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How to Situate Yourself from the Waist Down for Meditation

If you examine the meditation poses depicted in the world’s great spiritual traditions, you’ll find that they all have one thing in common: the unshakable stability of a mountain or tree. Look at the kneeling pharaohs in the Egyptian pyramids or the cross-legged Buddhas in Indian caves or Japanese temples. They sit on a broad base appearing to be deeply rooted in the earth, and they have a grounded presence.

When you sit up straight like a mountain or a tree, your body acts as a link between heaven and earth, connecting your physical, embodied existence with the sacred or spiritual dimension of being.

Just as a tree needs to put down deep roots so it won’t fall over as it grows, you need to find a comfortable position for the lower half of your body that you can sustain for 5, 10, or 15 minutes — or even longer, if you want.

After several millennia of experimentation, the great meditators have come up with a handful of traditional postures that seem to work especially well. Different though they may appear from the outside, these postures have one thing in common: The pelvis tilts slightly forward, accentuating the natural curvature of the lower back.

The following poses are arranged more or less in order from the easiest to the hardest to do, although ease all depends on your body and degree of flexibility.

Sit in a chair

The trick to meditating in a chair is positioning your buttocks somewhat higher than your knees, which tilts your pelvis forward and helps keep your back straight.

Old-fashioned wooden kitchen chairs work better than the upholstered kind. Experiment with a small cushion or foam wedge under your buttocks in order to achieve the proper posture.

Kneel (with or without a bench)

Kneeling can be, well, hard on your knees, unless you have proper support. Try placing a cushion under your buttocks and between your feet. Otherwise, your bottom and other tender parts may fall asleep.

Easy position

Simply sit on your cushion with your legs crossed in front of you, tailor-fashion. (Believe it or not, tailors once sat this way!) Your knees don’t have to touch the floor, but do keep your back as straight as you can.

You can stabilize the position by placing cushions under your knees, and gradually decrease the height of the cushions as your hips become more flexible. When your knees touch the ground, you may be ready for Burmese or lotus position.

Easy position isn’t recommended for extended periods of sitting because it’s not very stable and doesn’t support a straight spine.

Burmese position

The Burmese position involves placing both calves and feet on the floor one in front of the other. Though less stable than the lotus series, it’s much easier to negotiate, especially for beginners.

With all the cross-legged poses, first bend your leg at the knee, in line with your thigh, before rotating your thigh to the side. Otherwise, you risk injuring your knee, which is built to flex in only one direction, unlike the ball-and-socket joint of the hip, which can rotate through a full range of motion.

Quarter lotus

The quarter lotus is exactly like half lotus, except that your foot rests on the calf of your opposite leg rather than on the thigh.

Half lotus

The half lotus is easier to execute than the famous full lotus and is nearly as stable. With your buttocks on a cushion, place one foot on the opposite thigh and the other foot on the floor beneath the opposite thigh. Be sure that both knees touch the floor and your spine doesn’t tilt to one side.

To distribute the pressure on your back and legs, remember to alternate legs from sitting to sitting, if you can. In other words, left leg on the thigh and right leg on the floor one time, and then left leg on the floor and right leg on the thigh the next time.

Full lotus

The full lotus is considered the Everest of sitting positions. With your buttocks on a cushion, cross your left foot over your right thigh and your right foot over your left thigh. As with its more asymmetrical sibling, half lotus, it’s best to alternate legs in full lotus in order to distribute the pressure evenly.

Don’t attempt full lotus unless you happen to be particularly flexible — and even then, you should prepare for it by doing some of stretches.

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