These days I’ve been diving deeper into my meditation practice, what with beginning a one-on-one mentoring program with my teacher, as well as increasing my daily sitting time from 45 to 60 minutes, and signing up for three silent retreats this year. With this newfound enthusiasm I find myself leading more and more meditation sessions, whether in class, conference, or workshop settings. In these settings, the most common deterrents to beginning a meditation practice I have noticed are not knowing how to: 1) Sit comfortably; and 2) Guide oneself through a sit. I have a dream that includes everyone meditating daily, and as a result I break down these two obstacles for you in the hopes that it’ll make things more accessible for you.
Meditation is intended to be transformative, not traumatizing. As a result, it is very important to sit comfortably, otherwise your mind will be focused on your discomfort instead of your breath. Below are the different ways you can sit. Experiment with them, trying one per day until it feels just right.
Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Sit on a high cushion, setting the hips higher than the knees. Place one foot in front of the other, letting the knees touch the ground if possible. If the knees do not come all the way down, see the next pose. Place hands in your lap or on your thighs with your elbows beneath the shoulders.
Sukhasana with knees supported
Set yourself up as you would for traditional Sukhasana pose (see above). Instead of placing one foot in front of the other, cross the ankles and place rolled up towels or blankets beneath the knees for support. Place hands in your lap or on your thighs with your elbows beneath the shoulders.
Virasana (Hero’s Pose)
A great way to alleviate pressure off the ankles is using a meditation bench. They are usually slanted to allow for a natural tilt of the pelvis and lengthening of the lower back. Slide your legs beneath the bench, toes pointing back, and keep your knees together. Place hands in your lap or on your thighs with your elbows beneath the shoulders.
For some, sitting low to the ground is challenging, even painful, in which case a chair is suggested. Choose a chair with a firm seat so the sitting bones do not sink down. Sit at the edge of the seat with the heels placed directly beneath the knees. Keep the feet flat on the ground and spine erect. Place hands in your lap or on your thighs with your elbows beneath the shoulders.
Mudras (Hand gestures)
There are many ways in which you can place your hands in meditation. Here are just a few.
(From top to bottom, left to right) My preferred variation is with my palms down on my thighs. I like this because when I feel my shoulders rounding forward, I apply gentle pressure to my thighs with my hands to help straighten my spine. For the same reason, others prefer meditating with their palms facing up on their thighs. When the palms face up, the collar bones lengthen more easily.
There is also chin mudra, a gesture signifying knowledge, which can be done facing up on the thighs, or facing down usually around the knee. The practical approach to this gesture is that it helps to balance our effort. If you are trying too hard in your meditation session, you are most likely pressing your finger and thumb firmly against one another. If you are falling prey to sleepiness, your finger and thumb will be barely or not at all touching.
Dhyana mudra is the hand gesture that promotes energy of meditation, deep contemplation and unity with higher energy. Traditionally, men place their right palm on top of their left, and vice versa for women. This gesture sometimes puts strain on the arms during longer sits. To prevent this place a support beneath the hands to hold them up. A variation of dhyana mudra can be done with the fingers interlaced and thumbs touching.
15 minute Guided Meditation I have self- recorded a 15 minute guided meditation session (with a modest microphone in my home bedroom) that can be downloaded here. Feel free to use it every other day, alternating with days of silence, or self-guidance. This is not a hard and fast formula; I suggest this so that you don’t get dependent on the guidance of others in meditation (although it greatly helps, especially at the beginning).
Good luck! Onwards and upwards on this journey!