If you’ve been meditating for some time now, but haven’t been able to deepen your practice, it may be time to check your posture.
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of proper posture. Correct posture helps keep bones in alignment so muscles work more efficiently, and it minimizes unnecessary wear and tear on the joints. It aids in functional breathing, evens out energy levels and can also help balance your mood. Despite the benefits of proper posture, how many of us actually sit straight when we meditate?
When I first began my meditation practice, I couldn’t sit still for even five minutes without a racing monkey mind and constant movement. Even worse, I often fell sound asleep. No wonder. My standard meditation posture was half-slumped over, or leaning back on a cushy living room couch. After years of countless restless meditations, I discovered a science-based meditation technique that puts posture first, and has helped me to sit deeper, longer, and more interiorized.
Here’s the science: the nervous system is comprised of highly sensitive nerve endings that gather and transmit electrochemical signals. With over 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons, connecting the brain to the spinal cord and nervous system, the spine is the physical gateway to higher levels of spiritual awareness. This is why proper spinal alignment during meditation is essential. Like trying to sip water up through a bent straw, sitting in meditation with a bent spine can slow down or even block neural connections., This keeps the consciousness locked into external bodily sensations, limiting access to the deeper waters of conscious awareness. In turn, meditation becomes more strained, restless and ultimately, less fulfilling.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advises Arjuna on proper meditation posture: “Firmly holding the spine, neck, and head erect and motionless, let the yogi focus his eyes at the point between the two eyebrows. When a Yogi is ready successfully to engage his reversed mind and life force in a battle with the outwardly pulling senses, without any strictures or pinching of the spinal nerves, the mind and life force are easily directed upward.”
Likewise, according to Paramahansa Yogananda, bestselling author of Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF):
“Meditation involves the withdrawal, through the spine, of life current from the sensory nerve branches, and the concentration of that accumulation of life force within the spherical spiritual eye. A straight spine and erectness of the neck and head are important in effective meditation. If one adopts an improper posture—his body bent, or his chin tilted up or down—his crooked vertebrae pinch the spinal nerves. This pressure obstructs the reversed flow of mind and life force from the sensory channels to the brain; there is then no reinforcement of the power of the inner telescopic eye to perceive Omnipresence.”
Here are eight simple ways to enhance your meditation posture:
- Take a Seat. Sit in a comfortable posture on a firm chair or the floor, and close your eyes.
- Sit Up Straight. Gently sit up straight, stack your vertebrae one on top of the other. The lumbar region of the spine (opposite the navel) should be gently crooked forward, the chest up and shoulders back (which places the inner edges of the shoulder blades closer together).
- Ground Your Feet. If on a chair, place the feet parallel to one another flat on the floor. This will help you feel more stable and grounded. If your feet don’t touch the floor, place them on a cushion or a yoga block. If you have longer legs, sit on cushions to allow your hips to tilt slightly downward. This will keep the spine erect and take extra strain off your back, making longer meditations easier.
- Keep the Spine Free. Sit with your back away from the chair, keeping the spine free from external sensations. If sitting on the floor, practice sitting in a posture like lotus, half-lotus or a cross-legged position, which helps keep the back straight. Avoid lotus posture if it creates any strain or If your hips are tight, as it can place undue stress on the knees.
- Rest Your Hands. Place the hands on your lap, palms turned upward in a receptive position, with each resting at the juncture of the thigh and abdomen. This helps to prevent the body from bending forward.
- Align Your Chin. The chin should be parallel to the floor, not tilting upward or downward. This keeps the head, neck and spine in alignment.
- Relax. While maintaining a straight posture, relax any undue tension in the muscles to allow the consciousness to move beyond the senses and upward into the spine and brain.
- Focus the Gaze Upward. With the eyes closed, turn your gaze upward to the point between the eyebrows. Also known as the third eye, the sixth chakra, the Kutastha, or Christ Consciousness center, this is the center of will and spiritual perception. Focusing your gaze here will help keep your consciousness interiorized during meditation practice. If restless thoughts arise, keep bringing the gaze back to this point again and again.
- Be Still. Once you’ve relaxed into your meditation posture, be still. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Like any mindfulness technique, proper posture is a practice. By incorporating this tool into your daily sadhana (spiritual discipline), you’re setting yourself up to experience the full benefits meditation can bring into every part of life.
So, sit up straight.