Meditation Posture:

From the scriptures

1) Maintaining integrity of the spine in meditation

A previous article I wrote on Vajrasana and its variants, and how they are thought to strengthen the spine, will not be complete without information on the proper meditation posture because correct alignment of the spine is essential for being able to sit long in meditation without strain or torpor. In any meditation retreat conducted by a knowledgeable meditation teacher, instructions on the proper meditation posture will be given. Correct position of the spine so that it does not slouch is important to maintaining mental alertness and prevent drowsiness and lassitude during meditation. At the same time there should be no strain.

2) The Bhagavad Gita on the meditation seat and posture

The Bhagavad Gita, considered to be the holiest of all yogic texts uses 2 shlokas (given below) to describe the seat and body alignment for meditation in chapter 6 (Dhyana Yoga). The first of these two shlokas talk about the seat preparation. Even though the Bhagavad Gita implies a variant of padmasana, as we saw in the previous article on Vajrasana, the Vajrasana is a legitimate posture used by Rishis throughout history and the Buddha himself is thought to have attained enlightenment on that fateful night while sitting in Vajrasana. The key item to glean from Shloka 6.11 (the first of the two below) is that the bottom has to be raised above the floor with some padding material. Since Kusha grass was used in those days, an additional covering of deer skin and a cloth over it was recommended though unanimously all the scholars and saints of modern times say that this is one area where one can do away with the deer skin and use the conveniences of modern materials.

शुचौ देशे प्रतिष्ठाप्य स्थिरमासनमात्मनः ।

नात्युच्छ्रितं नातिनीचं चैलाजिनकुशोत्तरम् ॥ ६-११॥

śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya sthiramāsanamātmanaḥ

nātyucchritaṃ nātinīcaṃ cailājinakuśottaram

Having, in a clean spot, established a firm seat of his own, neither too high nor too low, made of a cloth, a skin and KUSHA -grass, one over the other, . . .

समं कायशिरोग्रीवं धारयन्नचलं स्थिरः ।

सम्प्रेक्ष्य नासिकाग्रं स्वं दिशश्चानवलोकयन् ॥ ६-१३॥

samaṃ kāyaśirogrīvaṃ dhārayannacalaṃ sthiraḥ

samprekṣya nāsikāgraṃ svaṃ diśaścānavalokayan

Let him firmly hold his body, head and neck erect and still, gazing at the tip of his nose, without looking around.

Sitting cross legged

Sitting in modified Vajrasana on a Seiza bench

Sitting on a flat floor is not recommended because as shown above, the spine slouches after a while

3) Variants of Padmasana

The figure above shows three meditation postures. Two of them are recommended in the scriptures and the last one, where one sits on level floor, is not advisable due to the tendency to slouch. The first position can use any variant of the padmasana (full lotus). It is difficult for most of us to hold padmasana with the soles of the foot facing the sky for a long time. The Hatha Yoga pradipika as well as other texts on Hatha Yoga describe other variants of padmasana some of which can be used for long periods of time without strain. The most popular of this is Virasana. Shiva is often depicted meditating in Virasana (below).

Shiva in Virasana

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika on Virasana

4) Variants of Vajrasana

As seen above, Vajrasana is a recommended posture for meditation because it naturally keeps the spine upright, though in practice sitting in it for long durations makes the calf muscles ache. A modification using a seiza bench (Second picture in section 2 above) is often used.

5) Conclusion

Two postures for meditation, Padmasana and Vajrasana and their variants, commonly described in the ancient yogic texts are described. In both Padmasana, Vajrasana and their variants, the important aspect is that an obtuse angle be maintained between the spine and the legs (figure below). Sitting on a level floor results in a right angle (90 degrees) which puts strain on the spine and causes it to slouch.

Maintaining a obtuse angle between the spine and the legs is essential for maintaining an erect spine