Perhaps you’ve never meditated before, and the idea of starting poses the question: how? Fair enough. Former workaholic turned centered entrepreneur and owner of the Unplug Meditation Studio, Suze Yalof Schwartz, knows a thing or two about the “how” of meditation. Read on for an excerpt from her book Unplug, which explores the mechanics of how to sit in meditation.
What meditation is (moving from thinking to being)
Why it’s good for you (you’ll get calm, focused, healthy, happy, etc.)
Who can do it (anyone, including you)
When to do it (in the morning)
Where to do it (anywhere)
Here’s the how…
There’s more advice out there about the mechanics of sitting in meditation than you can even imagine. Sit cross-legged in lotus to hold steady… place your hands in your lap in symbolic position to focus the mind… sit with a straight spine so the energy of your body flows more freely. It’s all kind of fascinating to learn about, but sitting doesn’t need to be so complicated to be effective! And it definitely doesn’t need to adhere to super strict guidelines. We need to get over the idea that we need to sit in one prescribed, rigid position, because that’s not for everyone.
Here’s the essential rundown of how to sit in meditation, to help you find the posture that works best for you:
• Sit on something comfortable. Make this easy on yourself! You can use a traditional meditation cushion setup. This is a square flat cushion called a “zabuton,” with a round pillow called a “zafu” on top of it. These are great for spine alignment. You can also use a couch, a chair, a floor seat (called a “back jack”), or a folded-up blanket. Some people like to use a meditation bench, but I find these to be less comfortable.
• Cross your legs… or don’t. Some people like to sit cross-legged on a cushion, some like to sit up in bed with their legs out in front of them, some like to sit up straight in a chair with their feet on the floor. Pick whichever feels most natural for you. The only thing you want to make sure is that your legs are at or below the level of your hips (helps to keep them from falling asleep).
• Rest your hands on your legs… or don’t. Some people like to sit with their palms facing up in their lap because it feels more open and receiving; others like to do palms down to have more of an internal experience. Some say you should hold your thumb and forefinger in a classic mudra position (such as making a circle with each thumb and forefinger and resting the hands on your thighs, palms facing upward), which can ground your awareness through the sensation of touch. I believe all that to be true. However, I put my hands wherever the heck I want, which is usually crossed in my lap. This is probably not technically correct, but I don’t feel any negative impact of that at all. I suggest trying any or all of these, or do whatever you like with your hands as long as they’re at rest.
• Forget sitting altogether and lie down. Sitting up straight is great because you’re in alignment, but I also like lying down in meditation sometimes. I want to be comfortable when I meditate, not worrying if my lower back is bothering me or my foot is falling asleep. The only issue with lying down, obviously, is that you might fall asleep. Although it’s great to be relaxed, we want you to be aware and present, not falling asleep. If you’re sleeping, you’re not meditating. So if you tend to nod off, stick with sitting up. Even sitting up you might doze off, but then your neck will drop forward or backward, which will wake you up. It still happens to me all the time!
Whatever posture you choose, just get comfortable and arrange yourself so you can sit reasonably still. Davidji once told me a story about the time he spent in a Zen monastery, where if you moved at all, you had to raise your hand and the monk would come over and whack it with a stick. He decided to quit Zen when he found himself lying to his Zen master to avoid being hit. We definitely don’t do that at Unplug! It’s completely fine to shift or adjust if you need to. Just know that the less moving around you do once you close your eyes, the less you distract yourself.
Along those lines, it’s helpful to take a minute to do a quick head-to-toe scan before you start, to make sure there’s nothing glaring that’s going to distract you. Ankle feel tweaky in the position it’s in? Fix it now. Nose itch? Scratch it. Pants too tight? Unbutton them. No one’s looking.
Lastly, I want to share with you a great insight from teacher Megan Monahan on the whole “sitting still” thing, in case this is something you worry about struggling with:
Really, it’s not so much about being able to physically sit still. Although there are some people who have extremely high energy, often what this stems from is that they have a lot of turbulent thoughts, so sitting still physically is not mentally comfortable. But as you keep meditating, you will create more space in between the thoughts, and that turbulence will start to slow down. A lot of the turbulence is you releasing stored stress that has been living in your physical body or your mind. If you’re really fidgety in the beginning, that can be your body or mind releasing stored emotional toxicity or stress. It might be uncomfortable in the beginning, but it’s not always going to be like that! Just commit to the consistency of it and it’ll get easier.
Excerpt from Unplug by Suze Yalof Schwartz. ©Suze Yalof Schwartz 2017. Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.
Photo Credit: Coka/Shutterstock