When you think of meditation, you probably think of spending ages in an uncomfortable sitting position with your mind chattering and clattering. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Although meditation is merely considered a tool to explore the mind, your body shouldn’t come off badly in your meditation practice. That’s why finding the best meditation sitting position is the first step in establishing a solid meditation practice. Think about it: If you want your mind to stay focused and aware, you don’t want to feel pain or discomfort.
Sitting poses are optimal for meditation since they keep both the body and the mind alert while, at the same time, providing a certain degree of relaxation.
What you need to know to find the best meditation sitting position:
"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."
— Haruki Murakami
1. Possible Meditation Sitting Positions
One of the most important aspects when it comes to choosing the right sitting pose for meditation is to keep the back upright and straight. Avoid bending forward or back, but remain neutral instead. A neutral position of the spine, allowing for its natural curve, enables you to breathe properly and let the flow of energy (Kundalini) take place. That’s why it is the most advisable meditation sitting position.
But how to find the seat that is best suited to the specific needs of your body? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the best meditation sitting position. There are a few possible sitting poses for meditation: Full Lotus (Padmasana), Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana), Easy pose (Sukhasana), Hero pose (Virasana), and – who would’ve thought it? – sitting on a chair.
Theoretically, you could even sit in Staff pose (Dandasana), but this will probably be even more uncomfortable for meditation than any of the other meditation sitting positions mentioned.
Not matter what seated pose you chose, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the most out of your meditation practice:
- Let your eyes gaze slightly downward or keep them closed.
- Slightly tuck your chin to keep the cervical spine aligned.
- Let the spine follow its natural upright curve.
- Center the sitting bones so that they’re neither too far forward nor too far back.
- Keep the arms parallel to the torso with the palms resting on the thighs.
- Keep the knees below the hips.
Experiment to find the meditation sitting position that suits you best. Remember that a meditation posture is not meant to torture you. Nevertheless, you’ll probably find it much easier to sit for an extended period of time when the spine is upright instead of slouched. This is because hunching over will not only make you feel tired after a while, but may also cause back pain due to gravity pulling you down.
This is why sitting against a wall or on a chair is totally fine if that helps you to sit straight. You can also use props such as pillows, blankets or blocks to support your meditation pose. Over time, you’ll probably get more used to sitting and may feel ready to explore other meditation sitting positions and variations.
Note that lying down is not the best option for meditation since you risk falling asleep easily. However, it’s okay to lie down if you’re in pain and cannot sit comfortably at all. There actually are some forms of meditation that specifically ask you to lie down, such as the full-body scan called Yoga Nidra. However, this is not the usual sitting position used for meditation.
1.1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Easy Pose (Sukhasana) actually is the name for any comfortable cross-legged sitting position. It’s one of the most basic poses for meditation. But the word “easy” here means “with ease” and not necessarily the opposite of “difficult”. Sitting in any way you can with ease may involve the use of props such as yoga blocks, cushions, or blankets to feel as comfortable as possible in this posture.
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Align the shoulders directly over the hips and relax the shoulders. Lift the crown of the head towards the ceiling and rest the hands on the thighs. Avoid slouching or dropping the chin forward, but lift the sternum instead. This prevents you from straining the neck or upper back.
If you notice your spine is rounding, gently tilt the pelvis forward. Raising the hips above the knees by putting a prop under the sitting bones can make it easier to tilt with the pelvis forward.
Crossing the legs may restrict circulation in the legs, resulting in numbness or a tickling sensation in the limbs. To avoid this, keep the feet further away from the pelvis to prevent the knees from bending too much.
If you notice that your knees are high off the ground, causing an uncomfortable feeling in your ankles due to the tremendous supination of your ankles, place a blanket or towel underneath the ankles. You can also put a prop such as a rolled-up blanket or a yoga block under the knees to support them.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable at all in this pose or even experience pain, consider an alternative pose, such as Hero Pose, or sit on a chair.
1.2. Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana)
Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana) is a sitting pose you can choose for meditation while working up to Full Lotus pose. It’s a good option for sitting cross-legged if you don’t have the open hips required for Lotus pose and to reduce strain on your hips and knees.
To get into the pose, sit on your yoga mat in Easy pose, cross your legs and tuck the feet under the legs. Use your hands to bring one foot on top of the opposite thigh with the sole of the foot facing upward. Adjust the foot so that it is as high as possible on the thigh, ideally even in the hip crease.
Let both shins rests on the floor in a cross-legged position. Lift the crown of the head up to elongate the spine while, at the same time, relaxing the shoulders. Rest the palms on top of the thighs.
If the knees pop up in this sitting position, use a prop under the sitting bones to raise the hips above the knees. Alternatively, you can place a folded blanket under the knees.
Avoid sitting in Half Lotus if you’re suffering from knee or hip injuries or inflammation. If you feel pain when sitting in this pose, come out of it and opt for Easy pose or Hero pose instead.
1.3. Lotus Pose (Padmasana)
Lotus pose (Padmasana) is probably considered one of the most recognizable yoga poses. However, it’s an advanced yoga pose and not accessible to many beginners. This is mainly due to the circumstance that we’re not used to squatting and sitting on the floor anymore. The result is that our hips have limited mobility. The good news is that you can improve your hip mobility with consistent practice to be eventually able to sit in Lotus pose.
To get into the pose, cross your ankles to place the feet into the respective opposite hip crease, i.e. the left foot into the right hip crease and vice versa. Let the soles of the feet face upward. Elongate the spine and relax the shoulders and the knees toward the floor.
For this yoga pose, the legs have to have sufficient range of motion to externally rotate from the pelvis. Forcing the legs into position without the hips being open enough will actually put a significant strain on the knee joint, as it’s the next joint in the chain of movement.
Raising the pelvis above the knees by sitting on a prop helps to align the hips. But it’s important to keep in mind that, although Lotus pose may be considered the preferred sitting position for meditation, the most important thing is that you sit comfortably.
Apart from that, you should avoid this pose if you have any knee or ankle injury. Remember that you can always opt for the easier version Half Lotus a different meditation sitting position.
1.4. Hero Pose (Virasana)
Hero pose (Virasana) is a meditation sitting pose that provides a great stretch for the quadriceps. At the same time, it opens the ankles and helps to gain flexibility in the shins.
In this position, it’s easier to keep the shoulders aligned over the hips so that the spine is elongated and doesn't ache when you’re sitting. It’s more comfortable for most people than any of the cross-legged sitting positions.
To get into the pose, start in an upright kneeling position with the hips over the knees and pushing the tops of the feet into the yoga mat to activate the shin muscles. Separate the feet to either side to make room for the sitting bones to come down to the yoga mat between them. Pay attention to keeping the knees together.
Lower the sitting bones until they can rest on the floor between the feet. This means that you’re not sitting on the feet, but between them with the tops of the feet on the yoga mat. Make sure that the toes turn neither inward nor outward. Relax the shoulders and rest the hands on the thighs lap.
You can put a prop such as a yoga block under the sitting bones to elevate the pelvis. This will reduce the stretch on the quadriceps and the tops of the feet. If you feel discomfort in your ankles, you can also put a blanket or towel under your ankles for cushioning.
1.5. Sitting on a Chair
There’s nothing wrong with sitting on a chair for meditation. This is a particularly good option for people with knee injuries or any other physical issues that may cause pain while sitting on the floor. Remember that the aim of your meditation practice is focusing the mind, not pretzeling the body and bearing up against pain.
The only thing to be aware of is that you may feel too comfortable to remain alert. If you decide to sit on a chair, place both feet firmly on the ground. In case the feet don’t reach the ground, use a prop under the feet so that they feel supported.
Sit up straight toward the edge of the seat. Only use the back of the chair for support if needed. Always pay attention to the alignment of the spine. It may even be easier to sit up straight if you don’t lean against the back of the chair.
For more comfort, you can even place a cushion or blanket underneath your sitting bones. This will also bring the hips slightly above the knees and make it easier to tilt the pelvis forward to keep the spine straight and the shoulder stacked above the hips.
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2. Meditation Positions With Hip Pain When Sitting Cross-Legged
Our usually sedentary lifestyle, where we spent hours slouching, weakens and deactivates the muscles in the hip area. This can lead to hip pain due to tight hip flexors as they become weaker and shorter.
But what causes hip problems? There’s a number of things to consider, including arthritis, muscle tears and strains, and inflammation. This may cause stiffness, loss of range of motion, pain, and muscle weakness. Even more so, prolonged inflammation can slow down tissue healing and thus affect the tendons, ligaments, and muscles surrounding the hip.
If you’re regularly dealing with hip pain due to one of the reasons above, it’s probably the best idea to avoid sitting with legs crossed, i.e. avoid meditation sitting positions like Lotus, Half Lotus or Easy pose and opt for Hero pose or sitting on a chair instead.
However, there also are numerous yoga poses that can strengthen the area and reduce pain. Standing poses, especially Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2) and Side Angle pose (Parsvakonasana), will help open the hips.
Folding forward in King Pigeon pose (Raja Kapotasana) or Bound Angle pose (Baddha Konasana) also are excellent hip openers. With the feet together and knees apart Bound Angle pose allows the hips to gradually open. Let the body relax into the stretch and let gravity help you to sink into the floor as you breathe.
3. Meditation Positions With Knee Pain When Sitting Cross-Legged
Knee pain is often caused by keeping the knee in a misaligned position for a longer period of time. Although sitting with legs crossed normally shouldn’t cause knee pain, if the knee is already torn or injured, the action of crossing the legs could increase the pain.
The problem when sitting cross-legged is that this posture combines two movements that put a significant amount of pressure on the inner (medial) meniscus, namely flexion of the knee and internal (medial) rotation of the shinbone (tibia).
If you sit in Lotus pose, for example, the thigh bone (femur) and the tibias have to rotate externally, i.e. the insides of the legs face upward. However, if the tibias can’t perform sufficient outward rotation, the movement also comes from the hip joints to make up for the lack of rotation.
If, however, your body’s ability to rotate in the hip is less, the knee has to compensate and rotate more. This action increases the range of motion and allows the foot to come higher up. The rotation in the knee combined with the flexion of the knee puts more pressure on the medial meniscus and can cause pain.
Achieving this pose through twisting the knee may create the impression that you’re flexible enough, but relying upon the knee to externally rotate can, in the long run, cause pain and discomfort.
The thing about knee pain is that – while there are numerous hip-opening yoga poses – there are no knee openers. Considering what we’ve learned above, this is not necessary though. Because most knee issues actually originate in the hip, any hip-opening pose is also a knee opener.
So, what can you do if you feel pain in the knee when sitting cross-legged? The first thing to try is to sit up higher on a prop such as a cushion and bring the foot in closer to the body. Since the knee can only rotate when it’s bent, the more you bend the knee the more rotation is – safely – possible.
If there’s only pain in one knee when you’re in a cross-legged meditation sitting position, bring the foot of the aching leg in front. This allows more flexion of that knee and may already be sufficient to stop the pain.
Another possibility is to support the thighs. Placing a block or a folded blanket under the thighs can help to eliminate the stress put on the hips and knees caused by externally rotating the legs. This is because the prop bears the weight of the leg instead of the ligaments or the meniscus.
This is actually even a great option for those who feel very open in the hips already and don’t experience any pain in a cross-legged meditation sitting position: You may be able to relax the legs even more when they’re supported.
Supporting the knee by placing a rolled-up towel behind the knee can also relieve pain symptoms. This action will give you the feeling that you’ve created space in the knees, which allows more room between the shin and the thigh bone so that there’s no compression on the meniscus. It's important to note that people with cruciate ligament problems should refrain from this option because you don’t want to create more space in the knee when the cruciate ligaments already are too lax.
Avoiding knee pain when sitting cross-legged is not only a question of flexibility, but rather of the correct technique. Since a proper and healthy technique is essential to any yoga pose, we have compiled a free yoga alignment ebook that summarizes the basic yoga alignment principles to make your yoga and meditation practice safe and efficient.
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4. The Best Meditation Sitting Position for Lower Back Pain
The reasons for lower back pain in meditation sitting positions can be manifold. While some may be caused by sports injuries, accidents, or muscle strains, others can be the result of bad postural habits. However different the causes may be, the symptoms are almost always the same.
Chronic pain in the middle or lower spine, especially when getting up after sitting for a longer period of time, is usually caused by poor posture while sitting. Slouching or hunching compresses and strains the discs in the spine and leads to degeneration. This issue may even be aggravated by a previously existing medical condition.
So the easiest remedy to prevent lower back pain in meditation sitting positions is sitting in a more straight and upright position. Imagine lengthening the spine along an imaginary straight line up to the head. At the same time, keep the shoulders level and avoid letting the pelvis rotate forward since this causes a curve in the lower spine.
If it’s hard for you to sit with a straight spine, opt for sitting on a chair or against a wall. You can also put some back support at the curve of your back such as a pillow, for example.
When you sit on a chair, it’s also easier to keep the knees and hips at the right angle. You can even use a block or similar prop to ensure that the knees and hips are at the right angle.
5. How to Establish a Regular Meditation Practice
In the end, not one meditation sitting position is better than another. The most important thing is finding the pose that best satisfies the specific needs of your body. Having found the pose where you’re able to sit for an extended period of time without moving and without experiencing pain or discomfort, will enable you to establish a firm and regular meditation practice.
A consistent meditation practice is one of the best ways to find peace amongst the chaos of the busy mind. Consider your physical yoga practice as a tool to provide freedom in the body that makes your meditation sitting position more accessible and more comfortable.
If you're now eager to start your own meditation practice, you'll find a great number of meditation & wellness programs on TINT such as, for example, The Power of Deep and Mindful Relaxation by Yin yoga expert Chris Su or even Krishnataki's Introduction to Thai Massage where you even learn further techniques to ease lower back pain.
A great way to start establishing a regular meditation practice is Matt Giordano's 30-Day Yoga & Meditation Challenge on TINT. This 30-day Challenge is designed to help you find a greater sense of well being in both body and mind.
Get ready for an adventure, exploring all the different areas of the body through the yoga practice, followed by a themed meditation at the end of each asana practice. Each class provides a different experience that keeps you excited and invested in your personal growth and transformation.
From the strength of the asana practice to the serenity that comes from the meditation practice, this is the perfect training for anyone who is ready. Matt Giordano also provides useful tips to find the perfect meditation sitting position for you. With every practice you'll feel more peaceful in your mind, flexible and strong in your hips, shoulders, and core and as well awake and present throughout the day.
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