to your gum-line behind your upper teeth to relax your jaw. Smile slightly with lightly closed lips. Relax your shoulders down. Soften and relax your hands.

Sitting in this posture has several powerful effects:

1. You will strengthen your spinal and core muscles. Not only does this help your posture, it also provides mental-emotional strength. It gives you a "strong backbone" which strengthens your will and the power of your conscious intentions.

2. You'll align your spine and relax tension in the muscles not needed to hold you upright. As you learn to sit upright in good posture, you'll learn to relax your neck, jaw, shoulders, abdomen, and back muscles that may be tight from chronic stress.

3. You'll strengthen your vital energy. Sitting upright in good posture facilitates nerve conductivity through your spine, blood circulation, deeper, freer breathing, and vital energy flow through your core and throughout your whole body.

4. Sitting upright in good posture encourages alertness, paying attention, and present-moment awareness. It will facilitate you shifting into a meditative state. In contrast, if you're lying down, you're much more likely to lose focus and/or drift into sleep.

O.K. so sitting upright without back support has many powerful benefits.

Yet, most people will find it challenging to sit upright without back support for any extended period of time. Yes, it does take some conditioning and practice to reach the point that you do not feel achy and tired in this position. However, if you find it impossible to sit upright for even just a minute or two, you're likely better off lying down and taking a nap. You might just need some rest.

If you are up for meditating, here's what I suggest:

Begin your meditation practice by sitting forward on the front edge of a chair that has back support. Go through the posture cues mentioned above to relax, come into good alignment, and become present in your body. When you begin to get tired or have pain in your neck or back, first recognize and accept that discomfort. Put your attention right into the center of it. Imagine that you are breathing in and out of that area. Consciously let go of the tension as best as you can. Then return to the cues of your particular meditation practice.

If you continue to experience discomfort or it gets worse, gently slide back against the back support of your chair for the remainder of your meditation session. Stay as relaxed and upright as possible as you rest against back support. The amount of time that you are able to sit forward in an unsupported position will naturally lengthen as you continue to practice. Eventually, you'll find that the upright unsupported position is the most comfortable way to sit. In addition, the benefits of this posture will give you even better results from the time and energy you put into meditating.

Enjoy your practice!

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