If you can physically sit directly on the floor, this is best. Sit on a pad or carpet, cross your legs Indian style and place a small, firm pillow under the tip of your tailbone. If the floor is too uncomfortable, you may sit on the edge of a chair in an erect position. If you are disabled and can only meditate lying down, this is fine. If sitting cross-legged on the floor, tuck your left heel between your legs and try to place your right ankle either on top of your left thigh, on top of your left calf, or on the floor next to your left calf, while keeping both knees firmly on the floor. This might take some getting used to depending on your physical flexibility.
When using a chair, sit on the edge with your feet flat on the ground and your back straight. Your feet should be able to touch the floor and your thighs should be parallel to the floor so that your knees are neither higher nor lower than your hips. Your hands should be relaxed, lying in your lap palms up, one cupped within the other. Your left hand should be underneath, right hand on top, with your thumb tips touching lightly.
Make certain that your spine does not slump during meditation—this is the essential thing. Retain the natural inward curve of your spine in the small of your back by thrusting your hips foreword. Never allow yourself to slump in this area. Your shoulders and legs should be relaxed, feeling only a slight tension to keep the back curved inwardly. In time, as you learn to thrust your hips forward, this tension will relax as well. It is important that you remain relaxed at all times and that you do not become tense. If you notice any tenseness, relax for a few moments, take a deep breathe, and then continue your practice.
The position of your neck is very important. It should not be tilted forward or backward, but upright and stretched toward the sky while at the same time your arms should be relaxed and falling from your shoulders. Your chin should be tucked in slightly. You may keep your eyes open or closed, as you prefer. If open, keep them only half, or barely open, gazing at the floor three or four feet ahead. Try not to glance around.
If you are sitting on the floor, some back discomfort or knee ache can be expected until your body adjusts to the posture. Do not be too quick to surrender to pain or numbness or you won’t learn about them, which you should. On the other hand, always treat yourself kindly regarding acute pain at this stage in your practice. If the pain does not subside after a reasonable amount of time, adjust your position. Later, you will be able to disassociate the pain from the body and neither pain nor fear will be a problem. Notice the cycles of any pain or stiffness that might arise in your back or legs, and especially how the pain affects “you” mentally.
If possible, breathe through your nose during meditation, and relax. Everything should be relaxed, peaceful, and still, with your body as motionless as possible. Moving around, swallowing, sniffing, scratching. clearing your throat and so forth should be restrained. These types of distractions are considered hindrances, and hindrances can be extremely clever. You might think that your valuables (vulnerabilities and weaknesses) are put away in a safe, but the hindrances somehow know every combination to all your safes, and will steal your things without your noticing.
Hindrances will make you lazy, sleepy, listless, irritable, numb, distracted (preferring to do something more exciting), create a lack of confidence, question your innate ability to meditate; is it working? Am I doing it right? Create doubt, is the effort worth it? Encourage you to put things off until later, until I am in the mood, or when I have more money or time, or, after I write my book, or when I am in a more favorable situation. Hindrances will create worries, for example; that you might alienate your friends and relatives. Or hindrances will persuade you to insist upon intellectual answers to spiritual questions; What is eternity? This represents only a partial listing of the hindrances’ cleverness and nonsense - the list goes on. So keep a keen eye out for hindrances.
Your whole body should be stress-free with only your back muscles or legs feeling some pressure, along with a slight tension in keeping your neck stretched upward and your chin slightly tucked in. The rest of your body, including your stomach, should be relaxed. If you can swivel your hips far enough forward, even the muscular stress holding your back straight will eventually relax as your entire body settles into a state of perfect ease and balance without effort.
If you can arrange it, a separate room for meditation is supportive. It should be quiet, cool, and subdued with the curtains drawn. Loose fitting, light clothing is best to keep your legs unrestricted and your body cool, which tends to heat up during meditation. After establishing your posture, just remain relaxed. Remember, silence is best, but if you live in an active household where noise can be a distraction, mask the commotion with noise-eliminating headphones. It’s better to avoid music during meditation; however, recordings of the ocean, the forest, or any soothing nature sounds are okay if necessary to screen unwanted noise.
Copyright © E. Raymond Rock 2007. All rights reserved
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com