4 Positions You Can Use for Meditation
You may think you need to be sitting cross-legged on a mat, but there are other ways to find your moments of Zen.
The flexibility of mediation
With all the benefits that meditation brings—reduced stress being a biggie—you’d think more people would be practicing regularly.
While the number of Americans who’ve tried meditation has tripled since 2012, it stood at about 35 million in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, only 40 percent meditate at least once a week, a survey by the Pew Research Center found.
So what is holding the rest of us back?
A few years ago the meditation app Omvana was also curious to find out and did a survey of about 1,300 folks. Among other findings, a third of those surveyed thought meditation was too hard to do (over half said it was lack of time).
And exactly how to meditate can give people pause.
“The idea that you have to be sitting perched on a mountain top, cross-legged, to meditate is mostly a fallacy. There are certain traditions that might emphasize sitting a particular way, but most traditions have a lot of flexibility for the posture you can take,” says Cory Muscara, co-host of Mindfulness.com and author of Stop Missing Your Life: The Power of Being Present.
So, no, you don’t have to sit on the floor lotus-style to meditate. All you need is to find the right position or pose for you—and then start meditating.
What meditation means—and what it does
But first, what is meditation? Essentially, meditation is “a practice that you do in order to become aware of the present moment,” says Josephine Atluri, a meditation coach and teacher in Los Angeles.
There are various ways to become more aware, including focusing on your breath or a mantra. Of course your thoughts are going to get in the way as you pay attention to your breath.
“So this is not about clearing the mind or stopping the mind. It’s more about noticing what the mind is doing in each moment, and then gracefully redirecting it to a particular place as we meditate,” says Muscara, who’s also an instructor of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Learning how is the same as learning and practicing anything new, like a language or sport, says Atluri.
“What you’re doing is building up these new neural pathways in your brain. And every time you practice, even if it’s just for three minutes a day, you make pathways stronger,” she explains. That way, you’re better able to get to a place of calm more quickly when you feel stressed.
That state of calm can work wonders for your health. Chinese researchers in Hong Kong reviewed the evidence on mindfulness-based programs, including meditation, and found that these programs improved a host of conditions, including insomnia, pain, depression, anxiety, and even hypertension.
Meditation can actually change the structure of your brain—increasing the areas that play a role in memory, learning, and decision-making and shrinking the area that controls our flight-or-fight response.
And those are just some of the perks—check out more science-based benefits of meditation. Then learn how each position you use during meditation can get you closer to them.
Finding the position that works for you
There’s no right or best meditation pose. That said, “We do want to find a posture that encourages a certain wakeful state of mind,” says Muscara. “So if we’re falling asleep every time we assume a certain posture, then we might want to find something that allows us to be a little bit more energized.”
Sitting, lying, standing, or even walking all work as long as you can stay grounded and focused as you meditate. That may mean different positions might work on different days.
But whichever one you choose, “you really just want to be careful not to force yourself into something that doesn’t actually feel aligned for your body because you’re trying to play out a script that says how you’re supposed to do it. That can actually just create more distress,” Muscara notes.
Sitting on the floor or a chair
There’s a reason this posture is the one that’s taught in more formal meditation practices.
“It’s easier to focus when you’re sitting upright and it’s easier to get into meditation without your body thinking you’re doing anything else,” says Dora Kamau, a meditation and mindfulness teacher in Vancouver, Canada, and a teacher for Headspace, a meditation app.
Best for: Beginners, says Kamau.
How to get into it: Sit up tall and straight, making sure you’re not slumped or slouched over, says Kamau. If you’re on the floor, you can sit cross-legged. On a chair? Plant your feet on the ground. Place your hands on your lap, your knees, or to the side, palms up. Then close your eyes.
Chair or floor? “If it feels comfortable for you to sit on the floor, cross-legged, then great,” says Muscara. “But for a lot of people, myself included, we have tight hips and our feet can go numb within 30 seconds. So sitting in a chair is a great adjustment to that sitting posture.”
Try this quick practice: “Check in with how each part of your body is feeling and breathe into any tight areas,” suggests Atluri. This is a great way to sneak in a little meditation when you’re at your desk all day, she notes. You can even meditate while you’re sitting in the car.
“You’re obviously not going to close your eyes, but when you’re stuck in traffic, you can do a breathing technique to help calm you down,” she explains.
Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images
Lying down to meditate
This is the posture to take when you’re feeling especially tense and you want your body to be as relaxed as possible to let go, says Muscara. The drawback: You may drift off while meditating.
“That’s not necessarily bad, in the sense that you don’t have to beat yourself up for it, but there is a distinction between meditation and sleeping,” Muscara notes.
But lying down to meditate can prepare you for better z’s.
“It’s a great way for you to transition from a long day and allow the mind to calm down into a state where it’s more peaceful—versus just thinking about all the things that you did that day and all the things that went wrong,” says Atluri.
(You can also try these tricks to beat insomnia.)
Best for: Those who feel wound up, or whose back or joints start to ache when they sit still for too long.
How to get into it: Lie with your arms by your side, palms up. “If your spine is uncomfortable, put a pillow underneath your knees and the back of the neck for support,” says Kamau. (Check out the 7 best meditation pillows to help you find your zen.)
Try this quick heart opener: “Open up your arms so that you’re in a cross position and your chin lifted slightly, almost like you’re beaming energy out of your chest,” says Atluri. “Your chest opens wide and allows you to release tension that you’re holding on to and for allowing the breath to become deeper and bigger, which is more beneficial to you.”
Standing up to meditate
Atluri loves this position for grounding yourself. “What you’re doing is becoming aware of what’s happening in the present moment and using the earth to help give you that awareness and connection,” she explains.
Best for: Someone who’s been practicing for a while, especially if you’re doing more than a five-minute meditation, Muscara says. “To be honest, standing meditation isn’t even taught in most beginner classes,” he adds.
How to get into it: Basically, do a mountain yoga pose, says Muscara: Place your feet hips’ width apart with your arms by your side, palms open to create some openness in the chest and the shoulders.
“Imagine that there’s a string at the center of your head, just pulling you up toward the sky. Those oppositional movements of feeling the lower body rooted into the earth and the upper body expanding up is just a nice way to feel into that standing posture,” he explains.
Try this quick practice: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, go outside to the sidewalk or your backyard and root your feet to the ground to center yourself, suggests Atluri.
If it’s tough for you to sit still, then get up and go. One plus to this pose: “The biggest thing with meditation is that you’re able to take this off the mat into your everyday life. So I was taught that after the seated meditation, the way you can carry the sense of awareness with you is in a walking meditation,” says Kamau.
Best for: The person who feels too limited or restricted by a seated or lying down position. “For that person, a walking meditation can be an easier on-ramp into the practice,” Muscara notes.
How to get into it: Well, walk, but do it mindfully, whether you’re outside or pacing back and forth in your room. That means bringing attention as each foot presses on the floor, explains Muscara.
“It’s kind of like a focus-attention meditation, only the focus is the foot on the ground,” he adds. You can also synchronize your breath to your footsteps.
Try this quick practice: Bring awareness to what’s around you the next time you walk outdoors—notice the sights, sounds, and smells, says Muscara.
“What would it be like to pay attention as if you were seeing or experiencing all your senses as if for the first time? In meditation, we call that beginner’s minds,” he adds.
(Next, try these tips so your walks boost your happiness.)
How to make meditation a habit
Start small and stay consistent, Kamau suggests. “Start with five minutes and do that for a few months and then start to increase the time from there. And just prioritize the time,” she notes. To do that, schedule those practices and set a reminder.
In fact, many meditation apps, like Insight Timer, will let you do that—so here are some fabulous and free meditation apps to try.
But if you ignore a reminder or three, don’t beat yourself up.
“To really sit still and not do anything goes against everything else that we’re seeing in the world right now. So there has to be a level of patience, compassion, and kindness while you’re beginning a meditation practice. Because again, it’s a practice, not a one-and-done thing,” says Kamau.
- Josephine Atluri, meditation coach and teacher, Los Angeles
- Dora Kamau, meditation and mindfulness teacher, Vancouver, Canada
- Cory Muscara, co-host of Mindfulness.com and instructor at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics: "Use of Yoga, Meditation, and Chiropractors Among U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over"
- Pew Research Center: "Frequency of Meditation"
- Omvana : "3 Reasons Why 1287 People Stopped Meditating"
- British Medical Bulletin: "Mindfulness-Based Interventions: An Overall Review"
- Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review: "Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners"