I often hear when I mention meditation to people who have never practiced it before say: “oh, that thing where you sit all cross legged and bring your index finger and thumb together at your knees?”
Yes…that is a common image that comes to mind when thinking of meditation. However, a “formal” meditation can be practiced in any position with a mindful posture.
What do I mean by formal meditation? A formal meditation is when you clearly and specifically set time aside to practice meditation by focusing on the breath. You can be washing the dishes and meditating on the movement of your hands or walking through a park and meditating on the movement of your legs. Those would fall under an “informal” meditation category.
So, when we think about a formal meditation, the image that most commonly comes to mind is a person sitting very erect with their legs crossed and palms up on their knees or index and thumb together. But this doesn’t have to be YOUR meditation position.
When I first started meditating, I was frustrated at myself for not being able to sit up straight with my legs crossed for 5 minutes, let alone 10! This frustration welled up and turned into negative self-talk: “Why can’t I do this? What’s wrong with me? I’m a failure.”
The Game Changer
Then, someone suggested I try meditating while laying down in bed. I gave it a go. I turned on a meditation app and chose a guided meditation at random. And…I actually made it through the entire thing! Without worrying about my posture, or trying to hold a shape that didn’t work for my body then, it allowed my breath to become the sole focus. This isn’t to say that I didn’t become frustrated at all. I was still getting frustrated at the fact that I couldn’t keep my mind focused solely on the meditation or my breathing. My thoughts would wander and I would shame myself when I noticed that happening.
That is the journey and practice of meditation, however. Once you realize that meditation is about cultivating the skill of observing where your attention gets lost and bringing yourself back to the present then it’s like something clicks. You’re no longer berating yourself for getting lost. You start to appreciate the moments you notice your wandering thoughts and your ability to refocus in the present moment.
Meditation is not about how you are sitting or not sitting. Sitting upright with your legs crossed for an extended period of time takes a lot of strength and openness. This is actually the purpose of the physical yoga practice. We practice the asanas, or yoga postures, to prepare us to sit for meditation.
If sitting upright for a while is uncomfortable, I found a good starting point for meditating was to lay down on my back. The trick there is not to fall asleep! From there perhaps progressing to sitting upright in a chair or with your back against the wall and legs extended out in front of you or with the feet flat on the floor. Then, maybe one day, sitting up straight with your legs crossed. Just know that it’s not necessary to sit in a specific position to meditate. Meditation is about working the mind, not the body. Asana is for the body.